Rural Wrap

Other People's Property

By Dan Steninger

ack in the old days land owners with a plan for development merely implemented their plans. When the land owner’s neighbors had a problem with those plans, they could attempt to prove in court that the new development damaged their property. When the neighbors won, they would be compensated. The right of private property prevailed. The only way to determine the direction of development on a particular parcel was to purchase it.

But that was too simple, apparently. Laws were written, regulations were implemented and landowners were expected to abide by the new rules. The era of government determining the best use of property, regardless of the wishes of a property’s owner, had begun.

Then just having rules on the books was not enough. We decided property owners should be forced to seek the approval of the bureaucracy before implementing any developments. And some types of developments would need special permits.

Then we created a planning commission to review development plans and issue the needed permits. Then the planning commission grew into its role, grilling land owners on finer and finer details of their plans, becoming an adversary for a land owner to overcome before he could build on his own property—as if the planning commission were looking out for the land owner to make sure he didn’t damage his own land. And the planning commission offered itself as a tool for residents to block development on properties those residents did not own.

But that was too simple. So we gave the planning commission a staff so the commissioners would not have the full burden of finding fault with a land owner’s plans for his land. Instead, the commissioners could merely act as referees as their underlings pointed out why a land owner should not be allowed to develop his land.

And as the staff grew, it began striking out on its own. Not satisfied with knocking down others’ plans, the staff began coming up with its own plans. Then we needed planning analysts to critique the planning staff’s plans.

And that brings us up pretty much up to date on the progress of attempts to thwart development out in Elko, culminating in a recent meeting in which planning commissioners presided over a debate between the Elko County School District and City Planner Dennis Crooks over whether the district should be forced to paint all the modular classrooms at the proposed Bullion Road school the same color. Were I more small minded, I would sit back and laugh, judging the school district got what it had coming. The district has not been lax in using the planning

commission to thwart the development of other people’s property, so maybe a taste of its own medicine is in order.

But when I read that a property owner’s rights are being put on hold while the planning commission hears arguments from its employees that the city must have the power to review and rewrite a land owner’s proposals to ensure the "internal continuity of design," I am too appalled to laugh.

When I read that planning commissioners are giving more weight to the feelings of their employees over the proper slope of a hill then they are to the laws that are on the books concerning such matters, the humor evaporates.

What has become of this town and others across the state, saddling themselves with the same planning commission-induced problems?

Why have we given a bunch of government employees the power to block the development of other people’s property when they feel a roadway, built to city standards, might not be wide enough in the event of inclement weather for a car to safely pass a school bus? Why do we have bureaucrats fattening themselves at city hall, telling people their plans will have to be put on hold until they get a flood plain "map amendment" from a faraway federal agency?

Why do we stand still while some "acting" city engineer tells a land owner that he will not be allowed to develop his land until such time as the land owner has corrected an earlier mistake made by the city—an intersection with poor visibility? And until he has conducted a traffic study to determine if anyone will be driving to that new development? Of course traffic will increase, the fools. And when it does, the city to which I pay taxes for street improvements will make the needed improvements. And it will make them when they are needed, not when it fits into the planning staff’s plans. If it should fail to do so, that is why we have elections.

Have our residents completely lost their sense of right and wrong, preferring the stifling safety of central planning to the healthy unpredictability of liberty and property rights?

Those who have not lost that sense had better start paying attention to what is happening to their towns, and demanding some changes.

We feel sorry for the others, those who already have found peace of mind in the idea of a bureaucratic protector, those who have failed to take the advice of Benjamin Franklin: "Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

Nor will they long have either.  u

Dan Steninger is the Editorial Page Editor for the Elko Daily Free Press.


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