Thursday, February 8, 2007
Are governmental land use officials biased against development, especially when it concerns environmental issues? At the federal level, many property owners have asserted that government experts, especially scientists, tend to look more favorably upon evidence supporting preservation of nature than they do contrary evidence. Does the same effect occur in local land use decisions?
In the Utah legislature, a property-right-oriented bill would allow developers to override certain zoning restrictions made for environmental reasons when the developer provides scientific evidence that the land use restrictions are based on poor science. Disputes could end up in arbitration and, presumably, then in court.
Such a process could lead to a thwarting of worthwhile ecological protections by well-funded developers. It could also, by contrast, lead to better science, as decisions would analyzed through what amounts to an adversarial system. Environmentalists who scoff at the idea of having arbitrators and courts second-guess governmental science should be reminded of the historical criticism of the Army Corps of Engineers, which enviros have long criticized as being biased in favor of construction, and the arguments in favor of closer third-party scrutiny of the Corps' decisions.