Demolition votes seem right on both counts

By John Peters

December 22, 2013

Thursday night Mount Airy commissioners voted to tear down three private structures — they are unoccupied and falling down, presenting a danger to anyone who might venture near them and certainly creating eyesores for the city.

The city will pay to have the structures taken down, but will place a lien on the property to ensure it recoups the cost.

The vote to do so was not unanimous, though. Commissioner Jon Cawley expressed concern that the property owners might not be financially able to take care of the structures and the city would simply be adding to their problems. Later in the meeting, he also expressed a belief that such action violates the concept of individual freedoms, presumably the freedom of the property owners in question to use their property as they see fit.

We commend Cawley both for his sensitivity to those in financial need and for guarding individual freedoms. However, we believe the board acted appropriately in voting to demolish these structures.

On the same night the board voted against taking down three other structures. One because it was so difficult to access as to make the work impractical, the other two because the owners had expressed some intent to comply with city regulations regarding dilapidated buildings.

We believe in taking this vote, the board showed a willingness to work with property owners who are trying, and an appropriate level of sensitivity to those struggling to do the right thing.

However, part of living in a community, in a city, is to exercise the responsibility that comes with individual freedom. For property owners, that means maintaining the property in a manner that fits within city code, and in a manner that is not disruptive to the lives of neighbors, or in a way that is hurtful to the property values of those nearby.

A city, or any community, must constantly balance the overall good of the community against the right of property owners to do as they want with their land. If the city were interested in absolute freedom of property owners to do as they wished, then the commissioners should repeal the city’s zoning ordinance and any other regulation that puts a limitation on property use.

But that won’t happen, nor should it, because the city does have a responsibility to look after the interests of all residents, corporately, at least as much as individually.

And we believe the commissioners made the correct vote, on both counts, Thursday night.