Viewsheds: More Government Intervention Into Private Property Rights

The concept of “viewsheds” is a bit of a dilemma. All things being subjective in the the realm of aesthetics, your idea of a “viewshed” might be different than mine. No one wants to look at an eyesore, but your eyesore might be my gemstone, or my livelihood. I’m all for beautiful vistas and scenic enjoyment. However, I’m all for private property rights. So how does one combine those two things and come up with a coherent policy that is good for all? Common sense would prevail, or one would hope so.

The concept of “Viewsheds” is new to American jargon. Merriam Webster Dictionary defined as: “The natural environment that is visable from one or more viewing points.” It’s first known use was in 1981.

My how justification expands quickly in today’s environmentalists’ methods and ideology. The Urban Dictionary states:

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“A viewshed is an area of land, water, or other environmental element that is visible to the human eye from a fixed vantage point. The term is used widely in such areas as urban planning, archaeology, and military science. In urban planning, for example, viewsheds tend to be areas of particular scenic or historic value that are deemed worthy of preservation against development or other change. Viewsheds are often spaces that are readily visible from public areas such as from public roadways, public parks or high-rise buildings. The preservation of viewsheds is frequently a goal in the designation of open space areas, green belts, and community separators.”

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Isn’t that nice? From 1981 to 2011, thirty years, someone’s idea of expanding land use controls that have nothing to do with private property rights has blossomed into an entire philosophy of radical land usurpation for the sake of “Views.”

For purposes of illustration I came across a document describing the dilemma regarding Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello, in Charlottesville, VA. I’ve been there. I loved it. It was wonderful to see it and learn from it. But the area now has a “Comprehensive Land Use Plan.” And Monticello has a foundation to advocate for its preservation.

The view from Monticello to the east and the south overlook a vast piedmont landscape into Fluvanna County. A power plant was planned for construction in that area. This power plant involved natural gas and would connect with the national power grid. The power plant would benefit a lot of people.

“The Foundation responded that the lights and the plumes atop those smokestacks could be visible from Monticello. “Depending on the weather sometimes you can see 50 miles from the hilltop. In a rural area, eight or 10 miles is in the neighborhood.”

If I read that right, The Monticello Foundation wants to control all of the land within 50 miles of eyesight from Monticello. 50 miles of land for the purpose of scenic views. The article also refers to yet another environmental designation attaching to another new Federal idea called the Rural Historic District. RHD. The RHD means more layers of regulation of land use. Well, if you look at all of the land left in the country that is not under the control of cities, you could just put all rural land under an RHD. After all, could you not make the case that the entire country is a RHD? It was historically all rural at one point. But I digress.

We have a similar situation arising here in Gaston County. There is a State Park at Crowders Mountain, from which, once climbing to the top, you can see for miles. In fact you can see all the way to Charlotte, NC on a clear day. Now the environmentalist lobby is trying to keep development out of the line of sight from any viewing position on Crowders Mountain. How many miles should be kept out of development for the sake of the “Viewsheds?” The question of Crowders Mountain “Viewshed” is not yet settled, but the wording in “Vision” plans is clear. “Viewsheds” are to be taken into consideration and given priority over development. Check your local “Vision Plan” and you will find it so.

I guess the amazing thing to me is that once the environmentalists in America realized they could trash property rights by controlling the use of land, they then figured out they could expand that control by demanding “Viewshed” rights. There is no end in sight to their environmental fanaticism. Pun intended.

I’m not sure I have a good solution. Perhaps one should limit the distance of “view” in question. How far should “view” rights extend? If you own a residence in a “scenic” community, can you not just claim “View” rights based on the RHD and demand all other comers take a back seat to your new “government granted rights” that, by the way, are not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution? Then again, when it is truly historical, such as Monticello or Mt. Vernon, or Gettysburg, what is reasonable? Is your “view” a right?

Welcome to the new Amerika, where rights are granted by government and special interest groups, instead of the rights granted by our Creator.

Editor’s Note: This article is part three in a series. Click here to read Part 1. Click here to read Part 2.

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