Second Annual New York Conference on Private
Experts Call for Respect for Private Property Rights
The outlandish rules of local zoning boards and the extremes of federal forfeiture impositions were the themes of noted author James Bovard, the keynote speaker at the Second Annual New York Conference on Private Property Rights convened by the Property Rights Foundation of America on October 19 in the Turf Holiday Inn just outside Albany.
"Zoning is often based on the premise that no one has the right to use his own land but everyone has the right to control his neighbor's land," declared Mr. Bovard, whose latest book, Shakedown, has been widely praised for its incisive illustrations of government run amok. "Nowadays, when a person wants to use his own land he has to increasingly grovel to the local bureaucrats."
Sharing Mr. Bovard's theme of federal government excesses, was Long Islander Victoria Khoury, who gave the opening address about the 10-year ordeal her father John Pozsgai experienced because he cleared out an old dump the government called a "wetlands" to expand his mechanics shop. "My father was sentenced to Prison on the basis of a guideline which has still not been formalized," Ms. Khoury said. But Mr. Bovard pointed to even more extreme government behavior, confiscations reminiscent of other cultures, citing seizure of apartment buildings because of drug deals happening inside them, among many examples.
New York Lawsuits Reflect Facets of National
Private Property Rights Forays
Martin S. Kaufman of the Atlantic Legal Foundation moderated a morning panel of attorneys telling about lawsuits against the State, New York City and Suffolk County, Long Island.
Property owners in the Long Island Pine Barrens have lost their entire right to use their land but the state and local governments will not pay for it as required by the Constitution, said John O'Connell, a Manhattan lawyer representing a group of several hundred landowners in federal court. "Transferable development rights" being offered are virtually worthless, he said. "If the Long Island Pine Barrens Protection Act is ultimately sustained, it will be a model for stripping property owners to a level you've never seen before," said Mr. O'Connell.
Attorney Edward Ledogar of Riverhead, Long Island, pointed out that the State's pine Barrens Commission is unconstitutionally disregarding the separate parcels property owners established before the Commission was set in place, which is why his clients have gone to court.
The theme of the conference was New York, A Mirror of the Nation because of the national significance of issues confronted in the Pine Barrens and other lawsuits.
Sam Kazman, the general counsel at the Competitive Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., gave the largely rural and suburban homeowners, foresters and farmers at the conference a history of the wartime New York City emergency measure of rent-control which to this day prevents property owners from negotiating rents at fair market rates and makes it very difficult to evict tenants. The Institute is representing a Manhattan family who were delayed seven years by rent control from moving into the house they bought because a new City law gave tenants the right over property owners to live in their own house.
"It has been said that for its physical effect, next to carpet bombing, rent control is the most effective way to destroy a city," Mr. Kazman commented. "For its intellectual aspect, next to a broad tip magic marker, rent control is the most effective way to wipe out the Constitution."
The government often illegally claims to own the land under abandoned railroad beds for "rails-to-trails." The recreational program has so much federal transportation money that it is causing litigation for farmers and other property owners all over the state and country. Alan Wrigley of Cambridge, New York, who is representing a group of property owners to negotiate a clear settlement to all their property claims against the State, described the history of currently disputed railroad land in Washington County from the days when the Legislature gave some railroads limited power to condemn land in 1848 and 1849.
"I have nothing but compliments to my clients for their willingness to stand a long time with me and for their willingness to research data," Mr. Wrigley said.
James Morgan, a retired State attorney now in private practice in Delmar, veered from his panel discussion of the federal lawsuit he is bringing for the Town of Hardenburgh about the unconstitutionality of the State's inconsistent assessment valuation of the State Forest Preserve land, to comment on the increase in laws controlling land use.
"Usually these statutes are passed with a lot of press about how good they are for everybody, but in reality they are taking the rights away from the people in local communities," Mr. Morgan said.
Conference Speaker Wins in State's High
When he and his colleague Diane Van Epps spoke at the property rights conference, H. Douglas Barclay was in the process of appealing to the New York State Court of Appeals in a trespass lawsuit against commercial fishing guides who claimed they have the right to float down the Salmon River, anchor, wade, and fish on a one mile stretch of the river where Mr. Barclay owns the riverbed, both shores and all ten islands.
