Property Rights Foundation of America®

The Government Squeeze on Private Property-The Stone Age of Government

Carol W. LaGrasse

excerpted from Positions on Property, Vol. 1, No. 1 (PRFA, March 1994).

One by one, preservation-oriented controls are developing an atmosphere conducive to comprehensive Albany management of land throughout the state. Separate proposals for statewide zoning and a Catskill Park Agency like that instituted for the Adirondacks were defeated 20 years ago but have not died. With little notice a network of a multitude of different types of Federal and State controls and policies has laced the state during the last five years. This seeming hodgepodge is not enough for the powers bent on central growth management of New York, however. They are working publicly and secretly for the clear goal of 100 percent State control of land.

With zoning for the most part of 42 acres per building and other hard-to-meet rules, the Adirondack Park Agency Law was long the most onerous in the nation, but regulations in the works under joint New York City-State aegis and Federal pressure for the Catskill Mountain watershed plus much of Putnam County would rival the Adirondack controls. The new machinery of control that is taking hold in this state ranges from linear greenways that follow major rivers like the Hudson to vast blocks of land like the UNESCO Champlain-Adirondack Biosphere Reserve which covers much of New York north of the Mohawk River corridor, including cities like Plattsburgh and Glens Falls.

In fact, the State and Federal controls and policies, whether accomplished, partly in place, or proposed, are of such significance that, when viewed on a map, the intrinsic power to control a vast proportion of the area of the state without any future legislation is obvious.

The study that produced the map in Positions on Property was analogous to a GIS (geographic information system). Few people are aware of the computerized information about property that State, Federal and private environmental entities are accumulating. Preservation-oriented planners are working with Federal and State funds at the School of Forestry of SUNY Syracuse to tie together in compact computerized efficiency of GIS the State's vast data banks about assessment, labor, forestry, agriculture and environmental conservation, plus data from private groups such as The Nature Conservancy (TNC). The Conservancy has created data banks on endangered species and habitats throughout the United States on both public and private property and works in a common office with DEC just outside of Albany to facilitate enforcement of endangered species and wetlands protection.

We have spent nearly four years unearthing, analyzing and exposing the secretly conceived plans to control and expropriate from the private domain vast areas of this state for State and Federal government. In northern New York, close to forty important programs are in effect or seriously planned. The private Northern Forest Lands Council (NFLC) is supposed to design a Federal-level agency with Jurisdiction over 40 percent of the land-mass of four states, from western New York across Maine, 26 million acres. Property rights opposition stopped the NFLC from receiving its Congressional charter, but the private agency acting on behalf of government was funded quietly as a line item. The Northern Forest Lands program is one of the most dangerous programs for property owners and resource-based industry in the United States today. The practical function of the NFLC as a veritable government planning agency, coupled with its inside relationship with DEC, take it one step further than the relationship of TNC and DEC: NFLC was founded for governmental purpose. Companion Federal Forest Legacy land acquisition is planned for the New York-New Jersey Highlands and the north country. As a result of our opposition, northern New York Congressman Jerry Solomon hampered the program somewhat with a clause respecting home rule.

Multitudinous State and Federal Land Programs
As the map demonstrates, the plans to control land in this state, both north and south, especially in the east half of the state, are overarching. The Hudson-Champlain corridor all the way from New York City to the Canadian border is the target of several Federal and State programs. Saratoga Battlefield National Park, where the National Park Service has recently been expanding into farmland by wielding threats of eminent domain, is the junction of the North Country controls in various stages such as the Champlain-Hudson Heritage Corridor under National Park Service auspices and the States southern system of incipient control, the Hudson River Greenway stretching down to New York City. In 1993, freshman Congressman Maurice Hinchey, who as Assembly Conservation Chairman created the Hudson River Greenway, joined with U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt to announce at a meeting in the Catskills that he and Babbitt are bringing the National Park Service to the lower Hudson Valley to form the Hudson Valley Heritage Corridor, with roughly the same extent as the ten-county greenway.

