Compromise Is Key
As noted in an earlier post by David Stokes, Bradley Ferguson just can’t seem to catch a break these days. His latest, and presumably one of his last, attempts to develop his property into a residential development on the outskirts of Washington, Mo., was recently rebuffed by a judge. Apparently, by not granting a writ of mandamus, the county is not forced to place the village law issue on the ballot.
As a lifelong resident of Washington, I have taken particular interest in the unspooling of this whole ordeal. Long before anyone even knew about the village law, this issue was hotly debated in Washington. Although I live across town from the property in question, I have spent a considerable amount of time near the proposed development (family-owned property) — at least enough to offer some insight, hopefully.
In a general sense, I am in the camp that landowners should be able to do with their land as they please — with some exceptions. I do believe that there should be some “soft” planning and zoning laws on the books, to ensure that surrounding landowners are not adversely affected by the actions of their neighbor. For this reason, I am opposed to the village law as a way to completely get around the system and do with your land as you wish. However, I do think that — as a happy medium — some planning and zoning laws do need to be toned down a bit, and not represent the be-all-end-all of property usage. To me, it appears that the village law was a potentially dangerous and extreme way to make a compromise between land owners and planning and zoning commissions.
To illustrate my point above, I believe that a perfect example can be found in Mr. Ferguson’s hard-fought battle to develop a subdivision, against the wishes of the planning and zoning commission. The commission cited traffic safety as a major reason for not allowing the proposed development. Whether or not this concern was legitimate doesn’t really matter here — the subdivision request was denied.
Under the soon-to-expire village law, one form of recourse would be to petition to incorporate the land as a village, and build the subdivision anyway. This may seem like a good alternative, but the village law could also produce very bad results. For example, if someone wanted to building a shooting range in their backyard, in the middle of a subdivision, they could declare their property a village, vote on it, accept it, and build a shooting range. Although the neighbors could try to protect their safety by taking the matter to court after the fact, that course of action isn’t particularly comforting if a bunch of gun-wielding four-year olds are running around the neighborhood in the meantime.
Planning and zoning laws exist for a good reason. These laws are in place to ensure that complete chaos does not erupt. Are some of these laws arbitrary and overbearing? Sure, but that doesn’t mean that we would be better-served by a free-for-all, where people exercise their Second Amendment rights in the stomping grounds of suburbia.