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Liberty, Property, and Automobiles

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The Board of Supervisors in Fairfax County, Va., recently passed a measure that limits the portion of a home’s front yard that can be paved for a driveway to 25 percent (30 percent for very small lots) and also prohibits parking on the homeowner’s grass.

Why are too many cars on a lawn a problem? According to one county supervisor, “It tends to suddenly make the neighborhood look commercial rather than residential . . . and it has a profound affect on the quality of a neighborhood.” The president of the City Park Civic Associated said, “Neighborhoods like ours, older and more affordable and lacking in restrictive covenants, are affected disproportionately by this scourge.” A representative of the Woodrow Wilson Action Group added, “Get the cars off the front lawns and you also have made a small step to reducing illegal, unhealthy and unsightly overoccupancy.”

How can such a restriction be reconciled with the principles of liberty and private ownership of property? The answer is: It can’t be. Ownership means control. The owner of a home has the right to do whatever he wants with his front lawn, including parking as many cars on it as he wishes. It is the right of everyone else to offer to buy him out if they’re unhappy with what he is doing.

The motives behind such a law might be honorable but the consequence of such a law here in Fairfax County is racist to the core. Like all of Northern Virginia, during the last decade Fairfax County has experienced a massive influx of immigrants, most of whom are Hispanic and most of whom are very poor. They save money by sharing housing, and that means a larger number of cars in the driveway or front lawn.

An interesting twist to the ordinance is that it excludes any property over 36,000 square feet, or about 4/5 of an acre. Why the exemption? Perhaps so that wealthy, white residents with nice homes on large lots (and lots of nice cars) won’t be too upset at county supervisors during the next election cycle.

In a free society, landowners have the right to do whatever they wish with their property as long their conduct does not trespass in a direct way on the rights of others. If people want to avoid what they consider unsightly front lawns on neighboring property, then they should move into housing subdivisions that prohibit such things.

But when people move into a neighborhood knowing that no such restrictions exist, they should not be permitted to run to government officials and cry for relief. The free market provides them a remedy: put their money where their beliefs are by making their neighbor an offer he can’t refuse. For the full story, see The Daily Journal.

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    Bart Frazier is program director at The Future of Freedom Foundation. Send him email.