- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 22, 2000

When the government exercises its right of eminent domain and takes your property, there is usually some compensation involved. When a preservation society or historical society seizes your property, you get nothing but headaches. The seizure occurs when one of these groups decides you are part of a historical district or own a building with historical significance. Your right to do as you please with your private property comes to an end, and your new landlord is a committee of bureaucrats.

Preserving national landmarks is a noble cause. Preserving a dilapidated building simply because it is old is nonsense. Preservation commissions have entirely too much power when they can assume total control of private property without any appeal or recourse by the owner. In fact, the problem is so serious nationally that the Senate is considering a Private Property Implementation Act, which would allow property owners to have disputes settled in federal courts rather than biased local municipal courts.

Many of these preservation commissions are made up of people who have never been in positions of power, and as a result, abuse their first exposure to it. Studies show that many of the commissions lack members with any construction or architectural experience at all, which doesn't prevent them from telling owners what they can and can't do to their buildings. Your home may be sitting right in the middle of a historical district that hasn't been declared historical yet. When it is, you private property rights go down your antiquated porcelain convenience.

In one case, a woman who owned property in a historical district was told she couldn't tear down a building that was almost completely destroyed by fire. The best thing to do in a case like that is to forget to call the fire department. There is case after case where slums are being preserved. You can't even put new windows in these buildings without getting approval from the property police.

I believe the Fifth Amendment states that no one can be deprived of their property without due process. Apparently, a historical society takes precedence over the Constitution because there is no due process involved when they confiscate your rights to do as you please with your property. These kinds of commissions are probably commonplace in Russia, China or North Korea, but they have no place in a democratic society. The EPA tells us what size toilet we can have, and the preservationists tell us what kind of window we can have in the bathroom. This is more help than we need.

I know of one town in upstate New York where all of the truly historic buildings were demolished to make way for some ugly municipal buildings. The preservation people are now faced with preserving cinder blocks in order to hold on to their positions of power. The best way to deal with these out of control commissions is with the vote. Let your elected officials know how you feel about losing your property rights. Also, if you find out George Washington slept in your bedroom, don't tell anyone.


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