Nick Dranias

Arizona property owners need protection

Posted on August 10, 2009 | Type: Op-Ed | Author: Nick Dranias
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Tucson developer Mike Goodman did everything right. But that didn't stop Tucson bureaucrats from pulling the rug out from underneath him and his construction project.

He bought land from the city, fully disclosed his plans to develop student housing to city officials, secured building permits and began building student housing in accordance with his approved permits and plans.

But when community groups objected to mini-dorms being built within walking distance to the University of Arizona because they said it would negatively impact the neighborhood, Tucson's zoning administrator revoked his building permits.

City officials then tried to force Goodman through a newly invented and more complicated project approval process, all the while refusing to allow him to protect his unfinished construction.

A developer with less courage probably would have considered the odds too heavily stacked against him and just given up. Instead, Goodman chose to fight. He ultimately received a court ruling that found "no valid legal basis for the Zoning Administrator's revocation of Goodman's permits."

But the damage had been done. Goodman's existing construction—foundation, framing, mechanical and electrical systems—had been exposed to the elements for nearly two years. Vandals had left their scars on the project, too. Extensive repairs had to be made. Goodman incurred attorneys' fees in excess of $100,000 and lost more than $500,000 in rental income.

Even with the possible recovery of his costs and fees, Goodman's experience illustrates why so many ordinary citizens are forced to buckle under bureaucratic bullying.

To help even the odds between government bureaucrats and the rest of us, The Goldwater Institute published "A New Charter for American Cities: 10 Rights to Restrain Government and Protect Freedom." The report details how ordinary citizens increasingly can't navigate—much less fight—the maze of regulations and powerful bloated bureaucracies that rule America's cities, counties and towns.

Citizens need a concrete set of rights, like a bill of rights, to protect them from the government closest to home. The report urges citizens and local public officials to adopt a "Local Liberty Charter" consisting of judicially enforceable rights to secure freedom and fiscal responsibility.

One of those rights is the right to use and enjoy your property without micromanagement from city officials. No one denies that regulations protecting public health and safety are important, but when regulations are put in place simply to indulge the whims of special interests it violates private property rights.

Local governments must be restrained from creating rules and regulations aimed at keeping people like Mike Goodman from using their property in ways they have a legal right to do. Other states, including Colorado, have adopted rules clearly establishing that property rights begin when a development plan is approved, and Arizona should do the same.

Local governments should also adopt a "Three Strikes and You're Out" rule for employees. Bureaucrats who cause economic harm to citizens through the misapplication of the law on three or more occasions should be terminated. Government shouldn't be an obstacle ordinary citizens have to overcome or work around. Government employees should view their jobs as "facilitators" to help people use and enjoy their property how they'd like while protecting the health and safety of others.

Owning property and being able to build your dream house or a business is part of the American Dream and it should be protected.

A few simple changes to city charters will protect all property owners from being victimized like Mike Goodman.

Nick Dranias is the director of constitutional studies at the Phoenix-based Goldwater Institute, a conservative advocacy organization.

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