Property Rights Foundation of America®
Founded 1994

Another Camel's Nose Under the Tent

The Hudson Valley Heritage Area

Carol W. LaGrasse
President, Property Rights Foundation of America, Inc.

Speech at the Public Forum
Sponsored by the Columbia County Board of Supervisors Planning Committee
and Congressman Gerald B. Solomon
at Columbia County Community College
March 24, 1997

Members of the Columbia County Board of Supervisors, honored guests, fellow citizens, and friends,

Thank you for the honor of speaking at your Forum on the Hudson Valley National Heritage Area. My name is Carol LaGrasse, of the Property Rights Foundation of America, an organization dedicated to defending the human right to own and use property in the full, rich sense of the constitutional guarantees.

In the spring of 1994 I exposed to surprised members of Congress, as well as to private property rights activists nationwide, the potential extent of the 100-plus National (or American) Heritage Areas. At that time the National Park Service, with the pseudo-grassroots coordination nationally by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, was quietly pursuing the National Heritage Program. Potential opponents, however, thought that there were only 10 or 15 new areas likely to be proposed. Since then my name has been nationally associated with objections to the program and its expansion.

So you know where I stand.

For three years, the national property rights movement has stopped the passage in Congress of generic legislation that would establish the National Heritage Area system, to which individual corridors such as the Hudson Valley or the 2,500-mile Mississippi River Corridor would be designated.

The environmental movement pretends that this program is not important to them, that it is just a system of genteel honors bestowed on localities, plus the usual porkbarrel. But last summer, the national environmental movement was willing to give up their long-sought so-called "reform" of grazing permits if only the 104th Congress would pass the generic National Heritage Area program. Property rights advocates sat on both the grazing industry and Congress, and the National Heritage program was not put through.

Rather than passing the generic Heritage Area bill, Congress in its last few days designated nine new National Heritage Areas individually, adding to the six already so established. Republican Congressmen, as well as the Democrats who originally developed the program, consider the Heritage Areas to be important porkbarrel. Projects like dams are not politically correct right now, but Congress can bring home salaries for planners and funding for visitor interpretation centers, and please the environmental vote.

In order to get the Democratic votes needed to pass the 700-page omnibus National Parks bill in which Republicans had invested over two years' work, House Speaker Newt Gingrich had to accept Representative Maurice Hinchey's Hudson Valley as one of these ten National Heritage Area designations, because Democrats believed that passage was an important asset to Mr. Hinchey's reelection.

Mr. Solomon was allowed to take his District out of the legislation, and has now drafted a bill to bring his District in. The bill has protections for home-rule not previously included in any National Heritage Area bill.

My message today is an old cliché my mother-in-law pulls out now and then:

"You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear."

The bills and laws basically establish a regionally bounded "management area," and provide that the Secretary of Interior (specifically, the National Park Service) execute a contract with a regional entity such as a state agency like the Hudson River Greenway Communities Council to "manage" the area in keeping with the preservation goals of the legislation. The purposes are couched in terms of historic and cultural significance, tourism and economic development, but involve zoning controls and intermunicipal and regional planning for very restrictive objectives. The Solomon bill forbids any federal pass-through zoning mandates.

A moderate amount of porkbarrel, for worthy objectives such as care and improvement of historic sites and parks, is also involved, as well as objectives of questionable merit. "Waterfront rehabilitation" may leverage more taxpayers' money and involve more restrictions and negative effects on local business and property owners. "Visitor interpretation centers" can be biased rehashes of romanticized local culture to the detriment of memories of productive industries and the diverse lifeways of the past.

The planning and restrictions involved in the National Heritage Areas follow from uniform, unimaginative designs of today's planning professionals and from the national environmental and historical preservation gaggle.

Recreation involves less access to waterfront for the popular forms of boating, no increase in swimming and the common sports, theoretical increase in hiking access but (like the other forms of recreation promoted by greenways and preservation) little increase in usage by the marginalized populations and poorer ethnic groups, purported tourism development but heavy-handed restrictions on small businesses such as bed and breakfasts who do try to get started, and less hunting.

