What Made My Blood Boil…And Still Does

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One of the reasons I ended up a libertarian is because way back when, as a cub reporter for a non-great, non-metropolitan newspaper, I was assigned to the high school graduation and planning board beat. Seeing multiple high school commencements in a short period of time simply drove me to distraction; checking out planning and zoning board meetings on a regular basis "made my blood boil."

So does this story, involving the 87-year-old mother of Wired cofounder–and Reason aficianado–Louis Rossetto.

Afraid of falling in her Berkeley, California home, she's trying to build a first-story bedroom and is running into all sorts of trouble with the planners there. Here's a PDF of an ad she ran recently in the Berkeley Barb that tells her whole outrageous tale of local martinets screwing her over. (Warning: large-loading file.)

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  1. “…and is running into all sorts of trouble with the planners there.”

    “…her whole outrageous tale of local martinets screwing her over.”

    Actually, the boards approved her project every time it came before them. As Mrs. Rossetto writes in her ad, the problem is her neighbors who are abusing the process. She quotes the decisions and statements by the officials who approved her plans, as well as quoting her neighbors accusing the board members of corruption for approving them.

    I guess cartoon characters with fangs makes for a more interesting narrative than reporting straight on the story.

  2. Joe–Does it not bother you that she needs to get approval to work on HER house in the first place?

  3. So, Nick, how does one move from a non-metropolitan, non-great newspaper to a paragon of excellence like Reason?

  4. Of course, the fact that other planners are acquiescing in the abuse isn’t important at all.

  5. “I guess cartoon characters with fangs makes for a more interesting narrative than reporting straight on the story.”

    You obviously missed the planning commission’s reversal, you blowhard.

  6. If it helps, I also feel my blood pressure rise while covering the Planning and Zoning beat.

  7. Haven’t had time to click the link yet, but the Berkeley Barb folded about twenty years ago.

  8. Joe, or anyone who might know–
    What’s the excuse used to justify these laws requiring permission to modify your own house? I mean, I understand (and agree with) the motive for laws saying, for example, that I can’t put an outhouse or a shooting range in my backyard; these would obviously cause problems for my neighbors. But what the hell concern is it of anybody’s if I want to add an extra room or refurbish the ones I already have? What was the rationale behind these laws?

  9. In response to Joe suggesting that the Berkeley bureaucracy and politicos are somehow without blame in all this – the fact is that it should not take TWO YEARS to get a simple bedroom addition approved in any jurisdiction anywhere. Nor should there be an overarching social environment enabled by local ordinance that encourages this kind of neighbor on neighbor violence. In essence, what is going on here is that the local Soviet on my mother’s block has decided that no change can occur without its permission, and will use any and all means to enforce its will. After exhausting all other avenues, it is now appealing to the Landmarks Preservation Soviet to accomplish that. The Landmarks Soviet, ever eager to expand its control – Berkeley has more landmarked buildings than San Francisco, an older city with seven times the population – is more than willing to entertain this travesty. And if my mother hadn’t fought back, this would have sailed quietly through like all the other travesties this city is known for. If you want to know how bad it can be, I encourage you to read Will Harper’s excellent piece, “Berkeley’s Hysterical Landmarks” published in the local free weekly East Bay Express: http://www.eastbayexpress.com/issues/2003-09-17/news/feature_print.html

  10. If you think this is bad, you should see whan us flood victims (hurricaines Francis and Ivan) in the North Carolina mountains have to endure. The sheer number of boards and commissions and regulators we have to deal with is truly amazing. We can do almost nothing to repair our flood damaged property without dealing with four or five different regulators. Not suprisingly, some property owners are contemplating just walking away..but how do you do that? That regulatory “takings” are widespread is undeniable. What can be done about them? Any ideas?

  11. You want to hear something classic. When I was living in Boston, my old fraternity house was in the Back Bay. We were told by the Fire Department to get handrails on our front steps, for doors that were rarely used. We had to jump through a ton of hoops by the historical society to allow us to use certain kinds of handrails because they had to look authentic. A royal pain in the ass. We had to go through similar crap for our roof deck and what color to paint our fire escape. What a pain.

    Of course, I loved my parents’ response when I showed them the “historic” buildings of Boston (by this I mean historic for authenticity reasons, not something like Paul Revere’s old shoppe). “A 250 year old building is historic?!?! Back in Egypt, that’s practically new.”

  12. Isolate the bad neighbors from the rest of the neighbors. Get the “good” neighbors to write letters to the “bad” neighbors, etc.

    Get the dirt on the “bad” neighbors, such as disclosed in the PDF I unfortunately spent time reading. File complaints with inspectors, etc.

  13. Good for her! I wish more people would do this – every time they’re abused by the system, or people working through the system, get the word out in public. It’s especially good when old ladies do it – when angry young men do stuff, they’re easily blown off as hotheads, but we have a cultural blockage against speaking too harshly of grandma.

    As far as why this kind of stuff happens at all, I don’t know very much, but I do know that a lot of seemingly reasonable people turn into Neighborhood Nazis when the topic comes up. Some of my own relatives have, when I suggested that if a man wanted to build a 13-foot-high wall around his property or paint his house purple it was his business, turned into fire-breathing monsters, unable or unwilling to give any reason why, but absolutely insistent that he should be stopped. In NYC we don’t have quite the same kinds of issues, but we have our own brand of busybodies. Somehow, every time an even moderately large construction project is proposed, the old buildings on the site are miraculously discovered to be of irreplaceable historical value. The fact that every building we have, including the historically valuable, exists precisely because the builder did not value the previous state enough to preserve it does not seem to have any impact on the busybodies.

