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Whose rights?

Delegate L. Scott Lingamfelter, who represents parts of Prince William and Fauquier counties, has said he will introduce HB 1430, which he is calling "The Boneta Bill."

HB 1430 is named after Martha Boneta, the Paris farmer who has been in a legal dispute with Fauquier County over zoning restrictions and permit requirements affecting her operation.

Her dispute led to a widely publicized "pitchfork protest" last summer prior to a hearing before the board of zoning appeals, which upheld the county.

Fauquier, Lingamfelter has decided, unfairly restricted Ms. Boneta's property rights.

"Property rights are one of the most fundamental rights in a free society," he said in a press release last week. "In the United States, we the people are the sovereign. We the people have the right to farm just as our Founders envisioned with what they called the pursuit of happiness.

"Boneta's rights have been wrongly challenged. I am bringing legislation in the 2013 session of the General Assembly to improve the Right to Farm Act here in Virginia so small farmers like Martha will enjoy fully their property rights. It's not about demonizing anyone in this controversy. It's about standing by property rights and our Founder's vision."

We are always a little bemused by those who seem to have a hard time reconciling that a few things have changed since the founders were putting together their vision in the late 18th century.

If we have "the right to farm just as our Founders envisioned," must we use mules, or is it OK to fire up the tractor?

On a more serious note, while it might have been just fine to throw up ye olde this-and-that shoppe anywhere you liked back in the day, continuing to equate modern zoning regulation with private property infringement is an argument that was settled long ago -- or should have been.

It's pretty simple, really: If you buy a farm, then decide you're really more of a shopkeeper than a farmer, you're going to be hoeing a pretty tough row -- in Fauquier County and a lot of other places -- should you decide that the farm is the right place for the shop.

And, despite Mr. Lingamfelter's contention to the contrary, that's as it should be.

There are plenty of laws on the books that protect private property rights and the right to farm. Zoning regulations are on the books to protect the rights of the rest of the community and its collective "pursuit of happiness."

Lingamfelter said that House Bill 1430 will ensure that no government official will restrict the right to property "that our Founding Fathers, many of whom were Virginia farmers, held as inherent and sacred.

"The Boneta Bill adds teeth to the Virginia Right to Farm Act to protect property rights and individual liberties," he said.

Community rights and liberties? Nary a word.

The rights of folks who have done this the right way, and put their small businesses inside commercial districts? Not a peep.

The rights of merchants, who have gone to a great deal of trouble and expense to hew to all the rules and regulations of those same commercial districts and who are now holding the short end of the competitive stick? Mum's the word.

In Lingamfelter's assessment, our founding fathers apparently did not hold these other business owners in anywhere near the same regard with which they held farmers.

But times have changed. Back when the founders were founding, farmers represented, oh, 95 percent of the population. Now they represent less than 5 percent.

But their rights trump everyone else's, at least according to those who continue to believe that what made sense in the late 18th century should continue to guide us, unamended by changing circumstances, in the 21st.



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