To a great extent, none of us should be surprised by how far we’ve come. From the post-Revolutionary War, when there were large pockets of Americans who wanted absolutely no government, to today, when the IRS has become a political organization of tyrannical thugs and Big Brother is cataloging your every phone call.
At the local level, we have our versions of the constant whittling and erosion of the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Look at the regulatory regime on Longboat Key. It’s probably safe to say most Longboat Key property owners like it — the regulatory rules that strictly limit how individuals can use their property.
We have often said today’s concept of property ownership is this: Yes, you may own your property; you paid for it; and you certainly are forced to pay the taxes on it. But truth is, it’s not really yours. You can’t change it, say, the way you can change your hair. Or dress it, say, the way you dress yourself — however you want.
If you want to add a fence; perhaps grow a hedge eight feet tall; build a second story above your garage; replace your roof; or, say, add 11 dining seats to your restaurant, you can’t, even though it’s your property. You must obtain the approval of your neighbors and the regulatory regime.
We all know the arguments: Zoning laws exist to protect you from your neighbor harming you and your property. There is the “Longboat Key would not be the premier residential place it is were it not for its zoning laws.” And, if you don’t like the laws, you’re free to move.
But as with all things government, there is the constant tug and pull of finding the right balance. In America, you would think, the err should be toward our heritage — err on the side of freedom.
Alas, it isn’t. And look where it’s taking us.
In the recent hubbub over entrepreneur Ed Chiles’ desire to renovate the historic Rufus Jordan House and expand the seating at the Mar Vista Dockside Restaurant & Pub, we all can understand neighbors’ concerns about traffic and parking and providing proper public notice of his plans. Those would be every neighbor’s concerns.
But, we go back to our comments of a few weeks ago. The Village and Mar Vista historically are as native to each other as sand and sea shells. Add to that long co-existence the idea that investing in your property to improve it and expanding your business are as American as apple pie. There shouldn’t be such strife.
Indeed, in the case of a neighborhood restaurant, expanding within reason and with an eye toward compatibility are also expected as of a good steward and business owner. It’s in the owner’s economic interest to co-exist.
And from what town officials said, Chiles’ expansion plans conformed with the town’s codes. Even so, the neighbors didn’t like them. With their opposition so strident, Chiles pulled back — no renovation at Jordan House, no more Fourth of July fireworks, no more fish fry for the Longboat Key Historical Society.
A petulant reaction?
No, we get it; every current and former business owner gets it.
Along with the gratification and benefits of owning a viable business, there is another side of the coin — the constant hassles … from customers, slacker employees, competitors, government bureaucrats and, yes, neighbors. Put yourself in Chiles’ shoes. It would be a strain to be a pleasant host to some of the Villagers who are campaigning to drive his restaurant back to 60 seats from the 113 he now has. There are Villagers, no doubt, who boycott Chiles’ restaurant anyway, hoping he goes away.
But in the bigger picture, this concerted effort by the Village’s “runway residents” — the neighbors who bought at the end of the runway and complain about the noise — can and will work to the detriment of Longboat Key.
Think about the future of Longboat Key and what, during its history, has made it unique. To be sure, the Mar Vista is one of the Key’s historical treasures, one of the features that draws the people who buy the Key’s homes and condominiums. Imagine Longboat Key devoid of all of them — Mar Vista, Moore’s Stone Crab, Harry’s Continental Kitchens, Euphemia Haye, Ciao Italia, Lazy Lobster, Blue Dolphin and on down the line.
It’s not that far fetched. In fact, we know it to be true — that Chiles is on the cusp of that stage that every scarred and weathered entrepreneur reaches. This latest encounter with Longboat Key’s mindset has him thinking: “How much longer do I want to fight these battles? Is it worth it?”
Watch out, Villagers, what you wish for.
The options cross his mind: Sell the restaurant. No one knows what that might bring. A better operator? A nightmare? For that matter, who would want to buy the Mar Vista — especially when you do the due diligence and learn about doing business in Longboat Key and the Village.
Maybe it would be easier just to shut it down and let it languish while trying to convert it to residential zoning. Convert it to a site for a future mega-mansion or two that would cut off views of the bay and forever change the ambience and character of the Village and Longboat Key. Another step, one of many on the Key, backward, not forward. How would we all like that?
So much for the pursuit of happiness and property ownership. Tyranny of the majority, at any level, is a dangerous assault on freedom.
DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN; PLUNDER AS A WAY OF LIFE
Since late last year, politicians in Washington, D.C., have been promising to save Americans from the Internal Revenue Service — to fundamentally reform the agency, once and for all. The surge of anti-IRS outrage fits a dismal pattern in recent American history. On July 30, 1996, when signing a bill to provide meager additional protections to taxpayers, President Bill Clinton proclaimed: “We say to America’s taxpayers, when you deal with the IRS, you also have privileges, and we respect them. You have protection, and we will help provide it. You have rights, and we will shield them.”
We’ve heard this before. Since the 1960s, national outrage has repeatedly erupted when news of IRS abuses hit newspaper front pages. Each time, politicians and bureaucrats swore that they would fix the problems and that such abuses would never happen again. Each time, the IRS has continued to tyrannize and terrorize innocent American citizens — with no effective redress from either federal judges or from the U.S. Congress.
— James Bovard, The Freeman
If our fellow citizens decide when all is said and done that the problem in Washington is that the wrong people are in key positions, that simply replacing them will fix things, then we might as well stop the inquiries now. We will have failed to learn the larger lessons. Big government is bad government, and it cannot be otherwise.
When concentrating power and scooping up other people’s money are the objectives, abuse of power and waste of money are inherent and inevitable.
The statist, end-justifies-the-means mentality is a green light for anything but character. When you elect or appoint people who have created nothing, managed nothing and want to redistribute everything, you get rampant incompetence and never-ending threats to liberty.
And if you think what you’ve heard so far about the IRS is ugly, just wait until thousands upon thousands of new IRS agents get their mitts on your health-care records as part of their mandate to enforce Obamacare.
Frédéric Bastiat warned us nearly 200 years ago: “When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men living together in society, they create for themselves in the course of time a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it.”
— Lawrence Reed,
Foundation for Economic Education
May 15, 2013