Letters to the editor - 1/25/03

January 27, 2003

Downzoning: An attack on the Constitution

To the editor:

Joe Lane does not like my position concerning the Washington County's recently adopted Comprehensive Plan which down-zones 80 percent of county ground by factors of five, 20 and 30. He contends that federal statistics and academic research is wrong and that the loss of development rights through a "regulatory-taking" has no value and does not enjoy Fifth Amendment private property protection.

Lane is a vocal member of the Citizens for the Protection of Washington County (CPWC), a group of 100-plus citizens who are demanding government respond to their demands to redistribute control over land from the landowners to this political faction.

James Madison, in his treatise in support of the adoption of the Constitution, discussed the "rights of property" and correctly discerned in Federalist 10 that the "mischiefs of faction" who share a "common passion" will willingly "sacrifice the weaker party" and their "rights and property" to achieve a perfect equality.


Lane advances the standard argument politicians and planners have successfully used to exercise police power regulations to avoid Fifth Amendment private property protections. The argument is that unless a full taking of property rights has occurred, down-zoning is just a theoretical loss of value and is no different than government denying a landowner the right to construct a "hazardous waste landfill."

The landowner still holds title to his land and the regulatory-taking of a genuine constitutionally protected property right, the right to subdivide land, is somehow analogous to government preventing a landowner from polluting his neighbor's property with a hazardous waste landfill - a truly specious analogy.

Fortunately, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, in a recent "agricultural preservation" zoning case similar to Washington County's revised Comprehensive Plan, overturned a Bedminster County "down-zoning" ordinance stating: "The ordinance unreasonably infringed upon a landowner's constitutionally protected rights to freely use and enjoy property."

When government, acting to secure a stated public purpose, namely agriculture, historic and watershed preservation, "takes" constitutionally protected development rights that have quantifiable value, Fifth Amendment just compensation is due.

I have no dog in this fight. I own no large blocks of land and I am not engaged in land development, personally or professionally.

For me, it is the principle that is important. When Commissioners take an Oath of Office to uphold the Constitution, they should honor that pledge.

Hal Phillips

Clear Spring

Kids can enjoy Jesus and Santa

To the editor:

Until Mother Nature forced me into "retirement," I was Santa in a stagecoach on our front lawn for years. During that time I was privileged to interact with thousands of children and parents.

With this background, I was especially pleased to read the last line in Emmanuel Godlove's letter in the Dec. 26 Herald-Mail. For those of you who missed it, I quote, "Santa is the perfect way to have children excited about someone other than Jesus on his birthday," unquote.

I could not agree more. There is no reason for children to have to choose between Jesus and Santa, when they can have both to be excited about in their young lives.

Paul C. Leatherman


Museum a jewel

To the editor:

Earlier this month, I again visited the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts to see the current exhibitions. I continue to be impressed with the quality of the art collection and the continued progress of the Museum under Jean Woods, the director.

The setting in the City Park is particularly beautiful and especially so during the Christmas season with the decorations. A city the size of Hagerstown is to be commended for its park and a museum whose art holdings far surpass many larger cities.

Alfred T. Morris, Jr.

Riverside, RI

What happened to plain manure?

To the editor:

A few weeks ago I read an article in the paper about a biosolid land application that farmers are spreading on their fields as fertilizer. I really felt for the residents who were fighting against it being spread in their areas. I live in the country and have farm fields all around my property.

Not even a week later, a sign went up in the field across from my house stating there was a permit pending to start spreading this stuff on that field also. My neighbors and I have been doing a lot of research as to what is actually in this sewage sludge and how safe it is. Everything we have been reading says there are a lot of hazards that go along with it.

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