After over a year of presentations, study, and controversy, this week Building the Wyoming We Want (BW3) released the final document for the High Plains Initiative (HPI). The objective of HPI was to “encourage residents of Goshen and Platte counties to have a community conversation on how to handle future growth and still preserve the close-knit communities that make our region so special.” The process, however, resulted in a grassroots backlash from some Platte and Goshen residents, detailed in a WyoFile piece that was reprinted this past weekend in the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle. The HPI final document reveals a difference in principle, and one of the most important principles at that: either land rights belong predominantly to land owners, or they do not.
The HPI final document goes out of its way to make reservations that claim to respect individual rights:
“Our hope is that the public input contained within this document will prove useful for local elected officials in making future decisions about how to preserve our safe, friendly communities without violating private property rights and without using intrusive government regulation.” (Emphasis added.)
When discussing the HPI community workshops where participants were asked to lay out their ideal development plan for the counties, however, the contradiction cannot be couched:
“[P]articipants tended to place future commercial and residential development within or close to existing communities rather than on undeveloped agricultural land. Ultimately, it is up to the landowner to decide if and how they wish to conserve areas of their property.” (Emphasis added.)
This begs the question: if “it is up to the landowner to decide if and how they wish to conserve areas of their property,” why is the opinion of those who do not own said piece of land being given such weight? Was the HPI study (which cost around $300,000) really conducted merely to compile a persuasive guidebook for property owners when new opportunities arise down the road? If property rights are individual and sacrosanct, why are designs like HPI being crafted for elected officials?
HPI does not sit right with many residents, because we cannot have our cake and eat it, too: if the so-called “community vision” is to be implemented, individual property rights will have to yield, be it through restrictive zoning, growth boundaries, government subsidies, and other methods. Given this initial contradiction and the reaction of BW3 to the uprising (it repeatedly labels it “a small group of citizens” in this report despite going out of its way make modifications to appease the sensibilities of private owners), it is not a fantastic notion that HPI is a first step toward usurping property rights.
Smart Growth, best summarized as the environmental movement to repopulate cities, stop the growth of suburbs and restrict individuals to riding buses and bicycles, has officially come to rural Wyoming. In the wake of HPI, but before BW3 moves on to its next project (which is currently expected to cover Lincoln county), the Wyoming Liberty Group is hard at work crafting a paper that will address the individual rights and economic principles that Smart Growth and its appendages like HPI deceptively subvert. But ultimately, as was seen in the HPI debacle, it is up to local residents to step up, expose and stop such initiatives in their communities, or prevent the sowing of tyrannical seeds.