Virginia County to Test Property Rights

There is currently a proposal in Fairfax County, Virginia that would limit “frequent and large gatherings” in neighborhood homes.  The zoning ordinance, if passed, would limit houses to 49 people per day and large groups would not be able to meet more than three times in any 40-day period.

While there have been complaints about large groups meeting at homes, the number of complaints has been small when considering that Fairfax County is the most populous in Virginia.

This new ordinance, if passed, could put a damper on Superbowl parties, church groups, and meetings for other organizations.  Of course, you could think of any number of potential issues from open houses to garage sales, which would easily draw more than 49 people in a day.

Some opponents are already starting to prepare for lawsuits on constitutional grounds.

From a constitutional standpoint, I’m not sure that this ordinance would really be in violation.  From a pro-liberty standpoint, decentralization is better.  When you give the federal courts the power to do good, they are also going to use it for bad purposes.  These zoning and ordinance issues really are meant to be handled at a local level.

Of course, we know that the federal government violates the Constitution every day and would not hesitate to rule on something where it should not have any jurisdiction.  I can understand why liberty advocates would still use the federal courts to their advantage when possible.  It is not as if the federal courts are going to stop ruling on local issues either way.

This proposed ordinance is obviously a violation of property rights in that it would punish people who have done nothing wrong.

I’m sure there are some valid complaints about a few people who had big parties that caused a lot of noise and chaos.  But should property owners who hold a quiet church group meeting once a week of 50 people have to suffer because of the misdeeds of others?

The interesting thing here is that the county obviously isn’t enforcing the rules that already exist.  I don’t think there is a county or local jurisdiction in the U.S. that doesn’t have a noise ordinance.  There are laws against disturbing the peace.  Even liberty advocates can agree with such laws as loud noise can be considered “noise pollution” and a violation of other people’s property rights.

If there are complaints about loud parties, then the party-goers and the homeowners throwing the party are already in violation of an ordinance.  If they aren’t following the rules, then why are they going to start following a new rule?

I suppose you could make a comparison with anti-gun laws.  When the government makes it harder to legally own a gun, it makes it harder for the law-abiding citizens.  It doesn’t make a difference to criminals, because they weren’t following the laws that were already there.

The good news about this proposed ordinance in Fairfax County is that it is limited to one county.  When there is a bad law, it is better that it affects one local area than affect 300 million people.  And at least at the local level, there is always a slight chance for repeal, which is almost impossible in Washington DC.