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Stealing property rights in the name of historic preservation

By Peyton Knight
web posted December 6, 2004

Pop quiz!

Who should make the decision whether or not to raze your decrepit, century-old home and build a new one in its place?

A) Your local government.
B) Your neighbors.
C) Both A and B.
D) You.

If you answered D, you obviously don't live in West Bridgewater, Connecticut, where your neighbors and the local government want to call the shots on your property.

The West Bridgewater Historical Commission announced in early October that it wants to create a "demolition delay bylaw" whereby any property owner who wishes to demolish his old, decrepit home and replace it with a new one, must file a "notice of intent to demolish a significant building" and wait for up to half a year to receive (or not receive) a "demolition permit."

Once a property owner files his request to do want he wants to with his property, the Historical Committee schedules a public hearing on the matter and the property owner is required to post a notice of the public hearing that is visible from the nearest public way. After the public hearing, the Commission is given 21 days to cast its judgment and decide whether the property owner's plans to do what he wants with his property conflict with what South Boston's The Enterprise describes as "West Bridgewater's historical, cultural or architectural heritage or resources." In other words, the property owner is screwed.

Historical Commission Chairwoman Francine Sheedy claims that this is just "a delay" or "review process." She waxes bureaucratic, saying the trampling of a homeowner's property rights simply "allows a community to give a property a second chance."

Usually these bleeding hearts reserve second chances for felons and convicts. Now in West Bridgewater, 100-year-old homes are given more rights than their owners, who of course, have no chance.

Stealing Property Rights in the Name of Dust Control

The Grossglasses, a family of motocross enthusiasts, were recently looking to purchase some land in the Anza Valley, California, region to have a place to ride their motorbikes with their 11-year-old son, Johnny.

Not so fast.

According to the North County Times, a proposed Riverside County ordinance "would, for the first time, establish rules for riding motorcycles, dune buggies and other off-road vehicles on private property within the county's vast unincorporated areas." (emphasis added)

Endangered plants and animals, view-sheds, noise pollution, and just plain good ol' environmental awareness have all been offered up as reasons to clamp down on property owners in Riverside.

The Times reports that county planners are proposing "that off-road families own at least five acres, live on the property, limit riding to two people at a time…Hours of riding would be limited to 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in winter and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. during summer. No one could start engines on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day."

Remember, all these rules and regulations are for private property. Deputy Planning Director Mark Balys claims that neighbor complaints of dust being kicked-up and engine noise are the reasons for action. Of course, there are already common sense "nuisance" laws whereby neighbors can resolve these matters. But this isn't about common sense. It's about eliminating off-road recreation.

"What they have come up with is absolutely, utterly, totally insane," says Meg Grossglass. "It's just an outrageous infringement on private property rights."

When off-road enthusiasts and families like the Grossglasses are booted from designated trails in state and national parks, they're told that if they want to enjoy their hobby, they need to enjoy it on their own property. Now they can't even do that -- unless they can afford to purchase a minimum of five acres. And even then, they can't ride as a family on their own property given the two-riders-at-a-time rule.

The way things are going, there may soon be no place left to ride -- which is exactly what radical environmentalists want.

Peyton Knight is the Executive Director of the American Policy Center, a grassroots, activist think tank headquartered in Warrenton, Virginia. The Center maintains an Internet site at www.americanpolicy.org. © American Policy Center 2004

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