P.O. Box 75, Stony Creek, New York 12878 - 518/696-5748
The right to own private property is a fundamental American freedom that
guarantees personal liberty and promotes economic prosperity.
Greetings! I trust that this letter finds you well-and that your winter has not been as rugged as ours!
Your involvement is making it possible for us to extend the work of the Property Rights Foundation of America, Inc., in worthwhile new directions. We have just begun our eighteenth year: Our plans reflect this generous, consistent participation by you and many others.
A wave of energy is sweeping the country. It's not only the "Tea party" movement. And it is not solely taxpayer activists.
This current of awakening in rural areas such as here in the North Country shows itself in the actions of both local officials and, even more so, the ordinary citizenryreflecting their intensifying unwillingness to accept the arbitrary constraints imposed by overzealous government officials.
People are wearied at seeing their communities under attack by environmentalists. But they are not worn down by the repetitious attacks of the conspiracy of insider non-profits and governmental environmental agencies. The spirit that is arising reminds me of a line from William Ernest Henley's beloved poem Invictus, which my husband Peter sometimes quotes, having memorized for his father when he was a boy.
Of course, the "punishments" (to use another word from Invictus) that property owners face today are not by chance.
More than thirty years of environmental regulation are forcing property owners to face reality. Things won't get better without being forcefully reversed. Here in New York, forceful litigation focusing on protections for private property rights and local communities is building up and winning, without an odyssey to the United States Supreme Court.
In 1994, when we founded the Property Rights Foundation of America, Inc., we endured savage accusations. I recall a local Sierra Club protest at our first national property rights conference, complete with posters alleging that we were part of Newt Gingrich's "Contract with America" and that our intentions would cause little children to starve.
Finally, the fundamental, constitutional positions of the Property Right Foundation of America® have become mainline. Wherever you look, someone is outraged after losing the right to use private property, property that sometimes represents a lifetime investment. Countless others are suffering and angry because they were led into a mortgage bubble and are losing their homes.
Today people understand in a visceral way that property undergirds their family well-being.
A parallel current to the property owners' awakening to the power of environmental rules is resulting from the solidifying of land-use and building regulation. The environmental groups and land regulators at all levels have been closing the gaps in their control of private property.
In rural areas where building codes did not exist thirty years ago, state-wide building codes have crossed the line of reason, and are, of course, not consistently enforceable. What rural town or county can afford to track the replacement of residential windows with permits and inspections, or the replacement of siding, or the full range of exterior and interior alterations, or the countless maintenance requirements of New York State's uniform building code, as well as codes of other states? What property owner can imagine the degree of regulatory detail that his house must satisfy to meet the code?
Buried in the codes are actually restrictions that are needed for health and safety. Of utmost importance is fire protection. Yet, less than a year ago fifteen people were displaced when an entire row of newly constructed, attached garden apartments in a town not far south of here burned down after an ashtray caught fire. The attached homes would have withstood the spread of fire if protections that were established a century ago to protect tenement dwellers from disastrous spreading fires had been required.
A barn housing 800 prized cows collapsed under the snow-load this winter. That collapse in Saratoga County caused at least one hundred cows to die. Also not far from here, at least eight barns collapsed this winter in Washington County, the locale of the charming scenes painted by Grandma Moses.
The irony is that ordinary homeowners can be tied in knots by enforcement of inconsequential requirements of building codes, but the regulations often fail in the all-important objectives that inspired their enactment, such as fire protection and structural adequacy, even for large buildings. In fact, New York State law exempts farm structures from applying for building permits.
Furthermore, in addition to their necessary, but exaggerated function, building codes are exploited to "justify" declaring a building or even an entire neighborhood, "blighted," so that it can be condemned by eminent domain to make way for private development.
With adequate support, the Property Rights Foundation will be well situated to help more property owners caught in many situations related to misuse of building codes and zoning.
The anger about the grasping hand of government at the expense of local communities has reached a peak here in the North Country. Just as in the building code issues, the goal of land acquisition has been carried to extremeto the detriment of local communitieswhile original purposes, including promoting outdoor recreation, such as hunting, and wildlife conservation in balance with the local economy, are being diminished.
The paramount example at this time in New York State involves the forest lands formerly owned by the Finch Pruyn, a paper manufacturing company in Glens Falls.
In 2007, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) acquired all 161,000 acres of prime timber land that had belonged to the paper company. Soon TNC began announcing various plans for the land. After a while it became apparent that the land would mainly be split into two parts, about 92,000 acres where the state would acquire conservation easements and a timber company would hold the residual title, and approximately 65,000 acres (100 square miles of prime, productive timber land) that the state would acquire in full title, to become "forever wild" forest preserve and never be logged again.
