Laura Berner Hudson penned a thoughtful essay supporting the proposed 101 Charlotte St. development [“Future Vision: 101 Charlotte St. Deftly Balances Conflicting Priorities,” May 19, Xpress]. I think her arguments are entirely correct, and whatever official approval is needed for the project should be granted so that it can move forward.
I was struck, though, by the absence in her piece of what is for me the most important and compelling argument for the project: The landowners want it.
That you can (or should be able to) do as you please with your property is inherent in the very concept of ownership. Build a house or apartment building, tear down what’s there for something that better fits your needs or cover the whole thing in wildflowers. Just as owning a book means that you can read it, mark in it, tear out pages, lend it, resell it or just let it sit prettily on the shelf, so owning a piece of land means that you can use it to serve your own wants and needs.
Of course, we rightly impose some modest limitations, for purposes of public safety and preventing public nuisances. No reasonable person objects to ordinances prohibiting, say, an ear-splitting sawmill or a toxic-waste dump in a residential neighborhood. But nothing even remotely like that is in the offing here. What will be built are residences, retail and office space — the same types of things that already exist along the rest of Charlotte Street. When people’s objections primarily amount to aesthetic preferences, as appears to be the case here, they should be heard, then politely set aside as irrelevant.
If opponents want to see the current buildings preserved, they have a simple solution: Band together and buy them. Then they, as the new rightful owners, can choose what becomes of them.
The city’s role should be to facilitate, not impede, the landowners’ exercise of their rights and liberties, including property rights. Securing individual rights and liberties is, after all, the core reason that we establish governments, as the Declaration of Independence reminds us.
— Robert J. Woolley