  14. This is rent-seeking behavior, no?

    I have to agree with Joe about who the real jerks are. Its neighbors who are using the rules as a cudgel, not the planners. It is the politicos who are pandering to the squeaky wheels, not the planners.

    I can come up with (to me) some good reasons about why permissions are needed for adding a room, but I doubt I would be able to convince most people in this thread.

    But this is an intruguing thought to me. I’m sure we all would like to arrive at the end of what could be considered a nice neighborhood. But what to do in those circumstances where someone’s actions bring down the value of my property?

    Tullock and Buchanon have discussed the ideas of contracts to pay for these negative externalities, but how does one enforce these contracts without ending up with a mess that is worse than what already exists?

    I too, come from the mountains of North Carolina. And while there is regulation with regard to land use, it is chump change compared to other places I’ve been. The mountains of North Carolina are also a place where most people with the means shout the loudest about being good neighbors and have no need for common sense regulation (yes, I know that is an oxymoron in these parts…), yet they are also the parties that are resistant to common sense dialog among neighboring property owners about how towering concrete warehouses could possibly wipe out the value of a homestead.

  15. Jennifer wrote:

    I mean, I understand (and agree with) the motive for laws saying, for example, that I can’t put an outhouse or a shooting range in my backyard; these would obviously cause problems for my neighbors.

    ———–

    We libertarians believe that not being able to defecate and explode ordnance all over our own property is statist encroachment upon our sacred rights to, um, defecate and explode ordnance all over our own property.

  16. If you want to fully enrage the Neighborhood Nazis, build a house that looks like this. 🙂

    (more photos)

    (This Bold House)

  17. Chuck,
    That’s a beautiful abode.

  18. Rich-
    What are your reasons for needing permission to build a room? I seriously can’t think of any. I’ll agree that my neighbors deserve protection from the stench of an outhouse or the stray bullets of a shooting range, but what danger do they face if I hire a contractor to add on a room without first filling out gobs of paperwork and then asking approval of the city council?

    As for those blaming the neighbors, rather than the city council–who gave the neighbors the legal tools to harass some poor old lady in the first place?

  19. There is no tyranny like local government tyranny.

  20. Jennifer —

    Many local ordinances actually specify a threshold, below which a permit isn’t necessary.

    If we actually get beyond a lot of the aesthetic and subjective reasons that really rub people the wrong way, public health and safety is the rationale. Again, what constitutes public health and safety can be very subjective.

    At the very least, I would argue that a process should be in place to ensure that your addition doesn’t cause harm to your neighbors by increasing the bulk of the structure to the extent that your neighbors’ property values aren’t significantly (or unreasonably) harmed. Or you aren’t building too close to the lot lines.

    In reality, and in most instances, adding a room does not require anything more than interaction with the local planning staff. I think we can agree that in this instance, if it was kept to that then we wouldn’t be discussing this unfortunate incident and Ms. Rossetto would be sleeping in the comfort of her downstairs bedroom.

    We all know that my right to swing my fist ends where your nose starts (an example, I’m not getting confrontational!). Fine. But would you mind very much if I kept my fist right in front of your nose? Keep in mind, I’m not touching you or crossing that boundary.

    As for neighbors vs. city council, I would blame both equally. Although part of being a neighbor is showing some self-restraint.

    But I’m curious, I think we both agree on what a nice, liveable neighborhood is. How can we create it without being overly regulated? Even in Houston, what the lack of zoning has created is a system of private contracts on a subdivision by subdivision basis that are more burdensome than your typical zoning ordinance (i.e., house color, parking only in garage, etc.).

    On top of that, Houston has a special division of the city attorney’s office that oversees deed restriction violations (http://www.ci.houston.tx.us/departme/legal/deed.htm), and from what I understand, ANYBODY can lodge a complaint and the city attorney’s office must act on that complaint. For the life of me I really don’t see a real difference. Yes, one is private (almost, but with the govt’s enforcement and protection of property rights through a deed restriction), one is govt., but really, it is the same thing to me.

    Rich

  21. Mr. Rosetto makes the most salient point – the fact that this has dragged on for two years over a 900 square foot addition is absurd.

    Jennifer, the idea behind preservatin districts and landmark buildings is that the appearance and historical significance of the neighborhood and the buildings within it are economic and cultural assets, with value that should be preserved. If property owners alter their buildings in such a way as to destroy that appearance and significance, it would reduce the value of the homes in the neighborhood. In a sense, the historic character of certain areas is an asset held in common by all of the property owners in an area.

    In this case, the proposed addition does no such thing. It’s entirely in keeping with the scale of the neighborhood and the aesthetic of the house. Shame on the neighbors for abusing the law – is there some kind of long-running dispute that explains it, because it’s tough to see any merit in their historic preservation argument. And shame on Berkeley for letting this drag out this long – two years is a real hardship for a homeowner like this.

  22. “For the life of me I really don’t see a real difference. Yes, one is private (almost, but with the govt’s enforcement and protection of property rights through a deed restriction), one is govt., but really, it is the same thing to me.”

    For some reason Rich, the lack of democratic control over the housing regulations means, to a majority of the people on this board, that they aren’t intrusions on people’s freedom. If the government itself had written exactly the same regulations and was imposing them in exactly the same way, it would be a reduction in freedom, but since the rules that you get punished for not obeying were created by private parties and never voted on by the public or its representatives, they cannot, by definition, be considered intrusions on people’s freedom.

