marks property rights bill
By Andy Brack
S.C. Statehouse Report
JAN. 26, 2003 - - Property rights advocates and land use planning
proponents have been at loggerheads for more than a half dozen years
on what to do when small property owners believe the government
has directly or indirectly taken away their right to enjoy their
For years, property rights advocates pushed proposals for reimbursements
to landowners for improper "takings" if property lost
value because of a zoning or land use decision. But land management
proponents and government zoning officials resisted because they
said changing the law on "takings" would weaken local
attempts to manage growth and cost millions of dollars they didn't
But now thanks to time and compromise, both sides appear to have
moved to the middle with a watered-down version of tough property
rights proposals that have been circulating for years. This new
plan would provide private property owners with an affordable, speedy
relief mechanism but not bust budgets.
A Senate Property Rights Task Force has been at work over the last
few months to craft legislation that would create a new mediation
process landowners could use if they weren't happy with a ruling
by a local zoning board. While mediation initially would keep the
dispute out of circuit court, both sides agree it would speed up
the process, provide a mechanism for a reasonable resolution and
cost small landowners much less. Currently, it can take years and
thousands of dollars for a dispute to be settled in court.
"This is a people's relief bill," said Senate Judiciary
Chairman Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston. "It forces the government
to deal with the small landowner."
Additionally, and perhaps as important, the bill being discussed
would require local zoning and land use officials to receive educational
training on how to resolve disputes better and to be more responsive
"We believe one of the big problems has been the lack of understanding
by local planning and zoning officials," said S.C. Sen. Larry
Martin, a Pickens Republican who chairs the Senate subcommittee
drafting the property rights proposal. "Our plan is to provide
a remedy for most people to get recourse from a local appeals panel."
In short, the debate on "takings" and property rights
has shifted from property owners getting money for a "taking"
of property by government to a mediated dispute resolution process
that seeks to allow reasonable people and government to reach reasonable
compromises. If either side isn't happy with the mediated result,
they still could pursue more costly court options.
"They understand and agree there is a process that allows
reasonable people to get together and do reasonable things,"
said Neil Robinson, a Charleston lawyer who chairs the legislative
committee for the S.C. Tourism Council.
Robinson, who for years has been at the forefront of working out
a solution to help small property owners, said the newly-crafted
proposal recognizes small landowners have rights that need to be
protected and government has a responsibility to do more to work
Environmentalists generally have been on the opposite side of property
rights advocates because they worried a law that changed the legal
definition of a property that had been "taken" would thwart
land use planning. But since property rights advocates have backed
off redefining the definition, it has been easier to reach an accord.
Not everyone appears to be happy, though. The S.C. Association
of Counties says it supports clarifying uncertainty and an expedited
process, but it wants to ensure any mediated agreement gets the
blessing of local governments so bad precedents aren't set. It also
wants to ensure neighboring landowners aren't negatively impacted
by any mediated agreement.
The devil is in the details. But one way or another in the next
couple of months, it looks like the Senate will consider a property
rights bill that mollifies landowners, land use planning officials
and the environmental community.