Property Rights Foundation of America®

Speech from the Eighth Annual New York Conference
on Private Property Rights
(2004)

Landowners United to Defend Private Property Rights

By Mark Nix

Thank you very much. First, I would like to start by thanking Carol and every one of you. You all have done more than your fair share of protecting our property rights and moving forward. That is why I am here today. It is to maybe help you out with some ideas. Basically, unfortunately, the secret is out. I am an old advertising mass media guy. Although Mark was saying earlier that it was a shame for you to pull the heart strings of emotion, I have no shame about it. I'll do it every single time. So what you will hear you might have to have a strong stomach for, but what we have done is I actually started a landowners association just a few months ago. From there, as you heard, I used to do some television and some advertising.

Some of the facts I found out about this are we just don't know how to frame the issue. The other side has framed the issue for years. They are good at it. They used to hire me. Those bond referendums for schools, I came over to get support for some of them. They paid me, so that was good. But what we are looking at is we have to learn how to frame the issue for us. For example, smart growth. If I go to Joe Blow on the street and I say, are you for Smart Growth? What would he say? No, I'm for dumb growth. They won't say it. The issue is there. Isolated wetlands. When I started, someone came up to me and said, this is what they are trying to destroy. They had this beautiful marsh with pelicans flying over. What I found out was that was a wetland. It wasn't an isolated wetland. The isolated wetland is like a little dirt road that has a little puddle in the middle of it and they are taking it from the property owners. That's another way.

Impact fees. We were talking about that earlier. We are fighting that down in Horry County. The county council will lead you to believe that what they have here is they are making that all these people coming down from the north, they are the ones paying those fees. They should pay for the streets. If they are coming down and live in our community, they should have to pay for it. But how far from the truth is that? As you can tell us, everyone pays for impact fees. Inflated property value all the way across. So what we have to do is we have to learn how to frame the issue and we have done that.

In Richland County we have the smart growth that we call the Town and Country Plan. The first thing I heard the first day I started was that in three days they were going to have the first reading on it. Well, they didn't notify anyone else. This came from a friend from inside. He said all M-1 properties and M-2 properties will be rezoned to L-I. Well, my first day out I just kind of shook my head and said I never knew there was such a thing as M-1 and L-I. What is it? I went back and looked and what I found out after doing a little research was over 200 uses of someone's property will be stripped away from them with no notification whatsoever. If that is not just a crying out shame, I don't know what is. So we started right in there. The first thing was I went to county council and said, are you kidding me? How can you do this? And an M-1 isn't, you know, this wasn't putting in an M-1 florist, law firms, doctor care, those type of things. Those would be lost. And most of these properties are what I call mom and pop properties. They have a little bit of land that they are using for their retirement or something else. They lose the entire value of that. In fact they even had a church; they bought the land right next to them because their church was expanding. Under the new zoning method they couldn't expand the church. Where does it stop? So we had to stop it there.

So I went to the county council and started talking to them, and they looked at me and said, Mark, I don't know what you are arguing about. No one really cares. I said that no one cares because you haven't told them. I said, well, some people know. He said, but we only get the same three people all the time, you know what he said, the three whackos. I said, well, three whackos, what is so wacky about defending your own property? That's what we are built on as a nation. And he said, I'm not going to talk anymore. It is going to pass. Don't worry about it.

So the first thing I did was we had to build alliances. We had to frame that issue. Who did I call? I looked on that list and found what kind of properties are being stripped away. I found out the churches, I actually contacted every single member and every property owner of those with a letter that first day. In two days I didn't get a single call back. I said, oh my gosh, I'm in trouble. So the whole weekend what I did was my assistant and I called every single property owner in Richland County that owned that property, and we talked to them personal and let them know. From that we gained 300 names so we could add on to it. What we did then was we went back to the county council and spoke in front of the county council and said, here I am. I have 300 names of these property owners out of 1,300. I said and they are not very happy about this and the county council said, I don't care. I said well right now what I have is the county council in Richland County can only do 12 appeals a month. I said here is 300, I guarantee each one is going to appeal. That's over five years worth of appeals. They still didn't care. No one would talk to me.

