“Following months of increasingly contentious head-butting, officials in the mountain town of Vail, Colorado, are moving to seize a property from a local ski resort to prevent it from constructing new housing for its employees.
The property in question is a 5-acre site abutting a frontage road in the eastern part of the 5,600-person ski town. After nearly five years of rezonings, planning, permitting, and litigation, ski resort operator Vail Resorts is ready to move ahead with the $17 million Booth Heights project that would create 165 beds for its work force.”
“Standing in their way is the town of Vail itself, which filed a petition in Eagle County District Court on Friday to invoke its eminent domain powers to seize the Booth Heights site and hold it as open space”
“Throughout the process, Vail Resorts has maintained that its project would not harm the area’s bighorn sheep. Plack tells Reason the company has committed to paying $100,000 for habitat restoration and would install barriers around its property to prevent residents and pets from interfering with the sheep.
An environmental impact report prepared for the project concluded that it would not harm the area’s sheep. Vail Resorts notes in a lawsuit challenging the emergency ordinance stopping construction of its project that the town has approved several large homes within the bighorn sheep’s range.”
“These “get off my lawn” conservatives claim to be upholding the principle of local control by arguing that local government officials rather than bureaucrats in far-off Sacramento get to make development decisions. It sounds good in theory given the Jeffersonian concept that the government closest to the people governs best.
The better quotation (actually used by Henry David Thoreau but often misattributed to Thomas Jefferson) is “that government is best which governs the least.” The goal—for those of us who value freedom—isn’t to allow the right government functionary to control us, but to have less government control overall.
Local officials are easier to kick out of office than officials in Sacramento or Washington, D.C., but the locals can be extremely abusive. They know where we live, after all. I’ve reported extensively on California’s defunct redevelopment agencies, and local tyrants would routinely abuse eminent domain under the guise of local control.
“Under S.B. 9, cities are required to approve these lot splits ‘ministerially,’ without any reviews, hearings, conditions, fees or environmental impact reports,” complains my Southern California News Group colleague, Susan Shelley.
Conservatives have for decades complained about the subjective nature of bureaucratic and public reviews, the evils of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), and excessive fees. Now there’s a law that fixes that, albeit in a limited manner, and they are grabbing their pitchforks.
S.B. 9 and S.B. 10 do not put Sacramento bureaucrats in charge of the locals. Instead, they deregulate certain development decisions, by requiring officials to approve a project “by right” provided it meets all the normal regulations. It eliminates subjectivity and defangs CEQA. Yet this greatly upsets them.”
“If conservatives seriously believe local control is the trump card, then they should lobby for the repeal of Proposition 13, which is a state-imposed restriction on local governments’ authority to raise property taxes. I find Prop. 13 to be one of the best laws ever passed in this state. They should also oppose Republican efforts at the federal level to limit the ability of blue states to regulate the heck out of us.”
“Late last year, the owner of snowmobile rental business Canyon Adventures filed a complaint with the code compliance office of Gallatin County, Montana, against the nearby Corral Bar and Steakhouse. It alleged the bar’s own snowmobile rental business wasn’t allowed by the property’s zoning.
The county’s code compliance office agreed that the snowmobile business wasn’t allowed by the zoning code. But rather than slapping the Corral Bar owners with a fine or shutting them down, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle reported yesterday that the county closed the case without taking any enforcement action.
The reason? According to a sweeping law passed by the Montana Legislature in April 2021 aimed at prohibiting mask mandates, the county can’t compel “a private business to deny a customer of the private business access to the premises or access to goods or services.” It also can’t adopt ordinances that deny customers the same access to those goods and services.
Importantly, H.B. 257 also stops governments from applying fines, revoking licenses, filing criminal charges, or bringing “any other retributive action” against business owners for not complying with a law forcing them to reject customers.
The language of the new state law is broad. So broad that, in a number of instances, Gallatin County officials have interpreted it to mean they can’t penalize businesses for violating the county’s zoning code.
“Each individual circumstance is going to be judged on its own,” says Gallatin County Attorney Marty Lambert to Reason.
He declined to speculate on the full extent of H.B. 257. But, Lambert says, when there’s a county law or regulation that falls within the scope of H.B. 257 and has the effect of forcing a private business to refuse a customer, then the county can’t take “retributive action” against the business for servicing that customer anyway.
In those cases, the county is forbidden from using any “remedies that might be available under the ordinance,” he says. “[H.B. 257] is all-encompassing, and it was meant to be all-encompassing.”
In the Corral Bar case, county officials reasoned that they couldn’t punish the bar for running an unpermitted snowmobile rental because that would involve compelling it to deny customers a service in violation of H.B. 257.
The Chronicle reports that Gallatin County officials have declined to bring enforcement actions in at least eight zoning cases because of H.B. 257’s restrictions, including ones involving illegal Airbnbs and a summer camp that opened up in a residential zone.”