Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Freedom to choose

I've been doing considerable thinking these past few days about the ways that various forms of democratically elected governments manage to (often rudely) interject themselves in to our respective lives. While I understand that some laws are necessary to maintain a modicum of societal control, and while I also understand and respect the need for police and court systems to enforce necessary laws, I think it's fair to say that as a society we've gone way, way beyond what was originally intended on nearly every front.

I'd like to cite an example from my past to illustrate my point. As all my longtime readers know, I and my first wife bought our family farm which is located in a rural part of Ontario. As part of our purchase and sales agreement with my mother, we agreed to sever her house and about an acre off of the farm so that she would still own our family home place outright in the (we thought then) unlikely event that something happened which would force me to liquidate the farm. Since this transaction was between consenting family members on land that our family had owned since well before Canada became a country, we naively assumed this would be easy to achieve. How wrong we were.

Thanks to overzealous township and county level municipal by-laws and provincial regulations governing land transfer and severely restricting (with the intent of eliminating) rural severances of all types, our simple land transaction nearly never happened. As it was, I hired a farm land lawyer and paid him thousands of dollars to attend multiple on-going meetings with county and provincial officials of all types which went on for over eighteen months before we were granted our severance. Thank God I got it done when I did because a few years later our farm was added to the Ministry of the Environments protection plan for the Oak Ridges Moraine which made what I wanted to accomplish virtually impossible to do.

Shortly after the sale was completed, I foolishly decided I wanted to build a home on my land. I say foolishly because by then I had come to realize that our local township/municipality and county municipality planning commission had absolutely draconian regulations on building *anything*, even relative to the counties immediately adjacent to it. By the time we got done with engineered drawings, site plans, square footage regulations, electrical inspections, well inspections, septic tank inspections, etc., etc., etc., plus the nearly $ 15,000 in fees, another eighteen months had gone by. It would have literally been smarter, easier and cheaper to buy a piece of land a mile down the road in the neighbouring county and build my house there. I swore up, down and sideways that I would never, ever repeat that experience again.

I won't even mention what it would have taken to build out or enlarge a livestock facility, except to say that I have grave doubts that it could be done at all in that particular place today.

Fast forward ten years.

Our new farm is located in an unincorporated portion of Giles County, TN, and as such, there is no planning commission to fool with and no zoning restrictions on us at all. For the time being, we could literally build our home and buildings out of papier mache if we chose to do so, provided we could pass the wiring inspection and a perk test. Given the level of regulation where I came from, this entire experience has been heaven to me. Of course as we speak Giles County is considering adopting a building code and they are looking for public input. Sisters and brothers, they are fixin' to get some ! That is one county commission meeting that I will definitely be attending. And this leads me to my last thought.

On the eve of Thanksgiving what I am most thankful for is the freedom to choose my own way.

Regardless of whether or not you agree with the gist of my post, I hope you'll agree that the time to speak up when someone threatens to take any of our freedoms away is *right now*, and the time to become complacent about this is *never*.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all.


JoAnna said...

Hi, I'm also in Giles county. We don't get the paper anymore, and the WKSR website doesn't always post those meetings, so please make a post (or drop me a note?) when you learn when these meetings are taking place! JoAnna [at] mockingbirdacres [dot] com

Jason said...


Go ahead and call your districy commissioner and let him know what you think. They have been talking about this since at least the spring time. It may be a state initiative, and if so we may not be able to do anything about it.

Funder said...

My absolute requirements for buying a house weren't too onerous - not a mobile home, and NO HOA. The less zoning, the better. Obviously, since we bought this place, it met my requirements - there's some reasonable subdivision zoning. I can't have a herd of pigs, that kind of thing.

Two of my uncles are involved in real estate, and they have countless horror stories like yours. And they're good old boys, plugged in to local government, the kind of men who should have it easy!

Jack said...

Regulations are often frustrating but they are usually there for what was thought to be a good reason. I can understand your frustration with getting a severance for the farm house. But when you look up and down the roads of "rural" Ontario it is amazing how many 1 or 2 acre severances have been taken off 100-160 acre farms. These rural houses have a very high turnover, I saw stats a few years ago that two years is the usual length of residence - the lack of services, driving to get to anything etc becomes a greater burden then perceived advantages. The increased number of rural homes means more road maintenance, more urgency for snow plowing (something you don't worry about any more!, garbage pickup etc etc.
The rules also should mean that although you are restricted as to what you can do your neighbours don't have free reign to do whatever they want.

It is one of the challenges of our modern society to find an acceptable balance.

Jason said...


Good to hear from you !

You're right about it being hard to find a balance !

In spite of all the zoning in the place, one of the things that saddens me most about trips to my moms is how unkempt and overgrown the countryside in East Durham has become. For awhile I thought it was just my perceptions that were changing so on my last trip home, I mentioned it to mom and we pulled out our old photo albums. She didn't notice it because she lives with it every day but unfortunately, I was right.

Most everything that isn't part of a working farm looks like it's in serious need of a dose of 2-4,D followed by a good brush hogging and/or a match.

Fortunately, a trip across the Northumberland or Victoria County lines shows the countryside in a much better state of kept which is how I remember it being (and what my pictures verify to me) at home.