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An example of frugality in government

In an effort to be positive, its my intent to describe in this column the adherence-to-frugality principle in the Vermont Constitution (within Article 18, for the literal-minded) and how, in one aspect of governance anyway, the under-the-Golden-Dome (G.D. for short) folks try to be faithful to it. I guess thats to counter the many times when I and others have expressed some frustration with the G.D. legislators and others (in the judicial branch, for example, with the findings of penumbras and emanations in the Vermont Constitution which require a statewide school property tax) who, we think, havent taken the Vermont Constitution as seriously as they should have. Frugality, of course, comes to mind. Let me start with a somewhat dated reference to goings-on in, as I recall, Norman, Okla., a score of years ago, which received a lot of coverage in the planning and zoning literature at the time. It seems the city had determined the need for a new reservoir and watershed, had identified the lands on an acquisition map, and then had done nothing for a number of years while the identified acreage dwindled (of course) in value, after which the city offered the landowners the reduced value for their holdings. A sort of frugality-in-governance, I guess you might call it. The same behavior pattern has been ascribed to Detroit city government in the Poletown land acquisition (on behalf of General Motors), to New London city government in the waterfront land acquisition (on behalf of Pfizer), and even to New York State government in some of its smaller Adirondack Park acquisitions. No effort (maximizing instead of minimizing return-to-landowners) to my knowledge, was ever practiced on behalf of the affected landowners (and against a government effort at frugality at those landowners personal expense, I guess you might say) with the exception of those recent cases in Nevada where friends-of-the-Guv were advised what desert acreage to buy in advance of highway expansion. An earlier example came with the creation of New York Citys Central Park in 1853, for which, according to The Museum of the City of New Yorks 2003 Central Park history, the State condemned the land out from under some 500 mostly-commercial-garden-plot farmers, and the city compensated them with an average of $700 per lot, a figure that many believed was well below the value of the property, for land which, a few paragraphs earlier, author John Berman described as being extremely valuable because of urban growth pressures from the south of Manhattan Island. Here in the Upper South Ive even been hearing similar complaints about the compensation paid for the federal dispossession of hill farmers during the Great Depression to de-populate a wide right-of-way, not just highway route but nearby view-acreage as well, for the Skyline Drive and Blue Ridge Parkway. A more recent example came about a decade ago, when a friend in Sharon asked about what was then a new regional-planning-commission practice when drawing up land use plans for member towns: the RPCs were urging their clients to let them show such informal uses as hiker paths, snowmobile trails, deeryards, and the like on the maps, and the locals were protesting, on the logical grounds that they didnt want their informal accommodations of the recreational wishes of their neighbors to become permanent legal encumbrances on their properties, and they were foresighted enough to anticipate just that happening. Its perfectly legal under 24VSA 4421, which authorizes the creation of an official town map, on which everything from present hiker trails to future school sites may be shown, given the force of law to prevent development-by-owner (any such land development shall be removed at the expense of the owner) and of course, to reduce the value of the designated and adjacent lands because of the no zoning permit may be issued for lands [so shown] in the official map requirement. So far, the Underhill Center-based Citizens for Property Rights group reports, only three towns have adopted an official map. I guess the other 248 are a bit more skeptical about this particular effort at frugality by those G.D. officials in Montpelier. Vermont observer Martin Harris lives in Tennessee.

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