Land Use Planning: The Facts PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 19 August 2009 00:00
      Back in November of 2008, John Mishler and David Brown were elected to the Washington County Board of Commissioners.  Both men had land use planning as significant planks in their respective platforms.
    Since January 2009, Brown, Mishler and Lana Sullivan have overseen efforts to bring about the implementation of a Comprehensive Land Use Plan for Washington County.  During the last eight months, the Washington County Farm Bureau has been an active supporter of the concept, hosting public informational meetings for the citizens of the county.
    By no means is the concept of land use planning universally supported by the residents of Washington County.  Several individuals have spoken out against the idea in public meetings letters to local newspapers.  Fearing what they see as another example of government usurping the rights of the individual, these citizens point to the U.S. Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and to policies adopted by the United Nations collectively referred to as “Sustainable Development” as the cornerstones of their argument against the concept.
    The discussions/debates/shouting matches seem to mask the real issues involved in the land use planning controversy.  What makes the Constitution of the United States such a unique document is the clear premise set forth that the rights of the individual are paramount.  However, those rights do have limits.  Those limits to individual rights are demarcated at the point when the rights of the individual comes into conflict with the rights of the population as a whole.
    A clear example of this principle is seen in the classic scenario regarding freedom of speech guaranteed in the 1st Amendment to the Constitution.  Numerous times, that freedom has been determine not to be absolute.  In other words, you cannot yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater if no fire exists.  Such actions would bring into conflict the individual right to free speech and the overall right to safety of the population in the theater as a whole if the false warning initiated a panic and people were injured/killed trying to escape the perceived danger of the fire.
    Another, and probably more appropriate example, is the right of public domain.  When elected officials determine that the welfare of the community is either protected or improved by some major public works project such as the building of a highway or a reservoir then the property of individuals can be purchased at fair market value, with or without their consent, and used by the government for the common good.  The 14th Amendment to the Constitution guarantees that this cannot happen just on a whim by elected officials:
    “. . . nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law . . .”
The operative words in this quote are “without due process.”  In other words, a set procedure must be in place and that procedure followed in order to insure that the rights of the individual are not being infringed without a good reason.  In the case of property rights, be they ownership, usage or educational, the law is very clear on what circumstances would allow the government to “deprive” citizens of those rights.
    Specifically, in the State of Indiana, the statute providing for land use planning is IC 36-7-4 et seq.  That statute sets forth not only the authority of a land use planning commission but also places restrictions on that authority in order to protect the rights of the citizens.
    Currently only 12 counties throughout the state do not have some form of land use planning in place.  Of those counties, at least three are in the process of developing and adopting a comprehensive plan for the use of land.  The Indiana counties that still do not have land use plans are Clay, Crawford, Daviess, Dubois, Gibson, Greene, Lawrence, Martin, Orange, Pulaski, Sullivan, and Washington.  What if any characteristics do these counties share?  The most obvious similarity is that all are what would be classified as rural communities.  Looking at a state map another feature becomes apparent.  Except for Pulaski County, the remaining 11 counties are located in the southern part of the state.  Of these 11 remaining counties only Gibson does not share a common border with at least one of the other counties without land use plans.
    Proponents of comprehensive land use planning keep saying that economic growth is significantly and negatively impacted by a lack of a plan.  According to information gleaned from Indiana University, Kelley School of Business' StatsIndiana website,, the per capital annual income of the 12 counties without a land use plan was $28,472 in the most current year recorded, 2007.  The remaining 80 counties in the state with some form of land use planning in place have a per capital annual income approaching $35,000.  Although not conclusive evidence that a causal relationship exists between land use planning, economic growth and personal income, the data certain does bring into question what connection does a lack of land use planning and low personal income have.
    Looking at the data even more closely with an understanding of the culture of the 12 counties in question, Dubois County with its dominant German heritage has the highest per capita income at $39,760.  Gibson County, although not predominately of German ancestry has large German communities in the southern part of the county.  The per capita income in Gibson County is $30,769.
    Anyone familiar with these two counties understands how the culture of German heritage demands that people keep their homes and property neat and well-maintained, regardless of where they live.  If, for the sake of argument, those two counties are taken out of the mix, the per capita annual income of the remaining ten counties drops to $27,113.  That is nearly a $8000 per year difference in income per person between those counties and the rest of the state.
    Opponents of land use planning warn that the government will take away land use rights of the property owner if a comprehensive land use plan is adopted.  Yet, Washington County already has two communities with land use plans, Salem and Livonia.  When asked to give examples of how citizens in those communities or any community in the state of Indiana with a land use plan in place have been denied their rights, the opponents seem to lack definitive examples of governmental abuse.  
    Have property owners been stopped from doing certain things with their land in counties with land use plans?  Of course they have.  The same as people who attempted to do something on their land that would damage the air quality or the water supply have been restricted, so too would a land owner be prohibited from doing something with that land deemed detrimental to the welfare and well-being of neighboring property owners or the community as a whole.  The rationale for this is the common law adage which says, “Your rights end where the other man's nose begins.”
    On Wednesday evening, August 19, the citizens of Washington County will have another opportunity, at a public hearing, to learn about comprehensive land use planning and to express their opinions on the subject.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 19 August 2009 08:55