So what I did then was I started calling other associations. The outdoor advertising association, they had a stake in this. The realtor's association had a stake. The homeowners associations had a stake. I went down the list. Girl Scouts, I called them. I don't mind. I even bought some cookies from them, too. So we actually had six or seven different associations helping us out, helping us fund a little bit.

What are we doing? The first thing I did was on Sunday's paper I put an ad out, and I framed the issue saying—I forgot about the zoning part of it because most people don't understand it. The average person don't understand what zoning is. They just care that they want to keep the value of their property. So what was the half page ad I put in the Sunday paper? County council is taking away your property's value. You know what else I did? I added their home phone numbers. I said, call them. Monday morning at 8:15 when I walked in my office, I had a call from one of our county council members who said, you got to stop it. I had 67 calls already this morning. One called me at 6 a.m. There is step one. They started listening. We framed the issue to where everyone can understand.

Let me go back to framing issues a second. My feeling is, and I saw the problem with this and especially on isolated wetlands, I have no clue as to what some of the buildings permits and some of the building priorities that you have. I can only tell you what we are losing out of it and county council and our legislators, they have no clue either. I have sat in meetings where the Home Builders Association is trying to explain why something shouldn't be done, and you can almost see that glassy look where they are almost falling asleep. We all do it. I was doing it myself, so we have to learn how to put it, put the message out there in a forward message, something that is easy to understand like losing property values.

Instead of smart growth, land restrictions. What did I tell them on smart growth? We have, actually the Heritage Foundation has done a great job with this. We have a guest speaker named Wendell Cox that comes in. Some people might know him. We found that 10 to 40 percent of the value of your house is added on. Why? Because of impact fees and land restrictions. If you get that message across, people start listening. If you follow up on, what does that mean, that ten to forty percent? We are taking away a whole segment of the population from ever gaining any wealth. What do I mean by that? Those teachers, the policemen, those are the people that deserve to start off that first step of wealth by home ownership are lost or at least have to wait several more years. Why? That cost of the house keeps going up. You know, the first thing I will hear from all these environmental people is these developers, they are money hungry. They are trying to line their pockets. I try to explain to them at the same time, I say, look at it this way. If they made a bad house, no one would buy it. There is a demand. If they have that, go ahead and do it.

Of course, right after I spoke to county council I had one woman come up to me and she said, I can't agree with you at all. Everything you said was completely wrong. I said well let's talk about it. She said what I have done is I have moved up in Chapin, and Chapin is pretty much undeveloped in Richland County. It is by a lake. She said, I bought five acres of the prettiest land you have ever seen and every morning I come outside and I look out and I see all the trees and I think how beautiful it is. But, you know what, one of the developers came in and built some homes down the road from me. She said, what do you think of that? Isn't that awful that they are ruining that land? I said, you know, I read something about that. It is called a "nimby," and now it is called the ponderosa syndrome. What I mean by that is she wants to look out her window and say, everything I see is my domain and leave it at that. She doesn't want what other people want. She's got what other people want. She doesn't want anyone else to have it. You can't tell me that's not the central theme for almost everything we have to stand up for. Other people have it, and they don't want anyone else to have it, also.

So what we have to do is we have to first frame the issue.

Form the coalition. Like I said, there are so many different people involved-businesses, developers, home business, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, churches are great. We actually talked to churches affected. Those ministers are good. Everyone knows their minister. They can make you do almost anything. Guilty for committing a sin, they will do it every time. My preacher makes me say twelve Hail Mary's every time I leave church and I do it too. What we have to do is bring them. You know, they bring all the parishioners with them to the county council meetings. We had one meeting where they couldn't even fit in the building we had so many people there. Why? The parishioners came because the minister said, let's speak on their behalf. That's what we have to do. We have to put an emotional key to it. Bring it to them. Let them understand.

