Wednesday, August 8, 2018
What? The government ending an unnecessary practice? Since when does government end anything, even after a program or practice has run its course?
But nobody told the folks down in the administration of Washington County Judge Joseph Wood. The Planning Department has stopped issuing temporary use permits for landowners in the areas outside the boundaries of any cities.
What’s the point?
Washington County’s ending of temporary use permits is a fine example of recognizing a program that’s no longer needed, if it ever was.
That may sound ominous, as though county government is denying something to the property owners, but that would be a misinterpretation of what's happening. Rather, this change is a lifting of government regulation that, according to County Attorney Brian Lester, was never adopted in the county code and, if it ever served a useful purpose, doesn't today.
The previously required permits would have been needed when county landowners wanted to put up a temporary business or hold a short-term event on their properties. Think flea markets or fireworks stands.
When people live in cities, there is a bit more of a tacit agreement that regulations may need to be a little more intense to discourage or avoid conflicts between land uses. One doesn't generally want a gravel pit operation moving in next door to a nursing home, right? In municipal situations, avoiding the clash of land uses requires a slightly heavier hand of government involvement. Knowing where to draw the line between involvement and intrusion can get dicey sometimes.
But in more rural areas, or at least areas beyond the city limits, people generally understand that while it may not be the wild west, there is more of an appreciation that landowners should get to use their property in the ways they see fit.
Washington County's temporary permits started under a former planning director, according to Lester. His predecessor, George Butler, recalled the Quorum Court's passage of an ordinance in 2006 that allowed the planning director to create rules she deemed necessary for county purposes. The temporary permits were created around 2012.
As with most permits, these were intended to control what people did on their property, a limitation that can be frustrating for a landowner. But, if you're a neighbor to someone who always seems to have some event going on, being able to contact your county government for some help might be desirable.
Or neighbors could just talk to each other.
Lester noted the temporary permits lacked much of a process, such as notification of neighbors or the actual tracking of business operations.
Not everyone who lives outside the city limits waves a "Don't tread on me" flag, but generally they understand (or should) that the regulatory nature of government in rural areas does not need to be as intense as within cities. People who chose country living consider it, well, freedom.
What a concept!
One side issue: On matters like this, shouldn't the elected representatives of the people have weighed in on whether a temporary permits system was appropriate? One could certainly make a strong argument the Quorum Court delegated too much of its authority by simply allowing a staff member to create a new category of permits for county landowners.
Certainly at the federal level, and sometimes and lower levels of government, bureaucracies exists far past what should be their expiration dates because nobody takes the initiative to tackle dismantling what's been created or because those who had a hand in creating them don't want to admit the program's usefulness has faded.
It makes perfect sense -- and the Wood administration recognized it -- that government practices, policies and programs ought to have a compelling argument as to why they exist. The temporary permit program didn't pass muster.
That's one reason local government doesn't usually get into the mess our federal government has turned into.
Commentary on 08/08/2018
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