You are the public
If I have invested my money in a quiet retreat with healthy air and water, having those properties protected and the value of my investment maintained is one of my public rights. And if someone does something with their property that debases the value of mine, that is a loss of my rights, not just an injury to some distant “public good.” How many of us would appreciate, for instance, having a junkyard set up business 50 yards from our homes? Or an industrial plant that operates at 100 decibels 24/7? Or a strip club that stays open far into the night?
Each of us has the public right to avoid these intrusions—but largely because we have the opportunity to move into zones that forbid them.
There is, of course, just one hitch. In order to secure for ourselves these public rights, we have to also be willing to restrict some of our own actions. We secure our right not to have the junkyard next door by agreeing not to establish a junkyard next to someone else’s house. We secure our own right to breathe clean air by agreeing not to do things that defile our neighbors’ air. We secure our right to be protected (as much as possible) against flooding by agreeing to maintain a certain amount of vegetation on our own property.
But this give and take can scarcely be described as submitting to tyranny. It’s simply recognizing that rights entail responsibilities, a lesson we all have to learn on the way to adulthood.
Obviously, the way that individuals can be sure that they have an input into the way their public rights are protected and administered when it comes to the enjoyment of their property is by participating in the zoning process. And there is plenty of room for discussion and difference as to what exact ordinances will serve everybody best. But there is one type of argument that really does not have a place: the argument that a town cannot or should not impose rule x, y or z just because it tells people what to do on their property. That’s what laws protecting you from nuisances have been doing for centuries. It’s not new, it’s not un-American, and it is absolutely essential for each and every individual who wishes to enjoy a decent quality of life.