On the Mark: ‘Encouragement’ to abandon your property rights

MARK STRAIN

Property rights are an issue many folks are passionate about, especially property owners whose fundamental property rights are under attack by the government. Imagine owning a piece of property with frontage on a public road and then being told you must find another way to access your property.

In Collier County this can happen if the access you bought and paid for is not deemed the best choice by transportation staff. You may be asked to jump through however many hoops they arbitrarily decide on before they concede and grant you the right you had in the first place.

It is never good to leave words in our laws or codes that are vague or have meanings subject to a wide variety of arbitrary interpretations. Making it easy to disagree is not the good sign of a well written code.

In north Naples we have a fairly new road called Livingston Road. As described by transportation staff they want to retain it as a “pure” road, whatever that is supposed to mean. Years ago, Collier County had a study done to determine the “character” of development build out in our area. It was really a grouping of meaningless sound good wording that cost the public a lot of money but was worthless beyond what common sense would tell.

The study was titled “Toward Better Places: The Community Character Plan for Collier County.” As a result of this study a series of policies were written to point development in the direction the study had deemed was best for all of Collier County. To some it all sounded just great and was used to add the necessary layers of control to ensure “smart growth.”

Among the many vague outcomes of this study were policies in our Growth Management Plan (GMP) to “encourage” what the study insisted was to be our future. The ideas are not all bad, but with the diversity we have in this county, one size definitely does not always fit all. The word “encourage” may work when it is a practical application, but give that word to a bureaucrat on a mission and it becomes a banner to wreak havoc on any property owner that does not play ball.

In the case of a proposed church in north Naples, even though their property has frontage on Livingston Road, they also have frontage on a private roadway leading to a middle school. Since the policies in the GMP “encourage” connection to other access ways, transportation staff decided that this property owner will definitely be “encouraged” to use the alternate access, or else.

The access connection leading to the school winds like a snake and ends quite a distance south of the church property, which makes identifying the access to the church very difficult. People driving by on the “pure” Livingston Road will not easily see when to turn into the church property.

The church did talk with the school administration about connecting but decided it was not in their best interests at this time. Instead they wanted to exercise their right to have at least one entry and exit on Livingston since they owned adequate frontage. For any number of reasons it makes sense for them.

Yet transportation staff decided the church did not adequately consider the school driveway and thus they had to “encourage” them a bit more. Based on discussion at the Planning Commission hearing, “encourage” in this application seems to mean if you disagree, the costs to not use this alternate connection will be a financial and permitting nightmare. Every conceivable permitting road block seemed to be waiting if they refused.

How’s that for encouragement?

There are locations where interconnectivity makes a lot of sense and where it may be considered mandatory for public safety. Our codes have much more stringent requirements for these types of connections in congested intersections called activity centers (like Airport and Pine Ridge). But to arbitrarily demand this occur and completely disregard personal property rights in the process is wrong. Intimidation by government is not the best incentive.

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