Out of Control Policy Blog

Schrute Farms vs. Wayne County, PA: Land Use Regulators Run Wild

Question...are anyone's property rights safe when even a bed and breakfast owner/volunteer sheriff's deputy is prevented by overzealous regulators from protecting his land?

Although I may not agree with all polices made by the government, I still try to respect them. I oppose bans on AK47s, but I abide (even though they would come in handy when Wilson Farms inevitably attacks). I begrudgingly pay my income taxes. I try to tolerate a woman's right to vote. But restrictions on one's property rights are something I cannot accept. I believe it is every American's right to do with their land what they please. That is what our forefathers believed. That is what Davy Crockett believed. I believe that's what Clint Eastwood believes. I wish Dale Hegarty, the Wayne County zoning officer, honored this view, but he does not. Instead of respecting an American's property rights, Mr. Hegarty chooses to stifle our freedoms by requiring us to get ridiculous permits. Did Gutzon Borglum need a permit before he carved Mount Rushmore? Probably not.

I want to build a moat around Schrute farm for 6 reasons. 1) It would discourage trespassers (I've had it with the pilgrims that mistake our farm for a satellite of the Yearning for Zion Ranch). 2) Adding a moat would drive the local agrotourism community wild. Then I can add a "Private Beach" to our list of amenities. 3) The farm's waste needs to go somewhere else. 4) My piranhas are out growing their tank and need to learn how to hunt for themselves. 5) Mose has the habit of chasing butterflies into the woods and getting lost. A moat surrounding the farm should keep him from wandering as he developed aquaphobia last summer when he tried to play with his reflection in the pond down the road and nearly drowned. 6) The last and most obvious reason for a moat would be to protect the farmhouse. Without it we're vulnerable to invaders, be it the beet weevil, Wilson Farms or the French. Despite the apparent need for a moat, the zoning officer prohibited me from filling my hole up with water. That idiot deemed the soft earth surrounding the house as "unstable quicksand," and "geologically unfit" for a moat. Hogwash.

What the zoning officer fails to understand is that I come from a long line of moat diggers. It was my ancestors that constructed the moat surrounding Heinzburg Castle, which was the toast of Bavaria until the castle sank with the queen in it. And it was my uncle, Barnabas Schrute, that dug the first moat in Honesdale. I'm proud to say four trespassers have died in it and counting. Moat digging is in my blood, so it troubles me that a zoning officer with no history of moat engineering can decide whether or not I am allowed to build a moat. What does he care anyway? Should anyone drown in the moat I'll be the one held accountable. Mose knows how to perform CPR and, if need be, how to embalm a body. If something happens to any of the guests staying at the bed & breakfast we're legally covered; at check-in they're required to sign a 33 page waiver. I am a responsible land owner and moat digger, so I take great offense to a system that allows a loser like Mr. Hegarty to compromise my property rights by telling me what I can and cannot build. [...]

Unfortunately, Mr. Schrute isn't alone. Landowners across the country face similar situations every day. While eminent domain abuses get most of the headlines, state and local governments routinely implement zoning and land use regulations that limit property rights and prevent owners from using their land in ways they had intended. My 2006 Reason study shows how state lawmakers can shield property owners against both eminent domain abuses and the land use regulations that often cause severe financial losses by eroding property values.

» Reason's Eminent Domain & Property Rights Research and Commentary

Leonard Gilroy is Director of Government Reform


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