hearts and minds

August 6, 2006

Changing the Rules During the Game

Warmer winters with less snow, and wilder storms around the equinox; is this a clue to the future? The fields have been too soaked to work, and I was visiting your friend and mine, Sid D. Complex, for a change, and letting off some steam, as usual.

“Sid how much vacant land do you want around your home?” I asked.

“Much as I can get” said Sid, “as long as I don’t have to mow or weed it.”

“You like to see what’s called ‘rural ambiance’ while you’re driving around, don’t you Sid?”

“Why sure. That’s why I moved out here.”

“Hm… How much do you want to pay for it?” I asked. “That’s easy – nothing,” said Sid.

“How much taxes, insurance, maintenance costs d’ya wanna cough up for all that green space, Sid?”

“You kidding? Not my money”, said Sid.

“How much effort would you like to put into eradicating buckthorn, thistles, bindweed, garlic mustard, purple loosestrife and other noxious invasive vegetation on those scenic rural miles?”

“Pul-leeze. I got better things to do with my free time,” said Sid vehemently. “Do you realize how long it takes me just to mow my acre of lawn every week? I want to look at that green space while I’m driving to and from my estate sub-division, the office park development, and the shopping mall. But I don’t want to pay for it or pay the expenses or actually take care of it.”

“I suppose you don’t mind those obsolete barns and stone silos cluttering the open space view,” I wondered.

“Not at all. They calm my frazzled nerves while commuting. As long as they look nice on the outside, they give me the illusion of the persistence of traditional values, peace and serenity rather than the inexorable, increasing domination of our lives by grinding, marketplace driven technological efficiency. I want to feel like I’m living inside a cute model railroad setup under the Christmas tree. We could write an ordinance requiring a minimum density of two coverall attired people operating antique tractors per square mile, and slip in a clause banning manure spreaders and requiring tractors to stay off the road,” opined Sid, whose philosophy and vocabulary have become rather more slick and sophisticated since he’s taken to reading upscale magazines.

“You’ve heard”, I supposed, “that the Planning Commission of the Town of Cedarburg is considering ANOTHER change in the zoning. The idea has been floated that a density of four acres per house is too congested for a subdivision development. Can you believe that? They are thinking of requiring 4 1/2 or 5 acres per ‘estate’. It appears there’s a sentiment to slow or stop any new development, by decreasing the so-called density while increasing the costs and open space requirements.”

“That’s great, “ says Sid. “Now that I’ve got my home here, let’s bar the door and keep anyone else out.”

“How about the ambiance lost, the green space destroyed when your home or subdivision was built?“ say I.

“I don’t know anything about that,” says Sid. “Green space and ambiance started the day after I got here.”

“You’re forgetting something in your considerations, Sid. Farms are being forced out of existence by economic factors other than development, but development occurs on farmland. Restricting development forces the farm owner to contribute his or her personal assets to what is asserted by those on the planning commission and town board to be the common good. Shouldn’t everybody contribute to that, not just the farm owner? Shouldn’t the R-2 and countryside estate dwellers crack open their stock portfolios and pension plans and help pay for that open space scenery they want to enjoy, rather than pass an ordinance to force the farm owner alone to provide it?

“Make no mistake; the changes under consideration now will subtract thousands of dollars per acre from the market value of a Cedarburg farm. This affects the ability of a farmer to get a loan on equity, and diminishes the value of an asset which has often been held by the family for well over a century and which is the only asset owned, other than depreciating equipment. How would you feel if the planning commission voted to limit the appreciation of a long held stock and bond portfolio? And what is the reason the board and commission are considering applying these changes only north of Hwy 60? What’s good or bad for the north end of town is good or bad for the south end, ain’a? I’m surprised at you, Sid, considering your ethics and beliefs,” I remonstrated.

“You didn’t ask me what I thought was fair or right”, said my old friend. “I just answered the questions you asked honestly… and I couldn’t resist yanking your chain a bit. Are you ready for a cold one?”

“Sure, I’ll have one with you. You know, I’ll bet there’s a better and fairer way to do the right thing here, Sid. Want to help me find it?” I concluded. “I wonder whose land is already ‘in the pipeline’.”

May 27, 2004

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