Should Roanoke County supervisors pass a property rights resolution?
Citizens need a stronger voice
The answer to this question is yes, with the caveat that it is properly constructed to protect the rights of citizens in Roanoke County. The fundamental right to own property, i.e., real estate and land, in our country shouldn’t need explaining, but the insidious erosion of that right deserves examination.
As a practical matter, there is no longer a right to property ownership when local government taxes you to own it, taxes you when you improve it, and can change the rules of “ownership” through zoning, rezoning, permits, special permits, demands from special interests and even cronyism.
What a property rights resolution could, or should, do is level the playing field between local government, the citizenry and their private businesses by affirming the rights we do have and making the processes in place consistent with the idea of limited government.
We elect local government officials, and the Virginia Constitution provides them a limited degree of authority. When they fail to listen to the concerns of those who elect them, they are obviously negligent, at best. This is not an uncommon occurrence in land use planning, and is evidenced by the Keagy Village disaster and wind ordinance fiasco in Roanoke County.
These are just two examples where the concerns of the citizens most directly affected were entirely ignored by the board of supervisors and/or their political appointees on the planning commission. Since their authority is derived from us, it is only natural that we be given, at least, an equal voice in planning decisions.
There is clearly some need for land use planning. Public health concerns via industrial use might be one example. Infringement on another’s use of their property for any reason, or negative effects on the value of another’s property through planning decisions might be other examples. But the pertinent question is: Do we want our right to own and use our property planned into oblivion by government?
A properly constructed property rights resolution could restore confidence in local government’s decisions regarding land use for citizens and businesses alike throughout Roanoke County. Affirm what locally elected government should do for us, not what it can get away with when we aren’t paying attention. Create and confirm a consistent process where citizen and private business input is not only welcome, but is required.
What this board of supervisors has is an opportunity to provide assurance that the people have a voice, and to be an example of limited government and real leadership in Virginia.
To quote James Madison, “As a man is said to have a right to his property, he may be equally said to have a property in his rights.”
Christley, a small business owner, private property owner and 25-year resident of Roanoke County, is the president of the Roanoke Valley Republican Women and chaplain for the Virginia Federation of Republican Women. She is involved in many constitutional conservative movements and encourages citizens to take a stand and know what is going on in their local government.
Resolution’s language contorts its intent
By Jonah Fogel and Michael Chandler
In his proposed resolution, Roanoke County Supervisor Ed Elswick focuses on three guarantees that are ingrained in the American experiment, including: the right of citizens to be informed and heard in matters of governance; the obligation that the public’s business be conducted in a transparent manner; and, the right of citizens to use and enjoy the property they own. Few Virginians would disapprove of such concepts. After all, these ideas are as American as apple pie, baseball and Chevrolet. So in our view, the fundamental issues with the resolution as written are ones of need, scope and compliance with the code of Virginia.
As it is drafted, the resolution preamble states the proposed property rights resolution “is to some extent an affirmation of current law and current ordinances.” We agree. In fact, the bulk of what is featured in Elswick’s resolution has long been codified in state statutes, as well as the county code. So why duplicate a narrative that is already featured in the state constitution, the state code, as well as the county code and county ordinances? Is the resolution a redundant exercise? Yes. Is it wrong to draft and adopt such a resolution? No. Would the resolution serve a useful purpose? It depends.
If the rationale underpinning the resolution is one of awareness and education, then adopting the resolution, once it is refined, makes sense. After all, the periodic placement of speed limit signs along a busy highway reminds drivers of their rights as well as responsibilities as they use the road in partnership with other drivers. Elswick’s resolution, once tweaked, would do much the same and, in this light, would be a useful exercise.
The question of scope is a bit more challenging. Elswick has included language that, rather than add value, contorts the narrative in a manner that compromises the resolution’s ultimate value. Ideas that seem to expand beyond the scope of the resolution’s stated intent, include: the protocol for eminent domain proceedings as outlined in the resolution, the admonition that selected land in the county may not be rezoned unless a public hearing is held in the immediate area to be affected, and the statement that property rights disputes will be mediated by the Board of Zoning Appeals with any final decision reserved for the Board of Supervisors.
It is our view that these specific measures should be fully vetted opposite the standards and protocols noted in the code of Virginia. Until this is done, the resolution, as drafted, should not be acted on.
Fogel is director of the Land Use Education Program at Virginia Tech, Virginia Cooperative Extension specialist, and adjunct professor in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies’ Center for Public Administration and Policy at Virginia Tech. Chandler is director of Education for the Land Use Education Program at Virginia Tech and professor emeritus of the department of Agricultural and Applied Economics in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech.