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The people of Houston County, Minn., have found the way to protect themselves and their property from the abuses of government-run-amok in pursuit of sustainable development.

The county adopted a comprehensive plan consistent with the goals of sustainable development, but which completely ignored the U.S. Constitution and the principles of freedom. A local citizens group tried to work with the county commissioners in the development of the county’s comprehensive plan two years ago, but opposing views and a petition signed by more than 700 landowners was not considered by the plan makers.

The citizens group has now presented the county with a notice of intent to sue, based on three complaints: 1) the plan violates Minnesota’s state Constitution and the U.S. Constitution; 2) the county’s implementation of the plan exceeds the authority given to counties by state law; and 3) the county’s actions in pursuit of the plan violate the Minnesota Constitution and the U.S. Constitution.

The notice of intent cites Dolan v. the city of Tigard, which says if the Fifth Amendment is to have any meaning, “It must include the right to prevent the government from gaining an ownership interest in one’s property outside the procedures of the Takings Clause.”

The document describes multiple examples of how the county exercised ownership interest in deciding how privately owned property could be used. At least 27 times, the county prevented a landowner from building a second home on privately owned parcels of less than 40 acres. In other examples, the county forced landowners to build in a location other than where the owner wanted to build.

In another example of the county’s exercise of ownership interest, a landowner wanted to replace an old mobile home with a new one, on the same site where a well and septic tank were already in place. The county said no and forced the landowner to locate the new mobile home across the road on land used for crops, where a new well and septic tank had to be installed.

The 36-page notice is filled with similar examples of how the county plan violates the Constitution, the law and common sense. The county has 30 days to respond.

The landowners have extended an olive branch to the commissioners. In a separate letter to the county, the landowners’ group said they would appoint a small committee to work with the commissioners to correct the defects in the plan, providing that the county would officially adopt, as the basis for the county comprehensive plan, the same resolution signed by 700 local landowners.

The resolution the county commissioners were asked to adopt says:

  1. Land-use planning and zoning is governed by the United States and Minnesota Constitutions, as well as Minnesota law;

  2. These laws include the prohibition against the taking of private property for a public purpose without due process and just compensation;
  3. The purpose of land-use planning and zoning is to promote public safety and welfare, not to regulate the legitimate use of private property;
  4. While permits may be needed for issues related to construction of a dwelling, sewer, water, etc., those permits shall not be approved or denied for arbitrary reasons;
  5. In order to preserve agriculture land uses, landowners may have to use their private property for additional economic uses other than the cultivation of crops, in order for those agricultural uses to be sustainable; and
  6. The neighbors should have a strong voice in the outcome of controversial land-use decisions, but this voice in the use of the neighbor’s property should be weighed as “harm” not just “personal choice.”

The jury is still out on how Houston County will deal with this well-informed group of local citizens.

Every community that faces the same kind of excessive intrusion by government in the name of sustainable development can take a lesson from the Minnesota group. First, there needs to be a group organized to achieve a common, well-defined goal.

The Minnesota group sought expert advice from the Budd-Falen law firm in Wyoming. They adopted a conciliatory approach, rather than confrontation, but they were prepared to play hardball if necessary. They did their homework to find specific examples of government excess and gathered irrefutable documentation. They are determined to prevail, but are politically astute.

They are giving their commissioners a perfect way to save face while solving the problems, and doing it in a way that will allow the commissioners to claim that they are the protectors of the Constitution and private property rights.

This group has been working for more than four years to protect their property rights from the insidious, freedom-eroding, comprehensive plans promoted in the name of sustainable development. They have gone about their task in an orderly, non-confrontational manner, and they are gaining the upper hand. They have become a beacon of leadership for countless other groups across the country fighting the same fight.

This is how freedom will survive: person by person, community by community, state by state, and nation by nation. The battle begins at home.

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