Land for the Free
Land for the Free
In November 2006, just as the real estate bubble was running out of hot air, Arizona voters approved a proposition with drastic consequences for land-use regulation. Proposition 207 was promoted as a property-rights initiative that barred municipalities from taking private property through eminent domain for some other private development. In this respect, it was a direct response to the Supreme Court’s 2005 Kelo ruling, which had partially legalized such powers. But a more far-reaching, and less publicized, provision of the Arizona proposition required local governments to compensate property owners if a government action, such as a zoning change or enactment of an environmental or other land-use law, led to a drop in the property’s value. Bankrolled by Howard Rich, a libertarian developer tycoon from New York, the initiative was pushed onto the ballot in several states, but Arizona voters were the only ones to bite. Passage of the proposition put a large question mark over all plans to alter land use in the state. Fear of lawsuits that could drain their coffers prompted city officials to think twice about making any changes to zoning ordinances, the bread and butter of municipal planning. More comprehensive eff orts at regulating fringe growth or re-urbanizing downtown areas were beset by uncertainty about the newly hostile legal landscape. Prop 207 was the latest, and most urban, challenge to the exercise of government power over land use in the West. The Sagebrush rebellion of the 1970s and 1980s, which pushed for more local control over public land holdings, was a rural assault on federal regulatory efforts such as the protection of environmentally sensitive land as wilderness. The ensuing rise of the anti-takings movement, launched by Richard Epstein’s 1985 book, Takings : Private Property and the Power of Eminent Domain was also directed against government support for environmentally minded initiatives like smart growth. Fallout from these backlashes turned the West into a prime zone of conflict over land use.
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