Government Presence


Are Working Landscapes Desirable?

Natural Resources

Economic Development

Government Presence

Neighbor vs. Neighbor

Public vs. Private

Urban Sprawl


Let's say you own something unique, valuable, and fragile—a very old baseball card or a rare dinosaur fossil. Who should take care of it for you? Would you let a museum have the fossil? Would you store your baseball card in a closet? Some landscapes are very fragile and need special consideration. Private landowners have many different opinions when it comes to governmental presence on their land. Some land owners want the freedom to use the land as they desire. Other residents appreciate the government's resources and incorporate its presence into the land. Government plays a role in most working landscapes either through direct participation or through laws in the form of zoning, covenants, and easements.

Zoning, Covenants, and Easements
Some of the ways government can influence land use is with zoning, covenants, and easements.

Zoning is locally determined land use control that dictates how land can be used and the size and type of physical structures that can be placed on a particular piece of land. Local zoning is public law and has the power of police behind it. When necessary, land owners, businesses, and citizens can request that their elected officials or zoning boards change the zoning laws.

Covenants are legally binding agreements between a property buyer and an organized group such as a homeowners association. These agreements place certain restrictions on the appearance and use of the purchased property. Covenants can tell owners the size and number of pets they can own or the colors they can paint their buildings. When a person buys a piece of property with a covenant, they are agreeing to follow all the rules.

Easements are legal restrictions placed on private property that become part of the property deed. When a person purchases a piece of property with an easement on it, they must follow the terms of the easement. A private property owner can place an easement on his property to govern how the land can be used after it is sold. Farmers may want to make sure that their land is never turned into housing developments. An overseer or manager is usually appointed to make sure the conditions of the easement are followed after the land is sold.

Some residents and business owners think zoning, covenants, and easements work well while others would rather have no governmental influence on the land.

Government Land Owners and Managers
The National Park Service, which is a federal governmental body, owns and manages many landscapes. State governments also own and protect some of our fragile ecosystems. These governmental bodies can do a good job of managing land. They know the fragile aspects of the environments they manage and are able to restrict use and protect areas when necessary. Some of these landscapes are not considered working landscapes. These would include preserves, historical landmarks, and other areas where ecological or social concerns outweigh economic concerns.

While it might be a good decision to let a big governmental body own a unique and sensitive landscape, does the government always have enough people to manage these areas appropriately? Are government programs flexible enough yet strong enough to support the people, plants, and animals within our lands?

Weighing the need for governmental assistance with the need for landowner independence can be a difficult thing to do. Either way, most working landscapes need to incorporate both to survive.

What do you think?
What should the government's role be in a working landscape?




Explore More: Working Landscapes
Copyright 2004, Iowa Public Television
The Explore More project is supported by funds from the
Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust
and the USDE Star Schools Program.









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Web Site Links
Reston Association (RA)
This association is made up of property owners or renters of residential in a housing association in Reston, Virginia. The RA is "responsible for maintenance and environmental protection of 1,100 acres of open space; educational and recreational programming; the administration of the covenants related to the design and maintenance of property in Reston; and issues which promote the peace, health, comfort, safety and general welfare of its members." This link takes you to the page of covenants that govern single family residences. Included are regulations on fences, dog houses, security lighting, handicap accessibility, and much more. You'll need Adobe Acrobat Reader to view the covenants.

The Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation
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