Across the state, the Finger Lakes are to be re-wilded: Montezuma Wildlife Refuge expanded across farmland; the Lake Erie-St. Lawrence River shores protected (as well as the Hudson River estuaries, Long Island coast, and Mohawk-Erie Canal corridor, etc.): several river corridors and greenways established such as the Upper Delaware River Corridor; Sterling Forest and the New York-New Jersey Highlands and other mountain areas protected and acquired as need be; to say nothing of New York City's intention of exerting a stranglehold on land in the city's entire, Catskill and Putnam watershed. An Adirondack Park-style state agency, but with local representation, has just been established for the Long Island Pine Barrens.

In the backdrop is a document called Conserving Open Space in New York State created by the DEC under the guidance of environmental groups with the cooperation of political leadership in each of the nine DEC regions. It contains a fluid list of vast areas of the state that were originally to have been acquired by the funds from the defeated 1990 Environmental Quality Bond Act but which are now to be bought or broadly encumbered using designated moneys in the State's treasury under the Environmental Trust Fund enacted in 1993. The State government claims it has no knowledge about the untold billions the acquisitions in this official document would cost. The cost of environmentally significant acquisition is shocking. DEC spent $40 million, amounting to $117,000 per acre, on a single Long Island parcel in 1992.

The state government also extorts large tracts of "environmentally significant" land from the Niagara Mohawk Power Corporation, using the Richard King Mellon Foundation of Pittsburgh and the Conservation Fund as intermediaries. Instead of the taxpayers, the rate-payers had to hear NiMo's cheap disposal of breathtakingly beautiful Upper Hudson land in Warren County and Salmon River shore lands in Oswego County. Iroquois Gas Transmission System bought its 1991 DEC permit with $1 million toward the State purchase of Black River land in Lewis and St. Lawrence Counties.

The potential decline in assessed value because of cloud on the title of parcels listed in the Open Space Conservation Plan is just one example of the many causes of depreciation of the real estate tax base and shift of tax burdens to other property owners as a direct consequence of land preservation(1)

When mapped, the preservation goals highlighted in the Open Space plan form a grid across the entire state. The document actually has a little diagram with that effect. This grid is the raw framework for preservation through acquisition and extensive controls, which is to mature into full-fledged State

Wherever the State or Federal schemes are referred to as plans, they are instead invariably plans for preservation for wildlife, to the detriment of a future for human communities. Forestry and agricultural protection and tourism "development" are used as ploys to de-legitimize human habitation and diminish private ownership. The routine is, first get the people out under the pretext of improving forestry or agriculture, then once the people are gone, come for the foresters. In the Adirondacks, where the State cannot justifiably find fault with forest industry operations, it repeatedly harasses and impedes forest-based businesses. In the Catskills, the City/State environmental fist is drawn against farmers.

The Ultimate Control: State Level Zoning
The powers that drive New York government are bent on establishing universal state government zoning control over private land. The visible focus of the effort is a Pace and Albany law schools which sponsored a seminal twin conference during April 1993 at the institutions to analyze the impediments to State level land-use controls. Patricia E. Salkin, the director of the Albany Law School Government Law Center, and John R. Nolan of Pace Law School led the annual conference, advocating comprehensive statewide planning and regional planning as the centerpiece for any local controls. The idea of growth management they are pursuing is that local land-use controls would have to meet the State's comprehensive plan or be overruled by the State rules, which is the system underway in Florida.

Sponsors of the conference included planning organizations like the Regional Plan Association and New York Planning Federation, land trusts like the Open Space Institute and Trust for Public Land which acquire private property for government, State agencies like the Adirondack Park Agency and office of Rural Affairs, preservation groups like Scenic Hudson which was instrumental in forming the Hudson River Greenway, bar associations, trade associations, and municipal association. Gratified by the increasing power it can wield carrying out land management, local county and even town government is being sucked into a strong-arm role by the professional managers and upper level bureaucrats.

(1) LaGrasse, Carol W. "Tax Base Eroded by Shifting Sentiment," Capitol Business Review, Aug. 17, 1992

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