Letters to the Editor

Regulations, if vigorously enforced, can protect property values and standards of livability

San Juan County's Unified Development Code (UDC) section 18.70.060, regarding most land-use divisions in resource, conservancy and rural designations, says that “at a minimum, 60% of the area to be divided shall be maintained as open area ...“. Provided other design criteria are met, this then allows a developmental footprint of better than 87,000 square feet on a five-acre parcel.

Recently a local couple sued the county over this requirement. In a letter published in the Journal of the San Juans, they rationalized that their action was filed on “principle” to counter the county’s running “roughshod” over the rights of property owners.

Just how “roughshod" is that?

Putting aside any real-time pocketbook limits and giving self-indulgence its head, I posited a 5,000 square-foot house. Adding a three-car garage, guest house, art studio, wood shop, tennis court, swimming pool, stable, putting green and a 2,800 square-foot paved drive, I’ve maxed out my fantasy digs at about 18,000 square feet. Thus, I am scant of UDC 18.70.060’s allowable for a five-acre parcel by almost 70,000 square feet. I suppose if I were a sultan, I could order up a polo ground or such. But wait! Then some quibbler among us would label that actually open space, so instead how about a seraglio for several dozen assorted wives? That skirts the problem and could get under the wire.

Obviously, UDC 18.70.060 does not impede reasonable development of the parcels in question. Those who would attack it strictly on its merits have put their footprints in their mouths. Even a one-acre lot will accommodate 17,000 square feet. I am willing to bet that should a formal survey be done, a majority of developed parcels from five acres on up have not been anywhere near even 40 percent developed — open space plus development plus room to spare.

So what was the point of the suit? I think you have to take the plaintiffs at their word - “principle.” And what principle is that? Simply the dogma of the property righters among us who espouse the precedence of private property rights over public rights. And the means to further this aim — chip away at any and every regulation that bedevils until they are all removed. Then, is there anything else they won’t want? Yes, there is. They won’t want to live next to each other, that’s what.

I think many of us understand how regulations, if vigorously enforced, can protect property values and commonly accepted standards of livability from unscrupulous developers and aesthetically-challenged neighbors. Even the plaintiffs get it, for they hastened to vow their property “will remain wooded and quiet.” Now, isn’t it perplexing that a party would challenge a rule for which they later feel compelled to publicly profess accord?

Ah, but there is hope to resolve their conflict. They can put their property wholly or partly in a conservation easement and draw a tidy property tax discount in the bargain.

Glenn Kaufman
San Juan Island

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