“Long ago it was recognized that all property in this country is held under the implied obligation that the owner’s use of it shall not be injurious to the community.” Justice Blackmun
There is an old saying that goes, “good fences make good neighbors.” This means that if you do something on your property that affects your neighbors in a negative manner, then your neighbors won’t be too happy with you. In other words, you don’t have an absolute right to do with your property whatever you want to do. This is an unfortunate truth for Property Rights people and good news to Community Rights people.
This tension between property and community rights came to light a couple of weeks ago during a rezoning issue before the City Council. A block of property owners were witnessing a degradation of their neighborhood. Developers were trying to buy single-home lots on their block to add multiple houses on those lots. So, these property owners wanted to “downzone” their own properties to prevent their lots and their neighbors’ lots from being subdivided. In effect, what these owners were asking the City Council was to make their properties less valuable. Why would anyone want to do that?
It’s because this is no ordinary neighborhood in Chula Vista. It is probably the most historic section of the city. It has houses that are 100 years old on very large lots of land, and large lots of land attract developers like bees to honey. In theory, a developer could have bought one of these lots and subdivided the land to add six houses where before there was just one. As one former resident noted, “Chula Vista could turn into Los Angeles.”
Property Rights people believe that, as long as it is legal (zoning, permits, etc.), a property owner (or developer) has the god-given and constitutional right to do whatever they want with their property. Property Rights advocates see this a very clear rule. Interestingly, this argument is usually used not to support a homeowner but a developer and by people that have no interest in the outcome. It’s just a core issue with them. If it’s legal and zoning won’t prevent it, they feel that a property owner (or developer) has the right to build a 50-story skyscraper next to single-story homes. If they want to sell it to a developer who will build six houses next door to you, Property Rights advocates will tell you that it is their right to do that. That is unfortunate.
What Property Rights people forget is that people own property in a community. When you add six additional homes to a neighborhood, you also add the parking and the traffic that comes with the additional households. Now multiply six times the potential number of lots that could be subdivided and that neighborhood has now been completely transformed. Or, take a neighborhood that is currently zoned for single-home residences and the City rezones it to multi-home zoning. Is this fair for the current owners? Property Rights advocates would tell them, “too bad, this is progress.”
In the end, the property owners got their wish and with a 3-1 vote their lots were zoned for bigger lots. Their neighborhood will maintain its character. However, this Property Rights v. Community Rights issue is an ongoing debate in Chula Vista. Property Rights people are not shy to tell you that it’s your right to do whatever you want with your property. Of course, it would be curious to see if a 50-story building was planned to be built next door to them, how strong would they be about their position then?