Guest contributor Dan Staley is Planning Director for the City of Buckley, a small town in rural Pierce County, Washington. He writes this post as a private citizen. [Note: this is part of a series.]
I get all kinds of phone calls in my office from folks with questions about some parcel of land for sale: What’s the zoning? How can it be developed? When will sewer be available? These questions all share one important premise: that the rules today will be the same rules tomorrow.
But I-933 would eliminate these questions to my office because land use planning in Washington will purposely be thrown into chaos. This chaos will have two main effects for rural areas, in my view.
First, many people buy land in rural areas as security for the future. Three or four decades ago, folks bought land in rural Pierce County so that they could live quietly, retire, and perhaps pass on some of their land to their children, prompting the phone calls to my office. They followed the rules and the rules told them that they could live out their dreams of selling their land to retire at some point in the future.
But I-933 takes away our dreams of quiet living then retirement by making our property insecure.
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Who wants to try to buy land to live quietly (and then retire on the sale of the land), when there is the possibility that tomorrow a casino or wrecking yard will be built next door, thus diminishing our quality of life and our property values? Under I-933, the rules protecting property owners from destructive or obnoxious land-uses next door get thrown out the window.
The second effect that concerns me is that the “property rights” debate will narrowly focus only on how some regulations take away from certain properties’ monetary value. This narrow focus will distract us from more important, larger issues of rural land income that are just now (finally, in my view)being addressed. No one will talk about land that gained monetary value due to regulation. And who will discuss the productive farmland that has been preserved from development by enacting regulations?
So what are the real issues here? We need to talk much more about why rural landowners can’t make money living on their land. But we won’t do that during the I-933 debates. We’ll only talk about a tiny fraction of the land-value problem that is embedded in larger systemic issues of trade policies, farm subsidies, industrial agriculture, and population growth. The underlying problem for rural landowners is not their lack of property rights. The solutions for the underlying, systemic issues that have marginalized rural landowners for decades in this country will be ignored while we are distracted by the special-interest sidebar that is I-933.
On the surface, I-933 pretends it solves a problem. But it will create chaos and insecurity for everybody in order to pander to a special interest group—and that isn’t good for anybody. We need to address rural landowners’ plight. But we need to first discuss the real issues—not the sidebars—that created this plight.
Many thanks for this piece. Keep at it.I’m one of those landowners, I bought a patch of rural county woodlot thirty years ago, thinking I’d have had and raised kids and retired to it by now. Instead I’m still making a living and doing weekend botanical restoration work elsewhere, happy to pay my county taxes in hopes the county uses them well and educates the local kids to be smart enough to vote to preserve what they have.
Good post. I agree that, “The underlying problem for rural landowners is not their lack of property rights.” – but a myriad of other concerns. Unfortunately property rights resonate with a segment of the non-rural population including some Democrats and rural folks with other long simmering concerns may vote ‘Yes’ out of frustration. The I-933 are playing every card and the counter messages such as “anti-community” initiative may not be as intuitive to the swing voter. That’s my fear anyway.You say at the end that ” We need to address rural landowners’ plight.” Have you ideas about how? Should we be offering alternatives? Or would that in some way backfire and help to validate the pro I-933 cause?
Concern for rural landopwners strikes me as crocodile tears. The issue has been around for decades and environmentalists still love every expansion of government power over someone else’s property. We should have been trying to do something about this issue over these many years; so a few words of concern just now, in the face of an initiative, simply don’t ring true.The claim that current land use laws provide a social structure of certainty—which I agree is a very worthy goal—is divorced from reality. Land use has gotten extremely discretionary over the past 30 years thanks to SEPA and Critical Areas. There is no way in many jurisdictions that one can be sure what an owner (or her neighbors) can do with one’s property until they get to the end of the permit process.Personally, I haven’t decided how I will vote on I-933. It may well deserve defeat simply because of poor drafting. But I am sympathetic to the issues raised by I-933 and Mr. Staley’s arguments aren’t convincing because our current land use regime has NOT provided an “environment of certainty.”The political reality is that we environmentalists are only concerned (and very temporarily) about burdens placed on landowners when we are forced to by measures such as I-933. So if it passes—which I doubt as most urban homeowners like zoning since it limits supply and makes their own house more valuable—we will have only ourselves to blame.
David:Concern for rural landopwners strikes me as crocodile tears. The issue has been around for decades and environmentalists still love every expansion of government power over someone else’s property I view comments like these as painting all with the same brush (thus a false premise) or using a red herring, therefore making the rest of your comment unreadable. Do you have specific input wrt my post that doesn’t contain boilerplate?Thanks!Arie:Thank you. You ask:You say at the end that ” We need to address rural landowners’ plight.” Have you ideas about how? Should we be offering alternatives? Or would that in some way backfire and help to validate the pro I-933 cause? Implicit in my post is the argument in the second-to-last paragraph that our economy doesn’t like to include non-corporate rural landowners.Struggling to find a niche and hold it seems to be the only acceptable way to make a go out here. Personally, I think the need for the skills needed to make it out here will arise again when fossil fuel becomes a scarce commodity; I hope rural areas can hold out ’til then. Perhaps these distributed energy networks and such will be an effective stopgap measure.Regards,Dan Staley