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Cyclops: Do snakes override property rights?
Jan 22, 2014 | 2247 views | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Bryan Gray
Bryan Gray

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Davis Clipper.

In most cases, we value our neighbors; in rare cases, we fear our neighbors. And that can lead to a controversy over the extent of property rights, an issue, which while bubbling now in Salt Lake County, can reverberate throughout the entire state.

While living in a previous neighborhood, I opened my door to find a nearby resident concerned for my well-being. “Did you hear who is moving in next door to you?” he asked.  I replied that I was unaware of any real danger.

“You’re getting a couple with a bucket load of children!” he said.  “C’mon, how can you keep a neighborhood nice when you have six kids living in a small three-bedroom place? What can we do about it?”

I said we could do nothing. It was the same reply I gave when a different neighbor alerted me that our neighborhood was getting a resident who had full-blown AIDS.

People become upset over many rumored dangers to their property values and personal safety. Petitions are often signed to keep halfway houses out of neighborhoods. One Utahn asked his city council to oust a neighbor who had painted his entire house purple. Others complain about a neighbor raising bees or having too many cats.

Personally, I’ve been fortunate to have great neighbors, although I wouldn’t be too excited about having a full-throated “American Idol” singer practicing daily next to me in my condominium Р and I wouldn’t be thrilled to have a survivalist bringing his arsenal of bazookas  and land mines next door to me either.

That brings me to the Salt Lake County controversy.  A man collects snakes Р 25 big slithering boa constrictors.  The man says he is a law-abiding citizen. (I’m sure he is, but I’m not sure his boa constrictors are.)  Nearby residents signed petitions and pled with the Cottonwood Heights City Council to force the man to move (which he did), and elected officials weighed in on the thorny issue of personal property rights.

The snake collector told Salt Lake Tribune reporters he was being harassed and that “it’s important that individuals maintain their personal right to do what makes them happy as long as it has no effect upon anybody else.”  

His neighbors, of course, say that his love of snakes does affect them.  A petition-signer said the man has “created an uncomfortable environmentЙWe’re concerned about our property values decreasingЙWe now have a stigma of the snake neighborhood.”

One of the councilmen took the side of the snake collector; he was concerned that government is infringing on the rights of private property owners by establishing ordinances regarding exotic pets.  The mayor also agreed, claiming that government is “overreaching” simply because “some people are being irrational about their fear of snakes.”

I generally agree that a man’s home is his castle and he or she should be free of prying neighbors. I shouldn’t care if my neighbor has an ample collection of guns, puts whisky in his coffee, or enjoys walking around nude in his own home. I shouldn’t care if my neighbor secretly dresses up like Lady Gaga, believes he is John Wayne, or records episodes of “Honey Boo-Boo.”

But admittedly, I would get a little nervous if I knew my neighbor was collecting boa constrictors or, heaven forbid, singing love songs to a python.  And if he wanted to adopt an alligator, I’d be begging to sign a petition!


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