Idaho’s tradition of fierce protection of private property rights is well known and well established. The State of Idaho has legislated layers and layers of protection for the wide majority of Idahoans who particularly value the rights that accompany the ownership of land. However, as the Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld – property rights are not absolute. The right to own property is not the same as the right to do whatever one wants.
Indeed, for nearly 100 years, the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld land use regulations of property as a proper role for the government to protect the health and general welfare of the public. Indeed, zoning and other land use regulations have helped to define what it means to be a good neighbor in a particular community. In a perfect world, everyone would have perfect neighbors. However, courts have enforced land use regulation as real-world protection for real-world bad neighbors.
It is fundamental, for example, that ownership of a property does not give anyone the right to interfere with someone else’s use and enjoyment of their property. Ownership of a property does not give anyone the right to use more than their fair share of community resources or other resources held in common.
What I am allowed to do on my property, therefore, is properly balanced with the impacts I have on yours. Indeed, your property values are probably protected by reasonable restrictions on my property rights.
Laws and regulations are how a community achieves this balancing. In our community, where we hope to preserve a rural lifestyle in North Idaho, we should expect that our land use regulations would balance rural land uses more favorably than suburban sprawl. Similarly in our community, where our economy and quality of life so greatly depend on natural resources, we should expect that our regulations should balance resource protection more favorably than, for example, land uses that could lead to degradation of our beautiful lakes and drinking water supplies.
This regulatory balancing is intricate, difficult, and fraught with local complications. But despite the increasingly vocal complaints of the increasingly misinformed, this balancing is indeed legal, it is indeed constitutional, and it is indeed much more preferable than no regulation at all. Proper land use regulation is certainly important for environmental protection but it is also important to the growth of our community. Most critically, though, proper land use regulation is actually important to mutual protection of everyone’s property rights.