Public presentations by TNC and the state were confusing and incomplete. But, as a result of our groundbreaking work to save the hunting camps on the Champion International tracts, the state followed the legal mandate to obtain resolutions of approval from all the localities where the acquisitions were to be located; TNC successfully sought resolutions from the towns where the land was located. Local officials raised few publicized objections.
Last month the officials suddenly began to change their minds. They announced resolutions against the state acquisition of the paper company land as well as another 16,000-acre tract held by TNC called the Follensby Pond tract. The announcements in opposition to the acquisitions spread rapidly from town to town, county to county.
The Adirondack Council, the wealthy environmental organization that expects to call the shots in the region, cried foul, and launched a broadside against the officials leading the new effort to stop the state acquisition.
Two factors precipitated the officials' about face:
First, at the end of December 2010 the news broke that that the state had just acquired the conservation easements for $30 million. The price tag hit hard.
People were incensed that the state had spent millions on mere land rights when the state budget had such a deficit that taxes and fees were being raised, services reduced, and state workers were being cut back. State ownership of the conservation easements offers only minor benefits to the localities and significant disadvantages.
The plan to immediately buy the 62,000-acre tract, along with the Follensby Pond tract, appeared in January in the state budget. The cost could be well over $40 million.
Why should the strapped taxpayers pay millions of dollars for the state to acquire prime timber land so that iy will never be cut again, employment for local loggers further eradicated, roads closed, and cherished hunting clubs be forced out?
A wave of justified anger powered the resolutions against the acquisition.
The solid foundation for this profound change in attitude has been the work of the Property Rights Foundation of America, work for which you personally deserve a great deal of credit. For well over a decade, the Property Rights Foundation of America, Inc., has been steadily publishing articles in our newsletter the New York Property Rights Clearinghouse and hosting speakers at our annual conferences against the acquisition of large private holdings, including this tract, in either conservation easements or full title.
During the past two years, with the assistance of a grant from Great Circle Foundation, we've been reaching out to sportsmen and women about the hunting issues related to these land acquisitions by hosting exhibits at gun collectors' fairs and sportsmen's shows, developing and solidifying opposition to state land acquisition.
These and many other PRFA efforts against state land acquisition have brought significant successes. Joined by the long-standing deep local opposition and bolstered by local officials, we can indeed finally turn the tide of government land acquisition.
It is possible now that in these seemingly despairing times for private property rights, we can see great change, whether in humanizing building codes, controlling zoning, cutting the use of eminent domain down to constitutional functions, or halting government land acquisition for wilderness preserves.
It is essential that we do not let this time pass by without mounting the very best outreach effort humanly possible.
This could be a point in time where the overall picture for property rights simply continues on that long curve downward: more arbitrary zoning; increasingly corrupt, ineffective building codes; eminent domain as a worsening curse for small property owners; small dying communities trapped in giant, dark government forests; wetlands, wildlife, historic, and grandiose viewshed controls stripping property owners of their rights; and regional land use controls, conservation easements, and corridor designations wiping out access by ordinary people to homes and enterprises in the countryside.
On the other hand, during this time of great public awareness and sympathy by a large sector of the population for the plight of property owners, we could help to change the course, bringing back respect for fundamental property rights, lightening the load on the backs of property owners, and making it so much easier for individuals, families, and communities to be secure and prosper.
When you participate with the cause of the Property Rights Foundation of America, Inc., you work together with citizens, property rights groups, and even policy organizations all across the United States, from Maine and Florida to Alaska and Hawaii.
Our web site, prfamerica.org has a local, statewide, national, and international audience. We reply daily to questions about countless property rights situations, civic issues, and land policy issues. Articles from our publications are recirculated by grassroots organizations in their local and statewide battles against zoning, heritage areas, conservation easements, and other assaults on property rights.
Our work becomes a vibrant current when combined with these dedicated individuals and organizations.
This year, we'll be intensifying our efforts in these regional, state, and national areas to the fullest degree possible. We do not want to leave one opportunity unfulfilled, whether it is a request for a "friend of the court" (amicus curiae) brief for an important property rights appeal or for a presentation at a civic affair.
You have played a big part in the effectiveness of the work of the Property Rights Foundation of America, Inc. Your continuing generosity is much needed.
This urgent plea for your continued support comes at one of the most opportune occasions during these seventeen-plus years of the work of PRFA. If you can find it possible to contribute at this time, your generosity will be heartily appreciated.
With very best regards,
P.S. The Property Rights Foundation of America, Inc., is recognized by the IRS as a 501.c.3 organization for tax purposes.