    I’m sure Dan and Dynamist would be happy to strain their brains coming up with implausible, Rube Goldberg scenarios by which people can avoid the regulations, thus giving them enough cover to pretend they don’t impose on people’s freedom.

  23. Rich says,

    “But what to do in those circumstances where someone’s actions bring down the value of my property?”

    I suppose the courts may award civil damages if they see fit. But how do you quantify this in an objective manner? If WalMart builds a big ugly box store 3 miles away, then my property values may fall. Does every single action that anyone undertakes fall under this purview? For example, what if the local textile mill closes down (this is happening in my fiancee’s family’s old hometown). With the sudden drop in jobs, property values will surely plummet. Does the textile mill owe you money because your property lost value?

    It is highly problematic to get into such a slippery slope. If several black families buy up houses in a predominantly white neighborhood, and property values drop, do those black families owe their neighbors money? I mean, where does it end? The concept of residual/latent property value fluctuation, and the causation behind it, is extremely complex, and I don’t think that you can really use it as a blockade against people doing otherwise legal things on their property.

    It gets a bit fuzzy, however, when it truly affects the day to day lives of adjecent property owners. For example, if I set up a hog farm on my land, and the nieghbors can hardly breathe because of the waste fumes. But property values, per se, are not as simple, and can be easily abused as a blockade to individual liberty.

  24. “I suppose the courts may award civil damages if they see fit. But how do you quantify this in an objective manner?”

    There will always be an element of, if not subjectivity, at least interpretation. This is why clear regulation on the front end, which everyone knows about and can plan on, does a better job of providing the stability that investment (of capital, as well as labor and social interaction) relies on. Leaving each case up to be settled by lawsuit, with their attendant lack of dependability and the costs, makes the outcome less dependable, and the resolution of disputes more onerous (two years for a court case to come to trial wouldn’t even be noteworthy, and the wait would probably be longer if every dispute had to go to court) and hence makes the investment less attractive.

    “It is highly problematic to get into such a slippery slope.” Yet another reason why clear guidelines established beforehand are more desireable.

    “If WalMart builds a big ugly box store 3 miles away, then my property values may fall. Does every single action that anyone undertakes fall under this purview? For example, what if the local textile mill closes down (this is happening in my fiancee’s family’s old hometown). With the sudden drop in jobs, property values will surely plummet. Does the textile mill owe you money because your property lost value?” These factors don’t actually influence your property, its appearance, its character, and its function. Whereas construction on the lot next to you does.

    The reification of the word “property” by market boosters tends to obscure the important realities that distinguish real estate from other from such “properties” as stock derivatives or cash. What happens next door to your house lot actually does change the characteristics of your real estate. If a rusted Pinto parks next to your Porsche, the color, horsepower, and economic value of your car doesnt’ change. If the other customers of your bank withdraw most of the money in their savings account, the value of your savings doesn’t change. However, your house lot becomes a different asset, with different characteristics, depending on what gets built next door.

    FYI, black people moving into a neighborhood with stable home values does not reduce the selling prices of nearby homes. While the two have often be correlated, people who conclude that integration lowers property values confuse cause and effect. When the property values in a neighborhood are dropping, lower-income people move in. Given the realities in this country, lower income people are more likely to be black.

  25. Evan says: “But property values, per se, are not as simple, and can be easily abused as a blockade to individual liberty.”

    I think this is the nut of the problem, and something that as a planner I grapple with when I want to think of alternatives to zoning ordinances and such.

    If I appreciate libertarianism the way I should, government should protect individual liberties, and the extent of governmental intrusion is limited by national defense, and the protection of valid contracts and private property rights.

    How does one place value on real property other than in dollar terms? Without defining value in this way, it becomes difficult to protect property.

    This is what regulatory takings are all about. You may have title to a piece of land, but regulations, as applied to you, render that which is yours valueless.

    Substitute “regulation” for “private action that constitutes a nuisance” and you have the same problem except the source of the problem is not a governmental action.

    So I’m still left wondering. Without replacing one layer of bureaucracy (land use regulations) with another (one of contracts and enforcement of contracts through the courts and mediation), how do we create a nice, liveable neighborhood?

    Any business worth their salt plans, and enforces their plans. Why not towns and cities?

    Rich

  26. Joe-
    You don’t see anything odd about the fact that an historical or cultural “asset” becomes a “liability” to the ones who actually own it?

  27. Jennifer, if the historic designation is appropriate and the neighborhood is actually a better place because of its historic character, Mrs. Rosetto assets are a higher quality of life and a higher economic value to her property.

    Think of somebody with a historic home with no protection who gets sick of painting the clapboards. If he cuts off the trim and slaps on vinyl siding, the economic value of his home decreases, as does its aesthetic and cultural value. Yes, maintaining value can impose costs. That doesn’t strike me as terribly odd. When the cost becomes too high, or when it is being imposed without actually protecting a value (the Berkeley case), then it becomes a problem.

  28. Reading between the lines, the PC reversal was a political drive, not based on city codes. The first decisions were the “proper” application of city regulations. This story is the disput between two private parties taking place within the context of city planning. It politics not gov regs

  29. Joe-
    The fact that Mrs. Rosetto enjoys a “higher quality of life” and “enhanced economic assets” is no doubt very comforting to her as she continues to lack the extra bedroom she needs.

    How about letting people decide for themselves what would enhance their quality of life, rather than have the government decide for them?

  30. Ira-
    Without the “government regs,” the politics wouldn’t even be an issue.

  31. In regard to historic homes: If the government really believes that a building is a piece of history that must be preserved in its original condition then the government should buy the building at whatever the market value is for a “priceless piece of history”.

