Recently, there have been two announcements of proposals to permanently limit the development potential of a series of properties in Perry Hall. Instead of these parcels potentially being available for dense residential or commercial redevelopment, they would be preserved as open space. These proposals, put forward by Baltimore County Councilman David Marks, represent sound and sensible policy making.
I have been mystified to read some of the caustic comments posted to Perry Hall Patch in response to these announcements. It seems that some people happily defend the "right" of individual property-owners to have the potential for unlimited profit. Of course, these naysayers cloak this view with the notion that a down-zoning of specific properties somehow "devalues" the land, leaving the owner with a financial loss.
A look at the basics of real estate appraising dispels this misguided view. At the time that any property is up for purchase, its overall value is determined. This process looks at: the size and location of the parcel, the condition of any buildings on it, and yes, the current zoning classification. Thus, at the time of transfer, the seller is able to set a reasonable price (allowing for an appropriate rate of return), based on current market conditions. In this manner, someone who buys a house, sells it years later to a new resident owner, has their right to reasonable profit assured.
The real reason some folks disagree with the concept of downzoning is because it denies certain property owners the future possibility of winning the development lottery, so to speak. How many times in Perry Hall's history did an individual property owner sell their home or other holdings to a developer, for a price far in excess of their actual value (based on existing neighborhood conditions), knowing full well that their old property had a very different future in store.
In these cases, developers like this leveled the existing individual homes, and replaced them with large-scale, dense residential complexes, or sprawling strip malls. As a consequence, such land sales required vast sums of public money to be spent to fund the infrastructure necessary (schools, roads, public water) to support this sprawl. One need only to look at the principles upon which our nation was founded to see that individual profit potential must be balanced against the broader needs of the community at-large.
American democracy puts the social contract theory of government into practice. In 1762, philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau defined this theory as follows: "the right of any individual over his own estate is always subordinate to the right of the community over everything; for without this there would be neither strength in the social bond nor effective force in the exercise of sovereignty."
Founding Fathers like Jefferson and Madison designed America to embody this belief. By virtue of being Americans, we all surrender the possibility of unlimited, self-interested rights for a guarantee that our natural rights, "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" (as defined in the Declaration of
Independence), are forever preserved. As a result, our elected leaders must balance the needs of the many versus the needs of the few, as they seek to promote the common good.
Tell us if you agree or disagree with open space designations in the comments.