The family of Mr. Barclay, a prominent Syracuse attorney, has owned land beneath the Salmon River for nine generations. Although the State in the past offered to buy the family's fishing rights and until recently enforced the law protecting the private fishing rights from trespass, the State appeared to change its viewpoint and claim that fishing rights are public as part of the public right to navigate the river.
DEC may have unethically communicated privately to the Appellate Division before the Court ruled 5 to 0 against Mr. Barclay, his counsel Diane Van Epps said. She received a copy of a letter that was not divulged to her during the hearing stage. The letter by DEC to the Appellate Court was about environmental groups who claimed to have the support of property owners and environmentalists for the State's position.
In February, the Court of Appeals ruled unanimously in favor of Mr. Barclay's corporation, Douglaston Manor.
Reforms of Government Use of Not-Profits
Sheila Powers, the Albany County Farm Bureau president, introduced the afternoon panel which was about the impact of not-for-profit environmental organizations on private property.
Carol LaGrasse, the president of the Property Rights Foundation, described nine problems of New York State's use of private land trusts as an arm of government. She said that biological data on private and government land which The Nature Conservancy gathers can be used for enforcement but is exempt from freedom of information law. The weak scrutiny of the prices paid by government for preservation land bought through the giant land trusts is another problem, she said.
"Environmental Bounty Hunting" was the topic of a compelling speech by Michael S. Greve, Ph.D., of the Center for Individual Rights. Environmental litigation groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council bring lawsuits to enforce pollution laws but the legislation they use is mainly designed for them to garner large settlements for groups with which they work. The Natural Resources Defense Council created the Open Space Institute to receive the bounties, Dr. Greve said.
Some explain the environmental movement as one for private gain, Dr. Greve said in answer to a question from the floor, but he thinks the environmental groups are operating under a "powerful ideological idea that private property is the enemy of the environment."
"There are only two rights you retain," he quipped, "to pay taxes, and to keep your property in its natural ecological state to drive the global system."
Ron Arnold, an author and well-known critic of wealthy environmental groups, who is the chairman of the Center for Defense of Free Enterprise in Bellevue, Washington, shared his research secrets to help the citizens to do their own digging to expose the funding of influential environmental organizations by corporations they claim to oppose. Arnold's book, Trashing the Economy has become a standard source of information about the big money and corruption in the national environmental movement.
For John McClaughry, the direction of land use and other government restrictions can be viewed as a new feudalism. The inflexible system had its essence in the principle that property cannot be privately owned, but must be held for the good of society, the retired Vermont Senator said. Now the president of Ethan Allen Institute in Concord, Vermont, Mr. McClaughry said that new efforts by the Sierra Club and others to amend the Constitution are a rehash of the National Wildlife Federation's 1987 proposed amendment to end the Constitutional guarantee of private property rights. He compared either environmental group's amendment to Article I Sect. 6 of the late Soviet Constitution, which holds that land belongs to the populace.
Mr. McClaughry said that his ancestors arrived in 1765 in Salem, New York, and bought land from the Clark Patent. "All four of Thomas McClaughry's sons fought in the Revolutionary War on the side of the Republic," Mr. McClaughry said, leaving no doubt of his belief about the central importance of private property rights.
The Property Rights Foundation of America, Inc. is a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting the constitutional right to own and use private property. Co-Sponsors of the conference include: Adirondack Fairness Coalition, Albany County Farm Bureau, American Land Rights Association, American Policy Foundation, Civil Property Rights Associates, Inc., Citizens for a Sound Economy, Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, Competitive Enterprise Institute, Coxsackie Awareness Group, The Heartland Institute, Institute for Human Rights Research, Land Rights Foundation, Inc., The National Center for Public Policy Research, New York Chapter - Land Improvement Contractors of America, New York State Taxpayers Alliance, People for the West, Rent Stabilization Association and Ulster County Sportsmen.
Proceedings in Publication
With the assistance of a grant from The JM Foundation, the Property Rights Foundation has published New York - A Mirror of the Nation, the proceedings of the Second Annual Conference which is available at a Price of $9.90 plus $2.00 postage and handling. See Publications Order Form