In the recent selectmen’s meetings in Brooksville to discuss the building of cell towers and the petitions for a moratorium until ordinances can be written, one issue came up repeatedly—the rights of property owners. We need to think carefully about this issue because, if we don’t, it can become inflammatory and divisive.
Most citizens respect the rights of property owners to do what they want on their own property—and they should. People have successfully followed a live-and-let-live approach to being good neighbors for centuries. And just to begin talking about land use ordinances is a red flag to many people who cherish their property rights. However, property rights are always conditional, not absolute.
In the September 3 selectmen’s meeting a frustrated property owner said in response to the idea of a cell tower ordinance, “What if I paint my house green, and you don’t like it, are you going to tell me I can’t?” Well, let’s say I was your neighbor, and, in fact, I didn’t like your green house. I would have to say that’s my problem, not yours, but I do have some remedies—build a fence, plant a hedge, get used to it, see a color therapist. But your right to paint your house whatever color is never in question.
But, let’s say I want to build a cell tower on my property, close to your house, and there is some compelling (but disputed) evidence that it may cause cancer in your children—not to speak of the effect it’s going to have on your property value. Perhaps you would want some remedy. Not because you don’t appreciate the value that many people place on good cell phone service, but you would want the tower built in a place that protects the health of your children and the value of your property. My property rights are sometimes contingent on valuing yours. This is the point we need to explore.
Brooksville, like many small towns without ordinances, needs to come together and solve these issues through mature dialogue that honors diverse opinion. In dialogue, we may discover that we have little to fear from each other and much to learn.
What we have to fear are multi-national corporations who have no respect for anyone’s property rights and no concern for our health, the character of our town, our beautiful landscape, or the democratic process by which we may try to regulate them.
Robert Robert Shetterly
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