The iconic American story of seeking opportunity in the West is what IJ clients Joshua and Emily Killeen set out to write for themselves when they left San Diego to homestead 10 empty acres of high desert plateau in Yavapai County, Arizona.
Joshua and Emily built an environmentally conscious tiny home and rustic barn to serve as an event space for Joshua’s professional photography and Emily’s yoga classes. Not only did these young entrepreneurs want to earn a living, they also wanted to simplify, escape the financial obligations of the big city, and live according to their own lights.
That’s when the Yavapai County buzz saw descended. The couple learned their property was ensnared in a tangle of zoning and permitting restrictions in June 2018, when they came home to discover a county official barring the entrance to their land. Surprised but law-abiding, Joshua and Emily immediately began securing permits for the items the county flagged.
But the county wanted to impress on these entrepreneurs—who were newcomers with no history of violating local ordinances—that Yavapai County disfavors the pioneer spirit. Bureaucracy. Rules. Forms. Permission slips. Deadlines. Hearings. Fees. Those are what the American West is now about, as far as the county is concerned.
So Yavapai County took two extraordinary steps. First, it prohibited the couple from engaging in “coming soon” advertising for their business, Ananda Retreat, until they were code compliant. Second, the county prohibited Joshua and Emily from hosting Wellness Wednesdays, free events in which members of the community would gather to share a vegetarian potluck dinner and do yoga beneath a desert sunset.
Zoning codes often micromanage how Americans can use their property, but they cannot do so in a way that violates the U.S. Constitution. The county cannot use its power to regulate land to restrict the fundamental rights of free speech and using private property to have dinner with friends. Joshua and Emily joined IJ to bring suit in federal court to protect their rights—and make sure at least a little Wild remains in the West.
Jeff Rowes is an IJ senior attorney.