Am I a Village Idiot?
My esteemed colleague, Mr. Stokes, has repeatedly written about the much-reviled "village law" that caused such a ruckus in this past legislative session. I think his hostility is unwarranted.
The law, which was passed in 2007, allows small groups of property owners potentially even just one property owner to establish their own autonomous political units that would not be bound by many county regulations. Essentially, they would be free to develop their property as they chose, without having to deal with the red tape and over-regulation that is so prevalent in many localities. At its heart, this statute is friendly to property rights and liberty.
So, what about this law got people so angry? Politics. The way the bill was passed (it slipped through, virtually unnoticed at the end of the 2007 session) and the fact that a commercial developer filed a petition for a new 400-acre village the day the bill became law raised speculation that the law was intended to pay off supporters of the politicians who sneaked it into law. On top of the visceral reaction against any sort of special favors or corruption, counties realized that villages formed under the new law would be exempt from their attempts to exercise control over the residents’ property. County officials considered it a catastrophe that citizens might "preempt [their] local authority[.]"
But really, why is it a bad thing that small groups of citizens should be allowed to control their own properties? Bradley Ferguson, an individual developer seeking to incorporate his 40 acres as a village, is only doing so because the city of Washington has refused to annex him, and the county government will not grant him permission to build a subdivision on his land. I see it as a good thing that the current village law would let him seek out his own prosperity without having to live by someone else’s leave.
To be sure, there are some legitimate concerns about what would happen without zoning and other land use restrictions. After all, what if your neighbor suddenly decided to build a hog farm right next to your property? But the law has always had a remedy for this kind of thing! Where neighbors’ use of their property substantially impairs your ability to peacefully enjoy your own property (because of noise, odors, etc.), you may be able to sue them to receive compensation for their offense. The law of nuisance works to ensure that individuals retain their right to use their properties as they see fit, while also allowing anyone injured by that use to hold them accountable all of which is a far better solution than granting government officials the authority to dictate how people will be able to live.
So, in short, I’m sorry to see the village law revert to a more conventional form. I think that concerns about the proliferation of local governments were ill-founded and, at any rate, that these localities would not likely have been worse than the sort of petty tyranny already on display at the county level. But, then again, maybe I’m just a village idiot.