    Oh, and the sale price should be deducted from the salaries of the mayor, city council members, and high-level planning officials who oversaw this (notice I say high level, I don’t want Mary the secretary and Mike, the guy who reviews plumbing diagrams, to be footing the bill for what their bosses come up with).

  32. Thoreau-
    Great idea. I hope Joe agrees, too. After all, we can’t allow poor stupid fools to put vinyl siding on their homes, now, can they? I’m pretty sure “Prevention of folks uglifying their homes” was EXACTLY what the Founding Dads had in mind when they wrote the Constitution.

  33. Jennifer-

    In regard to “prevention of uglifying their homes”, I remember seeing somewhere a comment from a guy who grew up in India. He said that his home town is modernizing. Westerners come in and see a quaint traditional lifestyle being replaced by cultural imperialism, and he sees dirt floors and miserable living conditions being replaced by modern conveniences.

    How many people would actually want to live in a home that’s in the same state it was in 150 years ago?

    That’s what I thought.

  34. Thoreau-
    I agree wholeheartedly; I just think it’s funny to hear Joe support such ludicrous laws on the grounds that “somebody might put icky-poo vinyl siding on his pretty house!”

    Incidentally, I wonder what Joe’s grandson will say 100 years from now when someone tries to remove the historic, antique vinyl siding off of his house and replace it with modern brick.

  35. Jennifer says: “I’m pretty sure “Prevention of folks uglifying their homes” was EXACTLY what the Founding Dads had in mind when they wrote the Constitution.”

    Actually, Jennifer, you may be very surprised to find out what our founding fathers had in mind. Many colonial statutes, and subsequently the statutes of our early states (suggesting that our founding fathers were okay with what existed under colonial rule) placed great burdens on property owners.

    We’re not talking about anonymous founding fathers, but even James Madison can be implicated in this.

    Please don’t take this personally, but I always enjoy letting property rights advocates know a little more about their history. However much you dislike local planning today, I’m not sure you would want a taste of the local planning of your founding fathers…

    What are we talking about?

    * Forced appropriation of your land if you left it fallow for too long (with no compensation — if you weren’t using it, you obviously didn’t need it or value it)

    * If you didn’t notice a squatter exploiting your property for a given period of time, you obviously had no use for that property and you shall forfeit it to the squatter for no compensation.

    * Destruction/flooding of your upstream land because a privately owned mill might require extra power by damming (with government permission, without compensation — it was your duty!)

    * Having to notify the local council of your intent to construct a house, then waiting for them to show up to tell you how your house will look, and how it will be situated on your lot.

    Those weren’t the good old days.

    Rich

  36. A report from the front: the battle was lost – but the war won!

    Last night was my mother’s Landmarks Preservation Commission hearing. Her 900 square foot two bedroom addition took three hours of discussion. In the end, the LPC voted 5 to 4 to designate her house a landmark. They then turned around and voted 9 to 0 to accept one of the two designs for the addition that my mother had submitted – proving that my mother wasn’t threatening her “historic” Wurster in the first place.

    I am both exhilarated and depressed by the experienced. Exhilarated because we beat those motherfucking neighbors and my mother can build her bedroom. And saddened to have witnessed first hand a truly arbitrary, philistine process that must be repeated ad nauseum across America, and that causes neighborhood wars, promotes mediocrity (if not worse), and can leave people emotionally and financially ruined without even protecting the alleged purposes of the landmark ordinances.

    As my mother wrote in her ad, this wasn’t about preservation, this was about the local Soviet trying to assert its control over the block. After the vote to designate, one of the neighbors behind the landmark petition came over to my mother and magnanimously “welcomed” her to the neighborhood. The problem with that is my mother has been living in her house for four years already, and that their “welcome” amounted to the taking of her property. When they then lost the war when the Commission – shamed by the role they had just played in the obvious injustice visited on my mother – voted 9 to 0 to accept her design, I wanted to go over to this now ashen-faced neighbor and “welcome” him to reality.

    People write above about the “benefits” of this kind of kangaroo court to civic and even property values, but from my mother’s experience, these kinds of processes protect neither. It was unclear whether a majority of the commission had even visited my mother’s house – only one took up her invitation to see it. The Berkeley standard for designation is that the property is the “first, last, or only” example of its kind, but the Commission had done no research into the number of Wurster houses that had been built, whether this one was better or worse than any of the others, or even whether Wurster was really anything more than a local hero. Commissioners pontificated at length on the house and Wurster, but they literally did not know what they were talking about. In fact, if you do a google on Wurster, you get about 700 links (a lot of them having to do with my mother’s case). Do one on another local Berkeley architect, Bernard Maybeck, and you get an order of magnitude more – 8K. Do one on another local, Julia Morgan, and you get 30K. That should tell you something about Wurster’s relative stature.

    The very scariest thing about the proceedings last night was that there were at least two members of the LPC who believed that their job was not just to consider buildings that had been brought to them for landmarking, but they should actively be increasing the number of buildings in the City’s “inventory.” As one of them put it, “There are 40,000 buildings in Berekley, and we have landmarked only 300.” This, in a city that’s barely 100 years old, and which already has more landmarked buildings, as I have noted, than San Francisco which is half a century older and has seven times the population.

    And their criteria for landmarking? Berkeley has landmarked parking lots, has landmarked empty lots, has landmarked rocks, has landmarked factories where “whites and blacks worked together for the first time.” Listening to these commissioners, you can easily imagine them finding something in every building in the city that would justify landmarking, and if not in the building itself, perhaps in its relationship to its neighborhood, to the trees on the site, to the “streetscape,” to the feeling of the street, . . .

