Criticism of zoning laws comes from those who see the restrictions as a violation of property rights, stripping property owners of their right to unencumbered use of their land. The argument most often made is that property owners know their land best and have an interest in preserving it. This is very superficial, as the development interests of one person can easily conflict with the character of the neighborhood and the ecology of the environment.
Draining a wet land to provide more pasture, building a dock over the eel grass that forage fish need for spawning, building right up to the property line or shoreline, elimination of buffer zones with impervious surfaces are a few of many possible conflicts that should be avoided by zoning enforcement. Another argument is that zoning is a “taking” of private land for public purposes. Zoning has been a matter for regulation by law since ancient times where government has an overwhelming interest in public welfare. Irrigation zones along the Nile river that stemmed from public need are actually thought to have created government historically.
A new zoning law raises the issue of compensation, and there is a complex body of law relating to that issue. It is by no means certain that a new zoning “taking” automatically involves compensation, especially where there is an overriding public interest.
Zoning often protects individual property owners directly as when it separates residential areas from, for example, factory-farming of hogs. As San Juan County’s population has increased from only a few thousand to over 16,000 today, zoning and other land use regulations have become ever more important. In the larger perspective, the perceived “burdens” of zoning are actually beneficial for both the individual and our community.