As Dorian approached the Florida coast earlier this month, we saw a flurry of activity by property owners putting up shutters and filling sandbags to protect their homes and businesses.
We expected that. In fact, we likely would have thought a person was irresponsible not to take precautions to protect his or her property.
A destroyed home or business is not only a personal loss, it's an economic drain on the entire neighborhood, as those who lived near the hurricane-devastated Holiday Inn on Hutchinson Island endured for more than 10 years.
At the same time, a well-kept manicured home raises the value of your own property, although you made no direct investment.
We know instinctively, as did the founders of this country, that the prosperity and well-being of the wider community and the ownership of property by individuals are inextricably linked.
When property owners consider how they will use their property, they weigh first the costs and benefits of implementing their ideas. As a result, the best outcome to maximize their investment is achieved, benefiting the wider community by shouldering more of its tax burden, increasing property values, and, at times, even providing jobs.
The core element to overall success, however, is the right of the property owner to choose.
The principal writer of the US Constitution, James Madison, recognized this link between property rights and prosperity. He considered property rights of citizens vital to protecting democracy itself.
Property rights give citizens an important “vested” interest in protecting their country and their freedoms.
As a result of his convictions, property is protected from government seizures through the Fourteenth Amendment's due process clauses and, most directly, through the Fifth Amendment's takings clause: “nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.”
We know this as “eminent domain,” although you'll not find that term in the U.S. Constitution.
We are familiar with and accept governmental takings for roads, bridges and even stormwater retention or treatment, when necessary. We expect and know that government will provide “just compensation” for those “takings” in those cases that benefit the public good.
Less clear, however, are the “takings” through regulation, which leave the title of the property with the owner, but takes its uses.
An example is the protection of wetlands in Martin County, which no one disagrees with in principle; however, since Martin County is the only county in the state that does not permit wetland mitigation – such as donating money to the county to purchase wetlands elsewhere – the danger arises that landowners will not be able to use their property as intended.
All too often, those kinds of regulatory takings wind up being decided in our courts.
Generally, however, landowners recognize that limits to our property rights need to be imposed to accommodate the needs of a growing population, in consideration of our neighbors' rights, and to protect the common good, which includes protecting the environment.
The Martin County Comprehensive Growth Management Plan and the county's Land Development Regulations have sought to balance the rights of individual landowners with the common good by establishing good land use policies with zoning and regulatory rules that give flexibility and consideration to both.
Still, we often hear public comments urging County Commissioners not to approve any more assisted living facilities in Martin County, or to reject the addition of another gas station at an intersection that already has a gas station on one corner.
Those decisions can only be made by the owner of the property, already constrained by our Comp Plan rules, who is taking the risk and making the monetary investment. Those decisions should not be made arbitrarily by government officials whose only risk may be political.
Those who believe that only government should be making all the decisions as to how privately owned land is used, also often believe that the Comp Plan was intended primarily to restrict growth in an attempt to protect the environment. In actuality, our Comp Plan is far more multi-faceted and effective.
The Comp Plan shows us how to grow responsibly, with multiple priorities that include protecting the environment, preventing sprawl, building quality neighborhoods, elevating art, music and education, and by building a strong economy, which helps support the cost of much-needed environmental projects.
Indeed, the 18 chapters of our Comp Plan strive to achieve an enhanced quality of life for all by protecting both the common good AND the rights of landowners -- just like hurricane shutters do!