    Anyway, my mother can build her bedroom. And I intend to make a contribution to the Institute for Justice. Once again, we are shown that tyranny isn’t just a national threat; it starts, and is perhaps most pernicious, on your own block.

  37. Louis,

    I’m sorry your mother had to go through this. It is more than a little embarrassing to know that planning, or more accurately the process makes this possible.

    Undoubtedly, there are many other stories similar to hers across the country, but there are many many more other stories that are successes.

    I think you have it right that tyranny is perhaps more pernicious locally than nationally. Certainly we feel it more and is certainly not abstract.

    But it was your neighbors who so clearly abused the process. And while it was the process that helped facilitate the whole mess, it is unfair to heap a majority of the blame on planning or planners.

    After all, guns don’t kill people, peo… nevermind, you get it.

    Rich

  38. Jennifer, thoreau, what’s with all the lazy cheap shots today? Not like you. There are actual ideas being discussed here – care to take a stab at them?

    “How about letting people decide for themselves what would enhance their quality of life, rather than have the government decide for them?”

    I continue to cling to this zany idea that actions other people take can have a negative impact on your quality of life. I guess it’s a liberal thing.

    “The fact that Mrs. Rosetto enjoys a “higher quality of life” and “enhanced economic assets” is no doubt very comforting to her as she continues to lack the extra bedroom she needs.” Wow, intellectually devastating. Maybe if you’d put in some clip art with a sad kitten, your abandonment of logic for tugging heartstrings would be even stronger. Would somebody please think of the children!

  39. ‘I just think it’s funny to hear Joe support such ludicrous laws on the grounds that “somebody might put icky-poo vinyl siding on his pretty house!”‘

    See, there’s a tragedy of the commons dynamic going on; everyone in a historic neighborhood benefits financially from its historic character. Yet each individual owner may have some personal interest in doing something to his home that degrades that character. If one person cuts the brackets off his eaves and covers his house with vinyl, it’s entirely possible that the benefit to him personally will be greater than his share of the loss from that much degradation of the neighborhood’s value. But if everyone hacked up their houses in a manner that eliminated the historic character, it is unlikely that the benefits would be greater than the loss. An individual can weigh the costs and benefits of siding his own home, and has the power to make that choice. But without a preservation ordinance, there is no way to make sure the benefits of certain types of improvements outweigh the costs.

    But hey, you wrote “icky-poo,” so I guess my whole outlook is based on fuzzy, subjective thinking.

    “Incidentally, I wonder what Joe’s grandson will say 100 years from now when someone tries to remove the historic, antique vinyl siding off of his house and replace it with modern brick.”

    If the property values, and quality of life, in the neighborhood are heightened by the uniformity of vinyl siding on all the houses, then preserving that characteristic would be a laudable goal.

  40. Joe-
    Let me get this straight. You’re the one who actually justified government intervention with the following example:

    “If he cuts off the trim and slaps on vinyl siding, the economic value of his home decreases, as does its aesthetic and cultural value.”

    And yet, my feeling this is ludicrous is a “cheap shot?” Why not answer my question:

    What is wrong with letting people decide for themselves what would improve their quality of life? Seriously. If a guy puts on vinyl siding and then decides he hates it, that’s his problem.

    Serious question: do you think that one of the goals of government is to protect people from the aesthetic trauma of putting ugly vinyl siding on their houses? If not, then why did you choose that as an example?

    By the way, if “everybody in the neighborhood” benefits from keeping a house old-fashioned, then let “everybody in the neighborhood” pay for it.

  41. joe-

    My comment on India wasn’t directed at you, it was more an “Amen!” to something Jennifer said.

    As to the issue at hand: In principle I have no objection to the city vetting any construction that has a significant impact on neighbors. (My right to swing my fist arguably ends a few feet away from your nose, not just an Angstrom away from your nose.) In practice, I think the process ought to be drastically shortened in most cases. Adding another bedroom, unless it comes right up against the property line (where it arguably might affect the neighbor’s property in some way) should get an automatic OK. Aesthetic concerns are simply too subjective to make them criteria for turning down a request to build a bedroom. (I know, aesthetic issues can affect neighbors’ property values. Well, the simple fact of life is that we can’t always control the world around us, sometimes we can only control our own little piece of it.)

    And if a house truly is a piece of history that is important to the community, then the community should take responsibility for it by purchasing it under eminent domain and turning it into a museum. (I’d say that a museum is public use, unlike a parking lot for Mr. Trump’s casino, or a development that will generate more tax revenue.) OK, maybe my idea of taking it out of salaries was a little facetious, but you get my point: This should be something that’s difficult to do and only done rarely.

  42. ‘And yet, my feeling this is ludicrous is a “cheap shot?” Why not answer my question:

    What is wrong with letting people decide for themselves what would improve their quality of life? Seriously. If a guy puts on vinyl siding and then decides he hates it, that’s his problem.’

    See my comments about the “Tragedy of the Commons” dynamic in my 2:31 post, if you want my answer.

    “Serious question: do you think that one of the goals of government is to protect people from the aesthetic trauma of putting ugly vinyl siding on their houses?” In specific locations where the historic appearance of the homes is important in achieving legitimate interests, such as maintaining property values or promoting revitalization, yes. I don’t know how much you know about building renovations, but the alternations that get made to a house when you put vinyl siding on go way beyond noticing that the siding is vinyl when you’re way up close.

