Friday, May 22, 2015

Property rights underlying issues at Davidson Town Hall

Davidson has a well earned reputation for being a well planned town.  The town regularly receives awards and recognition for its efforts in promoting walkability, the protecting  open space, and preserving its Main Street area.

The most ardent supporters of how Davidson does things are fond of saying “Davidson didn't happen by accident.”

However, there is a flip side to this approach that can turn into something that often looks less than welcoming.  There is an undercurrent through many town decisions on planning and development that often looks like infringement of property rights.

Take for example the onerous deed restrictions currently required by the town’s affordable housing ordinance.  Currently, the town requires buyers in the program to agree to 99 year deed restrictions that limit the price they can sell a home – regardless of what the market can bare.  That may seem reasonable to some because it's a restriction agreed to upon purchase.

On the flip side, having such long deed restrictions allows the town to maintain a level of control over the property for what is effectively the life of the building – probably longer.  One outcome of this is that buyers are limited in what they can do to actually improve their home.  If the owner wants to make improvements that make the house too nice or too expensive the deed restrictions prevent the homeowner from recouping those costs.  As an owner, one has to ask one’s self – “Do I really own my own home if I have to ask about making it more livable?”

Another example where the town seems to fear the free execution of property rights comes in its recurring opposition to bills in the General Assembly that impact planning in any way.

Over the years the town has fought efforts in Raleigh to pass legislation that limits what design restrictions a town can place on homes.  The current incarnation of this bill working its way through the Legislature is actually sponsored by our very own Senator Jeff Tarte.

According to  current and former sponsors of these bills – bills that have received strong bi-partisan support it is clear that they would have minimal impact to Davidson.  But, if you listen to the rhetoric coming out of Davidson Town Hall, you would think they gut planning ordinances across the state.

These first two examples deal with development and limits on property rights where development actually is approved, but the most obvious infringement on property rights occurs when the town attempts to prevent development altogether.

The ongoing brouhaha over the proposed Narrow Passage neighborhood off of Rocky River Rd provides a perfect example of that scenario.
The local Mayes family has owned the land for over 100 years and working with local builder, Karl Plattner, has proposed building 47 houses on roughly 59 acres at the corner of Rocky River and Shearer roads.

The proposed development will have large amounts of open space.  It fits with the other surrounding development – including River Run which is right across the road.  It will add a nice bump to the town’s tax base.

The idea that those involved are somehow intentionally proposing something that would harm Davidson is laughable.

The problem?

The proposed development goes against a belief among some that Davidson should not allow development – any meaningful development - along Shearers Rd.  To listen to some opponents of this proposal you would think they are the ones that own the land – talking about how important it is to them, talking about what it means to them.  Unfortunately for them, they don't actually own it.

The town has used its ordinances and process to throw up barrier after barrier in attempts to delay or outright prevent this development from going forward.

While not exactly the same situation, it evokes similarities to a case recently lost by NCDOT in the NC Court of Appeals.  In this case, NCDOT used something in its planning efforts called the Map Act to prevent landowners from developing their land – sometimes for decades – without compensation.  The appeals court recently said in a unanimous decision that the NCDOTs actions resulted in a legal “taking” of the property and the landowners needed to be compensated at the time NCDOT placed its development restrictions on the land.

Davidson’s zeal in opposing development in certain areas at times approaches that same threshold.

Infringing on personal property rights is something government should do with extreme caution.  In Davidson, it seems to be a standard approach to doing business.

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