Greenway zoning involves less home-building by the poor and lower middle income people, prohibitions and restrictions on business development, heavy restrictions on extractive industries essential to the economy and infrastructure, restrictions on shipping, as well as forestry and agriculture restrictions. As areas are gentrified, violators of zoning and environmental codes are more often villainized with heavy punishments. Often these are people who do normal things like cut trees, grow lawns or store cars on their land.

Tourism is being trumpeted literally everywhere around rural U.S.A. as the centerpiece of economic development. But tourism has important negatives. It offers a predominance of employment on the low end of the wage scale. It is seasonal, is extremely weather dependent, and is among the first sectors of the economy to feel financial belt-tightening.

A more balanced economy evolves without central planning and allows for the possibility of a variety of sectors, from mining to commerce to electronics to agriculture and forestry, to mention a few areas that have been economically important locally.

The Hudson River Greenway law resulted after a debate during which opposition caused the greenway program to be compromised, from a mandatory one to impose state-level preservation zoning on localities to a carrot-based program. The state leads localities into stricter zoning rules and works to diffuse local government authority and local people's autonomy over their affairs by blending jurisdictions.

The greenway also involves a land acquisition program, which people tend to think of and fear, at times, as associated with the Hudson Valley Greenway Conservancy, a quasi-state agency created in parallel. But actually the land acquisition is quietly carried out by the non-profit land trusts such as the Open Space Institute and Scenic Hudson, coordinated with the State Department of Environmental Conservation, DEC. So the local originators of the Hudson greenway idea are right in there lapping up private property, sometimes flipping it to government.

What the National Heritage Area designations do is to enrich the greenway process of land acquisitions and zoning controls and potentially diffuse further the sense of the governed about who governs them and the part they can play in their own government. The program tightens the involvement of the National Park Service and National Trust for Historic Preservation.

These effects will take place irrespective of the fulfillment of my repeated warning that the program is one to create national zoning, and irrespective of the sanitizing of the Hudson Valley National Heritage Area bill, even with the improvements by our esteemed Congressman Solomon. Of course, the portion passed for Representative Hinchey has the management contract, which directly involves the Secretary of Interior with the head of the Greenway council and hence in local zoning, and doesn't have the opt-in and other protective features. But I think that the effect of the involvement of National Park Service in the Hudson Valley Greenway will be profound even in the towns who have enough presence of mind to refuse to participate.

Just consider the big battles in the town of Coxsackie over accepting an overly restrictive zoning plan that basically evolved from the completely optional federal coastal zone management program through the New York State Department of State and through the Greenway compact.(*) The zoning wasn't easy to reject. After its defeat, the people are working long-term, like many others around this state and country, to hold off zoning like this. A candidate there won the local election last week precisely on a property rights platform.

The National Park Service has the temerity to know when to be visible or not. Since the same growth management mentality dominates the Hudson Valley greenway, National Park Service can play a background role except when needed in a pinch or to dedicate some exciting porkbarrel. For the portion of the Hudson Valley which is in the new bill for Representative Jerry Solomon's District, the localities will not be included until they opt in. But with the financial ability of the Greenway Council to lead the communities to the seemingly so credible programs it offers, there is a continuing potential for new rules being adopted to the detriment of homeowner's and business people's rights.

And remember, when problems arise, opting out requires being informed, and as unconstitutional federal programs proliferate, it is hard to know about one's rights in every instance, or to even know where civic problems originate.

The program, once enabled, will grow. That is the nature of government. Why would local government want an agency like the National Park Service with a long hostility and disregard for private property owners from Alaska to Virginia to have its tentacles into local government, economics, culture and private property?

The organization which created and sustains the National Heritage Area Coalition, and also with the National Park Service keeps the program moving, is the National Trust for Historic Preservation, with $7 million in annual federal funding.

