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A Question of Balance

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Suppose you are a planning commissioner in a town near a major metropolitan area, and your town is beginning to experience substantial growth pressures. It still has a large rural agricultural area, but this area is starting to see increased development pressure to convert farmland into suburban residential and commercial uses.

As a result of an extensive planning process, you have before you a comprehensive plan draft that calls for low density in rural areas, with new growth to be clustered around existing developed areas where services can be provided in a more efficient manner. Further, the plan is based upon a policy of preserving a distinction between rural and urban/suburban as a way to maintain community character. As a result, the plan recommends residential densities in rural areas of five to ten acres per dwelling unit, which would be a change from the existing policy and zoning of one to three acres per dwelling unit.

At the adoption stage in the process, numerous farmers and landowners from the rural part of town show up at your meetings, angry that you are interfering with their private property rights. "My land is my 401(k)," they say. They accuse you of "taking" their property and threaten litigation. Before you even act on the plan, they begin their lobbying efforts with the elected officials, turning it into a politically charged issue.

Sound familiar? Welcome to the intersection of planning and private property rights.

This article will explore some of the issues associated with the interplay of property rights with planning and zoning, and provide you with some tips for how to balance these issues.

End of excerpt

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