The one thing, in the very beginning was that I used to think all legislators and county council members were just evil, really. I think I heard someone say before that they were evil. There are just misinformed. Once they hear that they are not going to be re-elected unless they go with what we say, they are not evil. They'll do whatever we want at that point. That is what we have to continue doing. We have to put it in front of them.

We were actually talking at lunch of some other ideas that we had. The biggest problem before I started was that we used to send out a newsletter but it was every other month, every two or three months. That doesn't work. In my association when I came on board, the first thing I noticed was we have a 52 percent turnover rate. In other words, 52 percent of all those people I had the year before aren't there again, and I have to start over again. Why is that? Because we don't give them enough information. We leave them for too long.

In marketing we had something called the "Rule of Three." What that means is you have to hear the message three times before the mind even starts to analyze whether he is having an opinion about it. So what we want to do is keep on hitting them. Right now I send out a newsletter, an e-newsletter every single month. The cost of it? Very little. We are talking about an e-newsletter. My e-newsletter is $25 a month. I send out 435 e-newsletters, and the best part of this is that it goes to every media outlet in my state—every newspaper, journalist, every reporter on the radio, every reporter on the television. How did I get that? We have press associations in every state. Look it up. You can pull up every reporter's e-mail address off on-line. So I send out that e-newsletter—over 400—every month. I get a 35 percent return rate, which is great. The average is usually five to seven. You know what else is great about that? I can track everyone. I know it is a little big brotherish and I never sell this, but I can see who opens it up, which press. Like John Blow at the state newspaper opened it up and he went to page three for an article on exclusionary zoning. I know it. You know what I do then? I follow up with it. I send him personally some more information on exclusionary zoning. You make those bonds, those friends with the reporters, too. As you see, all this is just building up.

We do other things. I travel the entire state. I think in the last two weeks I have been in every corner of the state, speaking to every association, every community, every group meeting I can find. I will speak at it. Why? Because they have to get the message. Once they know where I am going to help them, we are in great shape. It is not a matter of whether they are right or wrong, it is what the politicians, and especially the local and county-side politicians, believe is best for them. When I walk into county council and I see a county councilman come in, the first thing they are doing is they are counting the people in the audience saying there is a voter, there is a voter, there is a voter. Oh, oh, I've got to watch what I say today. You know, you have to make sure they know. They know I'll report them. I'll put it in the newspaper the very next day. You have to do that way. I am not ashamed of that.

When I was in advertising I would tape the baby's diaper with carpenter tape because she wouldn't sit still for the photo shoot. If I am willing to do that, I'll do anything. So they are going to be looking out for this. If I can impress on anything that you do these type activities, make sure you go to your membership at least once a month. I would say no more than three because then it gets bothersome. But once a month is a great time. Make them feel involved. E-newsletters are a great way. Your website is a great way. If there is something you have to get out right away, you have an e-alert. You can send it to them and say, call your county councilman, blah, blah, right now. Call your legislator. Call your senator. That is what makes a difference. That is what we have to keep on striving for. And if anyone else has any questions on marketing ideas, I am always there. I think my phone number and my e-mail address is on the back of the book. I am happy to take your calls anytime because to tell you the truth, that is one of the hardest parts of this job is framing the issue. We were talking about this at lunchtime.

Framing the issue of Endangered Species. The first thing I think of is the bald eagle. I wouldn't want to get rid of the bald eagle. We all love bald eagles, and that is what they are going to push on us. We have to find a different way of doing it.

The impact fee in Horry County, as I told you before, that is what we are having to do there. I framed that one saying, people, you know, it is affecting everyone. Your property rights are being infringed because you are paying higher taxes. The people trying to buy their first time house are paying a higher price for the house. Every one of these things adds up.

