Respect Environment and Citizens’ Rights

By Beacon Staff

I support Whitefish’s goal of having strong, positive and vigorously enforced land use policies and its vision of a city where urban sprawl is limited and growth is controlled. I have supported the Dark Skies Initiative for years. One of my reasons for coming to the Flathead 20 years ago was the environment here that makes Northwest Montana unique in the West. I have always enjoyed stargazing, and view dark skies to be a fundamental part of the environmental quality of the Flathead. Whitefish and Flathead County are to be commended for acknowledging this fact, and for their attempts to create scenic corridors and stifle urban sprawl.

As much as I approve of wise and closely enforced planning, my greater respect goes to the concepts of due process and fairness. I will always put constitutional individual rights above the appearance of my physical environment. A beautiful totalitarian environment is not preferable to one that respects the rights of individuals, but that may be somewhat more disorderly.

Living part of the year in south Florida, I can give examples of very ambitious urban plans that failed because of the legal and political complications that arose from an aggressive approach to the affected citizens. I was involved in one of them, the South Beach Renewal plan in the 1970s. It failed because the Miami Beach City Commissioners paid more attention to the planner’s beautiful pictures than to the rights of the citizens who were going to be affected by the changes. Litigation and rancorous political activism destroyed the plan – as well as the careers of the politicians and city employees who tried to bulldoze the property owners into submission.

Whitefish seems to be making that same mistake, if my experience so far is typical Whitefish’s interface with people who are affected by its current planning behavior. I perceive the foment over the “doughnut” as evidence that my experience is not unique. My personal experience with Whitefish arises from my acquisition recently of a multi-use property in the “doughnut” that had been commercial until its prior owner ran into difficulties and had to walk away from the property. In my attempt to optimize the value of what I had acquired, I ran into Whitefish’s high-handed behavior, where I was told that the warehouses could not be rented, that the property was now residential, and that I must comply with Whitefish’s rules or be fined. I did not seek to develop the property by adding any additional buildings, nor did I wish to increase the density or change the traditional use of the property.

The United States was created on the premise that certain rights are “unalienable” – that is to say, intrinsic and native to the individual – and that governments “lay their just foundations … on the consent of the governed” – that government is to serve the people, not the other way around. The Constitution recognizes that government is necessary, but control of government – limiting government – is essential if individual rights are to be preserved. The first Bill of Rights in history was appended to our Constitution for this purpose.

Laws requiring due process and compensation from the public pocketbook to citizens who suffer a loss when government acts for the public good lay their foundation upon the Fourth Amendment principle of due process. Equally of the American essence is the idea that dominion of a government over people who have no say in that government is an abomination. Yet the “doughnut” is exactly that. If Whitefish (or Columbia Falls) or Flathead County is to achieve the respect of its citizens, it cannot allow the doughnut to remain. The county must govern the county, and until full, citizen-supported annexation, the cities must keep their hands off of areas not within their limits.

In other words, to maintain the Flathead’s unique beauty is desirable – but it is unachievable if the price paid to do it is the loss of citizens’ rights. It is only achievable through fully engaging all citizens in a process that respects both the environment and citizens’ rights.

Matt Rigg has resided part-time in Kalispell since 1992.