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Dora Dogood on Dryden, zoning, and freedom

Although, "Dryden, zoning, and freedom" may be a contradiction in terms.

By the way, the public hearing on the proposed changes to the Dryden zoning ordinance is Wednesday, June 27th, at 7:30pm in the town hall. The draft zoning amendments may be viewed here. The draft subdivision law is here. The zoning map is here.

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A few days ago, I read that the Town of Dryden is having a public hearing on its expanded zoning ordinance proposal in a few weeks.  Yesterday, I was having coffee at the Dryden Hotel with my friend Molly who was visiting from the Village of Massapequa Park, Long Island.  On June 11, her village board unanimously enacted a plan to fine homeowners up to $10,000 --- for letting their property get shabby.  Molly said home and business owners now face up to five-figure fines and fifteen days in jail for such maintenance issues as overgrown lawns, broken windows and graffiti.  Other local governments, including the nearby Town of Brookhaven, are considering similar measures.  Mount Pleasant, S.C. and the Birmingham, Alabama suburb of Pelham also enforce local ordinances pertaining to unfavorable appearances at buildings or establishments.
 
Molly quoted from the Massapequa law, “The Village finds that the presence of blight upon properties … is detrimental to the health, safety and welfare of the Village.   It is the intent, therefore, of the Village that blight be identified, abated and eliminated …. ”  Owners have ten days to comply with a village order to rectify conditions at their premises before fines are imposed.  First-time offenders for violations like broken outdoor lighting fixtures or fallen trees can lead to fines of up to $1,000, and subsequent offenses can lead to fines as high as $10,000 and up to fifteen days in jail.   What I do know is that one person’s blight can be another person’s beauty.  Who decides what is blight?
 
I was wondering if this could really happen, so when I got home I did some research.  I found that at least two people this year have spent time behind bars for failure to maintain their properties.  In January, a woman in Mount Pleasant, S.C., was sentenced to ten days in jail after failing to pay a $480 fine for a having a messy yard.  A Florida man was reportedly sentenced to a year and one day in jail after he failed to remove junk from his front yard.
 
So, how does all this relate to Dryden and its expanded zoning code?  Ordinances like the one in Massapequa are the end product of where zoning may lead.  Can it happen here?  Maybe in won’t, but sure, it can.  I don’t much like properties without curb appeal, with grass that’s somewhat too long, or which don’t get painted.  But, I don’t put my neighbors in jail for these things.  What about the person on a limited fixed income who can’t afford to paint or is physically unable to mow?
 
But mostly, I asked myself what right do the neighbors or the town have to tell other people how to live?  And, just what is “shabby”?  Years ago, I was a renter for a time.  The landlord demanded certain things.  When I became a homeowner it was to get away from having others tell me what I must do.
 
Certainly, the good people on the Dryden Town Board will tell me not to worry, they won’t abuse their zoning powers to the same extent as Massapequa.  Perhaps they won’t, but the citizens of Dryden should not be dependent on their good will.  When you give up rights, you eventually learn that you have lost your freedoms.  The new Dryden zoning plan and the vast areas slated to be in “Critical” Environmental Areas are cause for concern.
 
What Massapequa teaches us is that we must go to the public hearings and let our office holders know we don’t want government taking over control of more and more of our lives.  I’m 88 years old and I worry for our children and grandchildren.  Will they live in a world where the prior generations have eroded their freedoms because they thought things like zoning were “little things?”  Inch by inch, foot by foot, our freedoms erode if we don’t fight for them.
 
 
 
 
 
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