Monday, July 28, 2008

Ashby High Rise, One Year Later

Mike Snyder writes in today’s Chronicle that city officials have abandoned efforts to draft an ordinance designed to stop high density development in neighborhoods. The ordinance was originally aimed specifically at stopping the Ashby High Rise.

The Ashby developers first applied for permits a year ago. They lack one permit, which is being denied because of traffic concerns. This is despite the fact that the City first approved the voluntary traffic study conducted by the developers. The City withdrew its approval a few days later, supposedly under pressure from Mayor White.

That the developers must even seek government permission to use their property is appalling. That City officials are playing politics with the lives of others is more so. Last week, Andy Icken, a deputy public works director told a City Council committee that the ordinance that was being considered "would give people a warm feeling that this is the way the city does things."

It gives me a warm feeling for sure, but it isn’t a pleasant feeling. It is the outrage that accompanies witnessing a horrible injustice.

For a year the developers have jumped through every hoop placed in their way. They have attempted to reach a compromise with area home owners and the City (a tactic that I think is grossly wrong—it concedes the view that others should have any voice in how they use their property). They have endured attacks on their character, and been forced to spend their money in defense of their right to use their property.

Jane Cahill, a neighborhood activist said, "All parcels of land are not appropriate for all types of development." This is true, but it is irrelevant. The real issue is who should decide what is appropriate and what is not—the owner of the land or non-owners? Ms. Cahill makes her view very clear—she wants non-owners to be able to use government coercion to prohibit uses she and her cohorts find inappropriate.

Underlying all of the City’s efforts is the implicit threat of force. If the developers chose to defy the City and break ground, they would likely be arrested. But such implicit threats are apparently insufficient for Ms. Cahill. She calls the City’s latest action on the issue a “do-nothing approach”. Apparently she wants the City to openly single out the developers and prohibit them from developing their land. Apparently she has no reservations about imposing her views on others.

And this is the crux of the matter. Those who are opposing the Ashby High Rise are seeking to impose their values upon the developers (as well as future tenants of the project). They trot out clichés like “protecting our neighborhood” and “quality of life” without ever defining these terms. Nor do they bother to tell us whose idea of “quality” will prevail.

In the process, they advocate arbitrary laws that can just as easily be used against them. The same groups fighting Ashby are also opposed to a project in the Medical Center because they fear that eminent domain may be used to seize their properties. Apparently, they don’t mind using a club over the head of the Ashby developers, but don’t like the idea that the same club might someday be used on them.

The groups fighting Ashby can’t have it both ways. They seek to violate the property rights of others, while simultaneously seeking to protect their own property rights. They claim the right to own, use, and dispose of their property as they choose, while simultaneously denying the same right to others.

The developers of the Ashby High Rise have a moral right to use their property as they choose. They have been cast as villains. The truth is, they are the victims. Their rights have been violated. Their time, energy, and effort have been irrevocably taken. Justice demands that they be allowed to build their project with no further interference from anyone.

© J. Brian Phillips 2008

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