Precinct 333

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Property Rights At Heart Of Dispute Between Old, New Neighbors

I’m sure glad I didn’t buy into this neighborhood.

Signs at the entrance to Morgan's Crossing advertise a swim and tennis community with brick-front homes starting at $160,000. The three-bedroom, three-car-garage homes are about 2,600 square feet.

Just down Double Springs Church Road is another sign: "Danger — Keep Out — Live Fire Machine Gun Range." The signs at the entrance to Kevin Brittingham's 33-acre property also note that the range backs onto Morgan's Crossing.

The case highlights the friction that can emerge in fast-growing communities such as Walton County, where newer residents may have expectations about land use at odds with established landowners. This is especially true where new homes border agricultural land.

Though the Census Bureau lists Walton County as the 57th-fastest-growing in the United States, it's still largely rural, said Kevin Little, County Commission chairman.

Little said one worried farmer recently went to the county offices to have his chicken houses marked on the official map for his property. He said the farmer wanted to prevent future neighbors from moving in and then trying to shut down his chicken houses by claiming they didn't know about the odorous farm operation.

It strikes me that these new residents didn’t use due diligence to find out about their new neighborhood. Why should someone else have to change their property use just because new folks move into their area? But I’m disturbed by Little’s reaction to the issue.

Little said Brittingham has the proper licenses to own his guns, and his land is zoned for agricultural use — which, in Walton, allows for shooting guns. So the commissioners won't be getting involved, Little said. "If a neighbor doesn't like what somebody's doing, that's what the courts are for."

No, it’s not. If you don’t like what your neighbor is doing and it is legal, then that isn’t for the courts – IT’S NONE OF YOUR DAMN BUSINESS! Especially when it involves the exercise of a right protected by the Constitution.

John Eberhart, who mans the sales office at the subdivision, said he's a member of the National Rifle Association and enjoys occasional skeet and trap shooting.
With that much land, "I would probably be out there and shooting myself, but not machine guns," Eberhart said. "Military ordnance, you should not be able to shoot next to or abutting residential property."

But the thing is, John, that it wasn’t residential property until you made it residential property. Do you really mean to say that he should lose his constitutional rights because YOU decided to build and sell houses out in the middle of the country. That’s mighty arrogant of you.

Eberhart said builders didn't know that Brittingham had a private shooting range on his land until the first buyers were ready to close on their houses. He said the builders were initially willing to buy Brittingham's land, but he wanted too much for the property, which is mostly floodplain and unbuildable.

Eberhart admits that some potential buyers have been scared off but said he worries that buying Brittingham's land could set a precedent that could encourage others to "blackmail" developers in the future.

Yeah, imagine that – a precedent that says that someone has the right to use their property as they see fit, even if some big developer buys up the surrounding property, subdivides it and starts selling houses. This guy had a pre-existing use that you knew or should have known about. How is his insistence that his property rights be respected or bought out to be considered “blackmail”? I’d argue that the builders’ insistence that Brittingham take a lowball price for his land or face legal action fits the definition of that term much better.


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