I’ve always said the basic principle of local government, particularly zoning, is, “You have the right to control everyone’s property except your own.” Graham Moomaw reports in the Charlottesville Daily Progress on the latest example of this principle in operation:
The owners of Arganica Farm Club, a distributor that makes weekly organic-food deliveries to more than 10,000 customers in Virginia, Washington and Maryland, were hit with [an Albemarle] county zoning violation on May 16. The violation notice claims Arganica is running “warehouse/packing plant operations” on a stretch of Fray’sMill Road zoned as a rural district.
Neighbors say the dozens of cars parked out front and a stream of delivery trucks have eroded the aesthetic value of the historic Holly Tree Farm in Advance Mills, the company’s home base.
Arganica uses an online ordering system that allows customers in the greater Washington area, Baltimore, Richmond, Hampton Roads and Charlottesville to order “farm-fresh, artisan and organic” food from local producers and vendors from around the country. At Holly Tree Farm, those orders are filled in reusable wooden crates and sent out for doorstep delivery.
The “aesthetic value” argument shows just how far the intellectual property mentality contaminates the exercise of genuine property rights. If a property owner can’t engage in routine business on his own land because neighbors object to “erosion” of intangible values, then property rights in scarce objects are meaningless.
But back to the main point. Arganica’s owner, Dominique Kostelac, is not taking the county’s actions lying down:
“Though we employed around 100 people and redirected millions of dollars in urban consumer spending to local farms and small Albemarle artisan producers as well as plow millions in national and international investment into our Albemarle County-based business, a select but unelected few have taken an adversarial stance to us and dealt a mean blow to both workers and producers,” Kostelac said in an email.
He’s right to attack the “selected but unelected few” as the real problem here. While regulators of all stripes claim the protection and “legitimacy” of the democratic system, in truth these folks are no more agents of democracy than a third-world dictator. Most people will cover their ears and repeat to themselves, “They’re just enforcing the law,” ignoring the reality that there is no law here, just vague mandates that are constantly subject to the changing whims of whatever bureaucrat happens to declare himself in charge that day.
When people accept schemes like zoning codes, what they’re saying is, “We value wealth-destroying bureaucrats over wealth-producing businesses.” It’s that simple. Because there’s no such thing as a regulatory scheme with 100% compliance. Even if nobody is breaking a given set of rules, the bureaucrats are compelled by the nature of their positions to manufacture violations — not only to justify keeping their present positions and salaries, but to ensure the potential for future growth in demand for regulations.