By Kathi Bliss
Once again this week, the Commissioners Court heard a public hearing about a proposed subdivision in rural Caldwell County – this time, a development that will break up some 80 acres into five-acre tracts. And once again this week, the folks of Caldwell County entertained me.
You see, for the 18 months or so, there has been a growing contingent which repeatedly and enthusiastically expresses concern that new subdivision regulations and other activities being engaged by The Government are encroaching on their private property rights.
To a certain extent, I agree with them.
Except when I hear the same people clamoring about their own property rights railing against a neighbor, or property developer, and asking the Powers That Be to not approve subdivisions without “deed restrictions.”
It makes me wonder, how does imposing our own opinions about what we find to be undesirable on a neighboring property NOT interfere with someone else’s private property rights.
So it seems to me, the message the Powers are receiving is, “don’t you dare interfere with what I do on my property, but make sure that my neighbors aren’t doing anything that offends me with their property.”
That’s a mixed message if there ever was one. Do we care about private property rights, or don’t we? Because in reality, we can’t have it both ways.
I’m not suggesting that anyone should be allowed to create a fire or health hazard on their property without being unchecked. I absolutely agree that there should be laws in place that prevent us from running our sewage lines into an untreated pit, or just to a removed place in the backyard. We should be required to install septic tanks or hook up to sewers.
I don’t think that anyone should allow their property to fall into such a state of disrepair or collect junk and trash in a manner that becomes unsafe, either for the property owners or the neighbors.
But we can’t scream about private property rights with one breath while we say, “You have to prevent them from allowing single-wides in their subdivision,” with the next. If we don’t want the Powers That Be to tell us what we can and cannot have on our own properties, we can’t ask them to tell others what they can or cannot have on theirs.
And yet, so often, we do exactly that.
I call it the “NIMBY” (Not In My Backyard) Syndrome. We care about the things that impact us directly. That’s human nature. So if we feel as though our property rights are being threatened, we stand up. And when we feel as though a neighbor is going to do something that will hurt our property values, we stand up.
But what about the space where those two concerns collide? Because make no mistake, my friends, those concerns collide.
For several years, I lived next door to an artist who had, among other things, a giant, impressionist art totem on his front porch, and other works of still-life in the front yard. And it annoyed me. I didn’t find it pleasing to the eye at all. My neighbor was a great guy, but his artistic taste simply wasn’t my cup of tea.
However, I couldn’t reasonably complain to the Powers That Be about it, because the moment I started criticizing the way he managed his property, I opened myself up to the possibility that my neighbors would be annoyed with the way I don’t manage my own yard – I rarely rake leaves or pick up pecans, and for about five years, I had a mutated, “attack” rosebush that tried to kill me every time I tried to prune it. I’m sure my neighbors get as annoyed as I do – and who could blame them?
So what do we do?
If we’re demanding protection for private property rights, we have to demand protection for ALL private property owners – not just the ones who do things that we find pleasing. And if we want to ask the Powers That Be to manage what others do on their property, we have to accept that means they can also tell us what we can do with ours.
But we can’t have it both ways.