NWA editorial: Drawing those lines

Regulations needed in balance of property rights

Posted: January 30, 2018 at 1 a.m.

Counties in Arkansas aren't exactly known as regulatory juggernauts.

Nor should they be. If we've heard it once from rural residents, we've heard it a thousand times: "If we want government dictating everything, we'll move to a city."

What’s the point?

Regulations are necessary at times to ensure one property owner’s behaviors are not permitted to ruin an area for others.

County government leaders, typically, respect the differences between urban areas with denser populations and rural properties where neighbors are more spread out. Proximity matters when it comes to regulation and a desire to keep one neighbor from affecting the other. In rural areas, attitudes also have an impact. Many rural residents want everyone -- especially government -- to just let them be. Often, that sentiment is given voice in the form of property rights.

Very few people, however, appear to believe there should be no regulation at all. The question boils down not to whether a line should be drawn, but where.

"People have the right to do what they want with property but there are limits," Brian Lester, the Washington County attorney under County Judge Joseph Woods, said recently.

Lester was commenting on a lawsuit Washington County filed together with the city of Lincoln over a property near Arkansas 45 and U.S. 62. The property is so littered with cars, boats and other items it's become a problem and eyesore in the area, said Joel Maxwell, a justice of the peace who represents the area.

Over the years, we've heard some justices of the peace and others talk as though living in the county gives residents a free pass to do whatever they want on their land. While we respect the principal of property ownership and the rights people have to use their property, what happens when a property owners' use begins to adversely affect neighboring landowners and the community overall?

The question of whether the property fits into that category will have to be decided in the courts. The dispute provides an opportunity to note, however, that the ability to do anything about such scenarios relies heavily on the foresight of political leaders. If they fail to put the proper measures in place to protect the community, there's little a judge can do to enforce a cleanup. Hopefully, there is at least enough of a regulatory framework in place to give the courts the necessary tools to take action.

It's popular sometime to demand absolute respect for property rights when new laws are considered. They certainly should be deliberated carefully, but some level of of regulation is a necessity to protect the interests of the community.

Commentary on 01/30/2018