At first blush, it looks like business as usual around here again: Someone has a good idea, a new idea, and others don't want it in their backyard.
Neighbors of the Erie County Landfill want to sidetrack the plan to burn the landfill's methane by-product to generate electric power, and take it to the ballot.
But responding to criticism over their stance, they say it's not the power generation they're against, it's the spot zoning -- arbitrarily changing how one piece of land can be used, to allow one thing in particular to happen.
Fair enough. Zoning is designed to regulate the use of land so it can be used to the best advantage -- of that piece land and of neighboring pieces of land. In more practical terms, it protects the rights of property owners from detrimental effects of inappropriate uses next door. Arbitrarily changing zoning for one piece of land, ignoring the zoning for neighboring pieces of land, defeats the purpose of zoning.
So let's take the neighbors at their word -- and require Erie County to figure out how to allow methane power generation at the landfill in a way that protects the rights of the neighbors, and does not set a precedent for other, less beneficial uses of land which is, after all, a garbage dump.
Let's make no mistake: This idea is a good one. We need to break the image this area has of shooting down every new idea that comes along the pike simply because there's "nothing in it for me" or, simply, "not in my backyard."
Who knows? With the price of energy and the scarcity of local economic movement these days, the "spot zoning" county officials want to give the gas project might survive a public vote.
This idea has languished for years, rotting like the garbage that produces the gas, for one reason or another -- contractual disputes, regulations, what have you.
Let's do this, but do it the right way, with land use policy that protects the neighbors' rights but allows the gas project to go forward.
Let's not lose this chance to turn garbage into a good thing.
Because we've had it the other way for too long.