    ‘By the way, if “everybody in the neighborhood” benefits from keeping a house old-fashioned, then let “everybody in the neighborhood” pay for it.’

    Everyone in the neighborhood does pay for it, in the costs (broadly defined) that accrue from maintaining the historic character of their own homes. And the owner is compensated through the extra value that accrues to his own home from the historic authenticity of the other homes in the district.

  43. I find it ironic (and a bit amusing) that the most restrictive use of properties in modern America come not from local governments but through private contracts, aka the deed covenants on properties in many residential subdivisions. If you find the local government difficult; try the local homeowner’s association.

    There are still areas without any zoning or land use planning. I have purchased land with and without restrictions. I personally recommend researching the local laws and reading the deed carefully before purchasing land. I find it difficult to muster any sympathy when someone buys a home in a specific zoning district or with deed restrictions and then decides it is an affront to his or her libertarian sensibilities.

    Returning to my previous point, the rise of private associations and strict covenants appears a market-based solution to local government not providing enough regulations to satisfy local homeowners. I note that exclusive communities with draconian restrictions and jack-booted homeowner’s associations are often rather expensive.

    For most Americans, the home is single largest asset. I do not find it surprising that homeowners turn to both government and private associations to protect the value of this asset… or simply use the process to beat on a neighbor they don’t like.

    Perhaps someone might explain why a private contract in the form of a covenant dictating the color of my eaves is acceptable while a zoning regulation prohibiting me from storing nuclear waste in my basement is not. (The containers are safe, I swear!)

  44. “In practice, I think the process ought to be drastically shortened in most cases.”

    I tend to agree, though I doubt we’d settle at precisely the same point.

    “Adding another bedroom…should get an automatic OK. Aesthetic concerns are simply too subjective to make them criteria for turning down a request to build a bedroom.” I agree that adding a bedroom should be allowed, but in a district or property in which the historic character of the structures plays in important role, there should be design review. The government has an obligation to approve some plan that allows the bedroom to be built, without imposing unreasonable costs on the property owner.

    There’s a variety of regulation knows as “performance zoning,” that doesn’t restrict what uses or buildings you’re allowed to build. Instead, it lays out clear criteria your project must conform to, and leaves it to the developer to figure out how to meet them. So, for example, there wouldn’t be a height or story limit in the district, but your building cannot cast a shadow that covers x square feet of your neighbor’s house for more than y hours of the day. If you want to put an auto sales lot in a residential neighborhood, knock yourself out, but no more than three automobiles may be visible from any spot on a neighboring property or public way at any one time. Rock quarries are allowed, but no noises of greater than z decibels may be emitted…you get the point.

  45. Jose, there’s a development of single family homes in Venice, Florida, that’s surrounded by a lovely brick wall. On the wall by the front entrace, in expense projecting letters affixed to the brick, are the words:

    Willowood: A Deed-Restricted Community

    Ooooohhhhh!

  46. Joe-
    This might sound like a reductio ad absurdum, but it’s a legitimate question; I am interested in knowing where exactly you’d draw the line in the freedom vs. tragedy of the commons debate:

    My neighbor’s daughter, like many girls these days, dresses like a complete whore. Even now, in New England in the winter, she can be found wearing micro-mini skirts, tube tops, visible undergarments, etc. Her friends dress the same way, and if you drove by my home when she’s having a party you would be forgiven for thinking that I live in the hooker-infested part of the city. This could seriously drive down my property values (if I didn’t rent). Meanwhile, their boyfriends dress like the kind of guys who have bodies buried in their backyards.

    Now, while you’re more than ready to mandate paint jobs and siding and building renovations in the name of maintaining high property values, I doubt you’d be interested in requiring the girls and their boyfriends to dress more respectably, yet I daresay the latter could impact me economically just as severely as the former. So where, exactly, do you personally draw the line between property values and freedom?

    And who decides which aesthetic vision takes priority, anyway? I like the ornate neo-Victorian look; my neighbor likes that austere Swedish-modern (circa 1950) look. Which of our tastes deserve the full backing of the government, and why?

    How old does a building have to be before it qualifies as “historic”? What if I buy a regular house today, and then next year it is designated “historic?” Do I then have to obey the new preservation mandates, or can I be grandfathered in and allowed to treat my house as though it were my property, rather than the property of the public?

  47. joe-

    I might disagree with you over exactly how restrictive those “performance zoning” laws should be, but I agree that the concept is a good one. It’s a little bit like how I feel about environmental laws: To the extent that we should have them (your right to dump arsenic on your own property ends where that aquifer begins), the regulation should focus on outcomes (e.g. don’t let your arsenic get into a body of water that crosses property lines) rather than methods (e.g. thou shalt keep thine arsenic in a container meeting such and such requirements).

    As to homeowners’ associations: I’m certainly not a fan of them, and I would probably not buy a home in a planned community governed by such associations. I still consider them less repressive than city hall, but not for the reasons that most libertoids give (“They’re private, dammit! And you signed the contract!”).

    Most planned communities (as I understand it) are smaller than the jurisdiction of a city. Putting the busybodies on the board of the Homeowners’ Association gives them power over fewer people than if they are on the City Council. And while I have no illusion that the Homeowners’ Association will be benign in its exercise of power (just look at the way they forced Morty Seinfeld out of office!), at least the contract that you sign gives you some idea of what to expect and what the parameters will be. A City Council, on the other hand, could always turn capricious.

