September 19, 2008
Of billboards and beautification ….
In a week in which the lines between private business and the government became blurrier than ever, it’s worth thinking about the line between land boundaries. Although we often think of property boundaries as being absolute, we know that one sometimes can cross the line without violating the law, as polluters one. But what about “sight lines”: Do or should certain property owners have a “vested” right to have a view of another location? Or, should a business venture have a vested right to have its business sighted by the public? What if government is doing the action that blocks the view? In Florida, the state legislature has enacted a law that prohibits government “beatification projects” with trees that block the view of an existing billboard. (The provision is entitled “Vegetation Management,” Fla. Stat. sec. 479.106.) And in Osceola, the local government was ordered by the state transportation authorities to cut down certain trees that blocked “view zones” of billboards. Now, I have never been a rabid billboard-hater; some billboards in fact provide visual interest. But if one constructs a billboard, as with any land use, isn’t the usual rule that one takes the chance that something else may be built next door, in accordance with existing local land use laws, even if it blocks the view?
September 16, 2008
Land use law and the Gulf of Mexico, today and tomorrow …
“Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” Many beachfront communities along the Gulf of Mexico have in the past few years experienced hurricane devastation that is all-too predictable, based on the history of colossal storms hitting the area. In 1900, a massive hurricane caused an estimated 6000 deaths in Galveston (then the biggest city in Texas) –- arguably the worst natural disaster in American history. As a result, much of development in south Texas moved inland to the city of Houston. But the allure of the coast remained strong in a recreational age, and life in coastal Galveston was once again devastated last week. Only better advance warning avoided a large loss of life.
Should government use its powers of land use law to prevent people from living on vulnerable coasts? As elsewhere, authorities in Texas are debating whether to discourage rebuilding along the barrier islands of southeast Texas. Advocates of restrictive construction policies argue that even buying up land use rights now might prove, in the long run, to be cheaper than paying for reconstruction and relief in the future. So why does government so rarely do this? One reason is that it is easier to get government and taxpayers to accept payments to people who have been hit by hurricane damage, than it is to pay people to avoid by being hit by such damage in the future, especially when the date of the next decimating hurricane is so uncertain. Perhaps this is an inevitable result of human nature and human politics. And it ensures that billions of taxpayer dollars will flow toward rebuilding along the Gulf –- perhaps not until 2108, perhaps as soon as next year ….