Wow. I leave town and two weeks later, crazy takes over.

From relentlessly sunny Southern California, I noted the recent and growing uproar over Kootenai County’s land use code re-write. And from here, where the sprawl goes on and on and on for miles, the growing opposition to Kootenai County’s Unified Land Use Code (ULUC) project appears to be either pointlessly obstructionist or appallingly uninformed. Either way, if the opponents were truly interested in property rights and regulatory streamlining, they’d be supporting the County’s reform efforts.

Ignoring the completely nutty “U.N. Agenda 21” conspiracy theorists, the ULUC opposition appears to be based primarily in a “property rights” viewpoint that ignores both the law and the policy choices that guide modern land use across the country.  Despite the bluster coming from the usual North Idaho know-it-alls, “property rights” are simply not absolute. In fact, property rights of individuals are balanced to protect the property values in the community.

We don’t allow pig farms in downtown Coeur d’Alene — OMG! Regulations! — but there are obvious and legitimate reasons for this. The simple purpose of the ULUC is to provide a framework for land use fairness, where everyone — property owners AND their neighbors — have a codification of both their property rights AND their responsibilities, for everyone’s protection.

Unfortunately, opponents to the ULUC project are completely misunderstanding the problem. The county is required by state law to have certain land use regulations. Not having such regulations is not an option — and that is a battle being fought by the opposition that can’t be won.

More to the point, a huge problem is that the county is actually being crippled by a patchwork of land use regulations that dates back to the 1970s. Ask anyone: the system is hopelessly broken and it desperately needs to be fixed. ULUC opponents surely can’t defend the current system on property rights grounds. Yet, the opposition to the ULUC promotes the status quo. The reality is that property rights are far better protected under the ULUC proposals than under the current law.  The senseless, fact-free, and knee-jerk opposition to the ULUC actually works against their purported property rights cause.

In fact, if Kootenai County wants to be competitive in attracting business and development, if it wants to protect the landscape that make people want to live and work in North Idaho, and if it wants to make government more efficient, the ULUC is a modern necessity. Certainly, there is plenty of room for legitimate policy debate as the sections in the ULUC are drafted. However, the current wholesale opposition to the ULUC appears to be driven by either intellectual laziness or intellectual dishonesty. Neither is helpful.

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