Property rights trashed by Boulder's NIMBY plan

By Krista Kafer ( I don’t like McMansions – those pretentious, overbuilt houses parked on a crust of a yard within spitting distance of the next near-identical house. I’m not into bland or beige or three-car Garage Mahals. I’m wary of McMansion neighborhoods where I feel like I’m on the set of the Stepford Wives, only super-sized. I imagine a homeowners' association, in the dark lair of a fully finished basement, churning out smiling replica families complete with shiny-coated Weimaraners and wintergreen SUVs. Yikes! Get me out of here! Take me back to the days of my childhood when this blighted land was untilled prairie where red foxes hunted, prairie dogs barked and hawks circled on the warm summer air.

Did I mention I really don’t like McMansions? That said, however, I support an individual’s right to own one. As much as I resent the intrusion and deplore the bad taste, I support the developer’s right to build the houses. And, as much as I miss the golden fields of my youth, I support the landowner's right to sell his property to the developer. Put simply, I support property rights.

The right to property is an alienable one—that is a God-given right that government has an obligation to protect. A property owner has a right to own, lawfully use, and dispose of his property.

Obviously there are some limits. A person cannot use his property for illegal purposes like say, growing marijuana, assembling bombs, or replacing errant homeowners with responsible, well-coiffed robots. Zoning laws prohibit certain otherwise legal activities. One cannot build a porn shop next to a daycare or an oil refinery next to a neighborhood. Countless other federal, state, and local laws, ordinances and regulations dictate how land can be used. Some make even a lot of sense -- but others burden landowners unnecessarily and often without constitutionally-mandated compensation.

The latter describes a restriction under consideration by Boulder County (see “Boulder County weighs McMansion limits” in the Denver Post). Boulder County would like to limit the size of houses. Owners could get out of the limits by purchasing the development rights to preserve open space and agricultural land in the county. The loophole favors those wealthy enough to buy back from government the "privilege" of controlling their own land. This arbitrary restriction, if implemented, will surely impact current landowners wishing to sell, developers, and future homeowners by reducing the value of the land.

The restriction is nothing more than a NIMBY (Not in My Back Yard) power play by those who have control of their own property and want to control the property of others. Here in Littleton, NIMBY folks are trying to block Wal-Mart (see here for my take on that).

The local activists have me beat on intensity. They certainly hate Wal-Mart more than I dislike McMansions, and their scorn for the big box store is untempered by the irony of my Stepford fantasy. But the main difference between the NIMBY folks (whether in Littleton or Boulder) and someone myself is respect for property rights.

I may not like what people do with their property but I respect their right to legally dispose of it as they please. It's principle, and it's also self-interest, because the same property rights that protect big box store and the McMansion owner, protect the owners of that little boutique down the street and me the cottage-dweller.