Opinion

Must we sacrifice liberty for a few trees?

Recent events illustrate why many people consider “growth management” a euphemism for a policy of inhibiting property development to the greatest possible extent — without compensating landowners for taking away their right to develop their own property.

One of the professed goals of people who advocate growth management is to concentrate residential development inside areas designated by government for urban growth. Suburban “sprawl” is the evil to be combatted through this process.

One might wonder why developing suburban areas is thought to be such a bad idea, since most people appear to prefer living in the suburbs rather than in an urban area.

Why is government being used to prevent people from doing what they obviously want to do? Is it sinful to desire a home in the suburbs?

Even if one accepts that government should step in and prevent some people from doing what others have done already, the contradictions don’t go away.

Take, for example, the action of the Port Orchard City Council in conditionally approving a proposed residential development on Goldenrod Street.

The new homes would be built within the urban growth area. A tributary of Blackjack Creek wouldn’t be harmed.

It might seem to the casual observer that the proposed development is exactly what is intended to be done under our growth management laws.

Rather than living in the suburbs, people who purchase the new homes would be living within the urban growth area.

Yet the council had yet another condition that must be met, based upon an existing city ordinance limiting the right of landowners to cut down trees on their property.

Big trees cannot be harmed, much less cut down, simply to get them out of the way of new development.

What was the idea of concentrating new development within urban areas, if not to preserve the woodsy environment outside those areas?

Having decided to preserve great numbers of trees growing outside urban areas, shouldn’t the growth managers have accepted the idea of cutting down some trees within the urban areas?

Apparently not.

I wonder what it is about human nature that causes so many people to treat big trees with such reverence.

Cutting down a few big trees to allow 20 new homes to be built within an urban growth area isn’t acceptable, even when the stated goal of growth management would be accomplished by that development.

Once a government entity decides to turn someone’s land into a preserve for any big trees the owner so thoughtlessly allowed to grow, it seems the owner ought to be compensated for the lost value of that land.

If it really is in the public’s interest to have big trees around to look at, why shouldn’t the public buy the land those trees are on?

Buying the land presents another contradiction, since the cost of buying what the growth managers want to preserve apparently cannot be met with available tax revenue.

Kitsap County’s recent decision to purchase 623 acres of forested land from Port Blakely Tree Farms highlighted the fact that most of the available revenue for “conservation” purchases has already been spent or obligated. So, even if the county were willing to spend its revenue to preserve some big trees in Port Orchard, it doesn’t have the money.

Port Orchard itself seems to have chosen to try to preserve trees without buying them from the owner. The city apparently has no funds sitting around waiting to be used to buy old trees and the land they grow on.

Why is it that people seem to respect their own property rights, but not those of others? If it were your land, and you wanted to earn a profit by developing it, would you take kindly to being required to maintain it as a habitat for big trees when that requirement prevents you from building on that land?

People who want to look at, or even worship, big old trees ought to be at liberty to buy them and the land — and they are.

This is still a mostly free country.

Growth management advocates ought to avoid these contradictions if they really desire to concentrate residential development within urban growth areas. But where is there a provision in our laws that invalidates ordinances that stifle development within those urban areas?

Trying to preserve forested areas outside urban areas may be a desirable goal to the majority of our residents, but attaining that goal requires some sacrifices within the urban growth areas.

Perhaps we could simply do away with the cost of hiring bureaucrats whose duties supposedly involve growth management, economic development, land-use planning and regulation, and all the other purported purposes of their employment.

Then we might have enough government revenue over the long haul to buy most property that hasn’t yet been developed.

While awaiting the day when all undeveloped land is owned by the government, anyone seeking permission to build could be inexpensively informed of the impossibility of such action by some signs stating simply and plainly, “you cannot get there from here.”

Robert Meadows is a Port Orchard resident.

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