    So, although I despise planned communities and consider them an oppressive way to live, because they are easier to avoid than City Hall I consider them more benign. It has nothing to do with the libertoid tendency to worship anything that has the word “private corporation” stamped on it.

  48. Concerning restricted-covenant communities, I’ve always wondered: what about people who own homes in such developments not because they bought them (and signed the relevant contracts) but inherited them? Since they never signed any document agreeing to paint the home X color or use Y brand miniblinds in the windows, do they still have to do so? Or does the covenant apply to the house until such time as the sun becomes a red giant and the Earth is reduced to a cinder?

  49. Jennifer-

    Well, the original “owner” of the home in the planned community really only had limited ownership of the home. He or she couldn’t do whatever he or she wanted with it (hence I put the word “owner” in quotes). You can’t pass on to your heirs something that you don’t have, so the deceased can only pass on ownership rights limited by the convenant (which he or she had), not full ownership rights (which he or she lacked).

    The more important question is whether or not the Homeowners’ Association can impeach its President just because his son stole a loaf of bread.

    Oh, and did anybody ever see that X-Files episode where the covenant was enforced by a monster?

  50. Thoreau-
    Do you know if such covenants have an expiration date? Will people in the year 2204 still be required to paint their homes in Colonial Crappe subdivision some variant of white, bone or cream?

  51. Deed covenants run with the land, not with the owner. Look for the language that contains the phrase “heirs and assigns.” There are two ways to change the convenants. Have them struck down by law (as in the restriction against “coloreds” buying into certain neighborhoods or, when allowed, by majority vote of the homeowners in the subdivision. If covenants could be shed by a simple transfer of title, they would be silly indeed.

    Ah, and Thoreau, you prefer your poison in a smaller glass. When you move into a municipality, the laws are all codified in much the same manner as your deed covenants. In practice, these laws change little from year to year. I wager the vast majority of complaints about property restrictions come from people who didn’t bother to read the local zoning regulations.

    In my experience, municipal officials are easier to deal with than homeowner’s associations simply because public officials are 1) often professionals and 2) it is rarely personal. While associations are smaller, so is the granularity of the regulations. Most municipalities do not bother with the color of shutters. Another important point, a local government must respect your rights under law. If you concede your rights via the deed to your lovely home, you are, in a word, screwed. Live in a “planned community” for a few years and drop me a note.

  52. Jose-

    I have no desire to live in that planned community for a few years. My only point is that not all homes are in planned communities, but most homes are in cities, and all homes are in counties (or parishes, as they call them in Louisiana). So the local government is unavoidable, while homeowners’ associations aren’t.

    To be clear, the only reason I consider the homeowners’ association to be more benign is that living under one is optional. Living under a county government isn’t. I have no illusions that the homeowners’ association is less nitpicky than the government, but because nobody is forced to deal with them I don’t get upset about them.

  53. Jennifer, I have never, ever, heard of property values being influenced by what people wear. The building and activity that goes on around you, on the other hand, is the most significant factor in determining what your property value will be – it actually defines many of the most salient characteristics of your property. Read back in my 11:35 AM post, where I describe the unique quality of land as an asset – that many of the characteristics that give a property its character, and hence its value, accrue to it from what goes on around it. This is not the case with other forms of material goods, so any discussion of property rights, in regards to real estate, has to take this relationship into account. Anything else besides the development of the land around it is a completely different topic. I also draw a line between an individual’s body, mind, and spirit on the one hand, and material stuff on the other.

    “And who decides which aesthetic vision takes priority, anyway? I like the ornate neo-Victorian look; my neighbor likes that austere Swedish-modern (circa 1950) look. Which of our tastes deserve the full backing of the government, and why?” If you are in a Victorian neighborhood, where all the homes have gingerbread and complicated facades, promoting the Victorian style could be important in maintaining property values and neighborhood character. If your street is full of Swedish modern houses, it might be important to preserve that. Although, it needs to be noted, the neighborhoods from the different periods are laid out quite differently, and the architectural style of the houses on your street is less relevant to your property in a suburban setting than a traditional neighborhood.

    Every house starts off as “normal” and becomes “historic” at a certain point. Grandfathering properties out of historic designations because they predate the adoption of the law doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, now does it?

  54. “To be clear, the only reason I consider the homeowners’ association to be more benign is that living under one is optional.”

    There are towns, even entire counties, throughout the sunbelt in which every single house, or almost every one, is part of a homeowners association. Some county governments won’t approve projects without one, because they don’t want the road maintenance etc. In this case, the HO is both unavoidable, and subject to much lower levels of democratic and constitutional checks on its power.

  55. Come now, Thoreau, how are you to know lest you live among the Philistines? By the way, there are many counties in the U.S. that have not implemented any zoning regulations. Since you are free to move about the country, living in a place without zoning regulations is optional. With all due respect, I sense that your tolerance of homeowner’s associations is based on a lack of experience with such entities.

    If you are unhappy with a local zoning law, you have the statutory right of appeal. You have no such right with covenants. You also have the ability to convince the local city council or other such governing body to change the laws. In a homeowner’s association, you must convince the majority of your neighbors to change the rules. In a small city, a handful of elected officials will suffice. It is far easier to convince a few politicians than a horde of apathetic neighbors… trust me. The government is also limited in bothering one on one’s property with cause. Purchase enough land and what you do on the middle of it will generally go undetected (and unregulated) by the local government.

    I think what really bothers libertarians is not simply the regulation of land… it is that so many people want the regulations. You may not mind having a junkyard next to your lovely brick Victorian, but alas, many people do. Until this changes, people will regulate their neighbors, through government or contract. The only protection…

    huge tracts of land.

