Let's Hope Planning & Zoning Never Returns To Cape County

Editorial written by James Baughn on Thursday, March 29, 2001

from the no-recount-needed-for-this-election dept.

Last year voters in Cape Girardeau County soundly rejected the establishment of a planning and zoning ordinance.

And for good reason. One doesn't need to look far to find examples of tyrannical P&Z ordinances that infringe property rights and sometimes even enrich the coffers of city and county governments.

From Virginia, to Arkansas, to Washington State, people have faced jailtime or large bills over trivial zoning violations. We can only hope that such injustices never find their way to Cape County.

Some examples:

  • Fairfax, Virginia: A golf course owner has been in jail for several weeks because of such "crimes" as: improperly planting trees on his course, NOT planting enough trees on the edge of the course to screen out neighbors (in this case, his own father), and constructing a hill on the course that is the "wrong height". Meanwhile, Fairfax County owns and operates it own competing golf course, which, incidentally, is also violating those same zoning ordinances. What a racket: a government-owned business that can use mafia-like tactics against its own competitors!

  • Fairfax, Virginia (again): The state senate passed a bill that would allow Fairfax County to prohibit people from sleeping in rooms other than bedrooms. Apparently the bill is designed to prevent immigrants from saving money by sharing homes. However, such ill-conceived legislation could just as easily make it a "crime" to convert a room to a bedroom for use by a family member. Frugality should not be a crime.

  • Little Rock, Arkansas: A 70 year old women was arrested last year for such "crimes" as: not removing burglar bars from her historic house, adding heating and air conditioning units "visible from the street", and installing vinyl instead of wooden windows. All of this stems from a "historic preservation ordinance" that apparently gives city officials a blank check for harassing residents over trivial matters.

  • Stanwood, Washington: Here, it's a "crime" to own a house built within five feet of a property line. It doesn't matter how much it might cost to move a house a few feet over, the county board (and busybody neighbors) don't care.

  • Snydersville, Pennsylvania: A farmer found himself on the wrong side of the law after committing the "crime" of building a maze in his corn field. He had to shut down the maze because he couldn't afford the $10,000 fee necessary to hire an engineer to produce a land development plan necessary to fulfill the red tape requirement of obtaining a zoning permit.

What each of these examples demonstrate is the danger of giving unelected bureaucrats the discretionary power to squash property rights. In a rural area such as Cape County, the benefits of ensuring "orderly growth" do not outweigh the risks. While the proposed Cape ordinance would probably not have resulted in any injustices such as above, we can never be too careful.