The attitude of the National Trust for Historic Preservation toward property rights and the culture of ordinary people has been demonstrated many times. The Trust was one of the biggest contributors to the campaign against the State of Washington Property Rights Initiative, for example. It made a legal brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in opposition to St. Peter's Catholic Church in Boerne, Texas, which wants to expand its sanctuary because it now houses less than 1/10th of its worshippers. The Trust argued that stopping expansion on historic grounds was not an infringement on religious freedom because "no individual member of the church is being denied the ability to worship."

The preservation and environmental groups see the National Heritage program's greenway corridors as a gridwork forming an infrastructure for land-use controls of the entire rural landscape. Their writings and various rejected proposals spell out the agenda to use National Heritage Areas toward iron-clad zoning on a state and national level.

There is no reason to give one inch toward this agenda.

The federal porkbarrel is certainly not enticing. The additional prosperity that would be generated in the absence of the stigma of centralized planning under the narrowly focused auspices of the Greenway will more than compensate for the lost federal funds.

The local policy should be to minimize directions that flow from narrow interest groups and centralized planning and to maximize home-rule and locally inspired prosperity.

The intense response to a recent publication by the Property Rights Foundation of America on zoning is an indication of the concern and even anger which people feel about government because of the zoning agendas of others being foisted on them. Therefore my final point is to ask that you fully comprehend that there are indeed powerful, but undesirable, reasons not only nationally, but locally, for support of the Hudson Valley National Heritage Area program:

The program will result in more funding for professionals such as planners; more funding and complexity for related areas of government; ribbon cutting ceremonies whereby selected officials will look good publicly but unrelated to the quality of their governance; growth opportunity for land trusts; the potential to squeeze out owners of lower value homes; and the possibility of eliminating seemingly obnoxious visible evidence of the productive sectors that provide roads, buildings, manufactured goods and food.

Broadly speaking, the Hudson Valley National Heritage Area program improves the likelihood that the countryside will be homogenized culturally, economically and ethnically, to the benefit of the upper middle class and elites who are gradually claiming exclusive ownership of rural America by using the many devices available in such preservation programs.

(*) The state's Hudson Valley Greenway program requires the local municipal passage of an LWRP ("local waterfront rehabilitation" zoning for the entire municipality even miles from the shore, apparently) acceptable to the Department of State before a locality can be a full Greenway participant and be the beneficiary of state funds and advantages.

Additional notes:
(1) The need for impact studies.
During the question and answer period, I made the additional point that studies of future economic and tax impacts of Greenway, land-use planning and zoning were almost non-existent and that the local assessors and county real property tax service agencies and others should be engaged by the towns and county legislature to do such analyses.
(2) A question was raised from the audience and ridiculed by another panelist about potential United Nations involvement in the Hudson Valley National Heritage Area. This concern was not far-fetched, considering that in 1995 we exposed a secret application to the U.S. Department of State to designate the UNESCO Catskill Mountains Biosphere Reserve for that region including part of the Hudson Valley Area. I then pointed out that an early generic National Heritage Area bill provided that the Secretary of Interior could nominate any National Heritage Area to the U.N. as a World Heritage Site.
This was the Republican 103rd Congressional bill HR3707 (1994), providing under section 5b that the Secretary of Interior is "authorized… to consider any heritage area designated under this or any other Act for nomination to the World Heritage List if the Secretary determines that such heritage area meets the qualification for such nomination."
Nomination by the Administration is tantamount to designation by the U.N., because congressional approval is not required.
Another panelist, David Sampson, the director of the state Greenway Council, stated that World Heritage Site status has never caused any interference with the use of land. I pointed out, to the contrary, that a gold and copper mine development outside Yellowstone National Park was stopped recently by President Clinton on account of the World Heritage Site status of Yellowstone Park.

* * *
PRFA Resources:

"American Heritage Areas" Positions on Property Vol. 3 No. 1 (1996) Publication Order Form
New York Property Rights Clearinghouse Vol. 2 No. 1, p.8 (1995)
American Heritage Area Brief (July 1995)
"Surgically Removing the Aorta of America" Positions on Property Vol. 1 No. 2 (1994) Publication Order Form

Additional reference:

"Don't Touch that Style" by James Bovard, American Spectator (April 1997)

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