A man from the audience said that in their community that would jerk a zoning permit. In other words, if you don't use your zoning permit in two years, they take it back, which is outrageous. Look at it this way. For the economic growth of a community, what do we have to do? We have to have business come in, right? I can't tell you one business, let's say a Target or whatever, most of those places just don't buy land within two years and develop it. It is like a five-year process. What they are doing is your local community is ripping out the economic development of your community from you. And that's how you have to make facts. Are you aware? This is the one thing I really do believe in. Are you aware, put a money amount with it, of how much is being taken away? How much does it cost for the local property owner in that town to pay for some of these mistakes? I can't tell you a worse scene I have ever heard of. Right now it is legal in South Carolina to have an impact fee as long as it doesn't go to education. I don't know why that is, but at the same time what they are trying to do in Horry County is allow it to be almost like a slush fund. What do you think will happen when they can put the impact fee and the county council members go, well, I really need a new fire truck in my district, maybe a little bit right in front of the election. That is what it is for, and if you do have impact fees, I can't stress enough, ask what they are for. Every impact fee also has a time limit. What is the termination of what that money is going for? How long will it be? Will I get my money back if you don't use it for what you promised to? All that is within the laws. You can get the money back if they don't use it and not use it for the right thing. I think we are just one lawsuit away from the impact fees.

A good point was raised in another question from the audience. Do you know why we have impact fees? This is actually a great argument, too. Because we have growth. What happens with growth? There was no good planning with it. The reason why we have impact fees there was not a good plan to go with growth. In Horry County I had one reporter questioning and grilling me about the growth. He said, we have all this growth, —and this is where Myrtle Beach is—the city is going to go bankrupt, and I looked around and said, I have a lot of friends in Horry County, I said, it looks like it is prospering pretty good to me. I never heard of a city going bankrupt over having a lot more people moving in. In the last census, for every hundred houses there are in the community, it is averaging $6.3 million back into that community. That is something that is paying pretty good money by itself.

I heard this today and I didn't intend to talk about this, but the whole point of eminent domain needs our involvement. This is going to be one of my issues in 2005. We were talking about this earlier. I never understand it, especially now, the idea of public good and now it is an economic development public good. Where does it stop? I have friends downtown that have a music store. That family has owned that music store and that building for almost a hundred years. She just found out it was slated for eminent domain. A man came in and said, we want to buy your building. She said, well, I'm not sure I want to sell the building. You know, it has been here forever. He goes, well, it is on the list. She said, how much will you give me? Now the appraised value of the place is $1.2 million and he goes, well, I'll pay you $300,000, and she goes, are you kidding me? He goes, well, I just built some parking garages for the city and they owe me, and they told me to pick my lot, and I'm picking yours. She called me up. I said, if you get one call from the city, you call me right away, and if they send you something on paper, frame it, because you will own the block after that. I said it is just ridiculous where we are going and we have to stop it somewhere. The more we can educate the other property owners the better off we are. At that time she was already scared. She only called me because she knew I was working. She thought I could help her with that. What happened if I hadn't talked to her? If she didn't call a lawyer? That would have been a travesty. Public good for another parking garage. I just don't understand that either.

We keep on looking at the isolated wetlands issue. I don't know how many people are familiar with that down in South Carolina. It has become a very huge issue and that is another one where I just scratch my head. As a newcomer to this I scratch my head a lot lately. I'm surprised that I don't have a bald spot back here, but, you know, they told me in South Carolina to work on one acre of wetland, you have to mitigate eight to twelve acres. So the person came up to me and said, we are losing our wetlands in South Carolina. I said how in the world are we losing them? If we are losing, you got some really upset people out there that mitigated eight to twelve acres for one. I would say you are above good on that one.

I want to conclude here by saying frame the issue; align yourself with like-minded people. I haven't said this but what I call biomarketing. Send out your e-newsletter. Call the people that are in your group and send to their friends. Who are friends but like-minded people that think a lot like you do? It is the perfect source. It is a lot easier going after people you know on your side, what I call cherry picking, instead of putting out a mailing to everyone in the city. So try doing that. Like I said, feel free to call me anytime. I really enjoy the marketing side of this, and I am finding this fascinating. I am still a little bewildered by the whole concept of the bureaucrats getting involved in this. I'm learning more and more every day, but I would like to thank every one of you for the work you have done so far because a lot of you have learned from what you have done and I will continue learning. Thank you very much.

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