  56. Jennifer,

    Your ability to opt out of a homeowners’ association is extremely limited, if what you want is a new house. Deed restrictions specific to a subdivision are the norm, homeowners’ associations that enforce those codes, covenants and restrictions are very nearly the norm.

    You are not nearly as footloose as you think.

    Off on a tangent: Not too long ago, our zoning board wasn’t able to grant a variance to a property owner because the deed restrictions were more restrictive than the town’s ordinance.

    Rich

  57. Then the zoning board erred, Rich. A municipal government is not bound by deed restrictions or covenants nor is the government the proper enforcement body for what is essentially a civil contract.

    The issue of a variance should be granted upon the case presented and the legal threshold for such a dispensation (generally hardship or practical difficulty). The board granting a variance does not preempt the deed restriction in any way. If you wish to email me, I could probably find a citation or two. Of course, none of this is legal advice, etc.

  58. Jose-

    What do you want me to say? I have no doubt that the HA (Homeowners’ Association) is every bit as tyrannical as you claim it is. Fortunately, it is optional. I can’t get upset about them any more than I can get upset over weird churches that try to take control of your life: Both are easy to avoid.

    Now, as joe pointed out, in some places it isn’t optional, and in many cases the local government actually pushes to make it mandatory. Such an alliance between the local gov’t and the HA is the ultimate nightmare scenario, akin to having a former Halliburton executive in the White House.

    All I’m saying is that they don’t bother me because there are ways around them. Except where there aren’t ways around them. That’s a problem, I admit.

    So, if you think I’m a fan of the HA, let me clarify it by saying that the HA is no doubt the most evil and oppressive system one could live under, a sort of Communism on steroids. Is that good enough?

  59. No, Thoreau, I don’t think you are a fan of either government or of homeowner’s associations. I simply questioned the logic behind your conclusion that associations were somehow the lesser evil. You dislike Hell on a philosophical basis rather than actually have been roasted on a spit by “architectural committee” demons.

    What strikes me is the failure of libertarians to convince the mass of men to abandon these regulations. Instead, rigid deed restrictions have been the ever increasing norm. It seems, Thoreau, that the freedom to paint one’s shutters pink and purple is not worth a really lousy neighbor… for most folks anyway.

  60. Joe:

    “Every house starts off as “normal” and becomes “historic” at a certain point. Grandfathering properties out of historic designations because they predate the adoption of the law doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, now does it?”

    Your reply didn’t directly answer my question. So let me rephrase it: are you basically saying that by your standards, any house I buy which isn’t new-build construction could, at the whim of The People, be declared ‘historic’ and have a shitload of restrictions placed on it that weren’t present when I purchased the home, and I have to conform to them at my own expense? And furthermore, I should actually be HAPPY because my property values will me maintained?

    Jose-
    As for your example I’d like to point out that I’m not putting a junkyard in my hypothetical yard here; I’m adding a room onto my house without first getting permission from someone who’s decided that MY home is HIS business.

  61. Jose,

    I’m almost certain that the board did not err.

    The deed restrictions were more restrictive. The deed restrictions are a private contract, and the actions of a zoning board would not be able to force private parties to relax these restrictions.

    True, the board could have gone ahead and granted the variance, but having that variance in hand does not give the property owner in question permission to not abide by the contractual agreement of the deed restrictions. In this instance, there’s no way that the hands are tied by the deed restriction, the property owner’s hands are tied.

    In the case at hand, the town has a setback of 20 feet, the deed restrictions require a setback of 36 feet. The town could grant the variance, but the only way of acting on that variance is to flout the restrictions that apply to the rest of the subdivision.

    I doubt there is any case law that would allow the zoning board to grant relief to the property owner.

    Rich

  62. a 4 person discussion.. fun

    anyways..

    joe, you seem to be under the impression that A) heritage designations always increase the value of the house and B) that other residents who benefit from restricting my use of my property shouldn’t pay for it

    A) in a rather large number of cases, heritage designations dramatically reduce the resale value of a house. Frequently, heritage designations apply not only to the exterior, but also to the interior, making it exceptionally difficult, time consuming, and expensive to make any changes (even those required by law or insurance, such as upgrading to meet fire code or replace outdated and unsafe wiring). While the neighbours and the city can significantly benefit from these restrictions, the homeonwers frequently do not, and the value of protected houses (especially large protected houses, as their buyers typically have money to add features and are more likely to run into the restrictions and think about them) can remain static for a very long time.. the value is depressed as long as the restrictions are in force, to adjust for the dramatically high expected cost of any changes.

    B) you discuss (in a completely opposite way) the tragedy of the commons with respect to architecture. However, you neglect to say why an individual A should be forced to suffer to benefit other individuals b, C, and D. They should be paying A to not do something, or pay him to put a restrictive covenant on the house. Perhaps A’s house is the only one remaining with a thatched roof, but he’s tired of being cold, wet, and having rats live in it. But it would destroy the integrity of his house to have an effectual roof. Rather than forcing him to live in squalor, BCD should pay him to keep his house unlivable, or buy the freaking thing.

    As to why restrictive covenants are more respectable than city/town/county regs… Zoning regs are not predictable in their enforcement. If you’re neighbours decide they hate you, they can completely screw with your life, since almost all actions are barred, or arguably barred, by some piece of zoning or planning. Hence why environmental reviews for big projects take forever, as the misanthropic civilisation hating enivromentalists throw everything at any significantly large development.

    Normally, people sail through with minor changes to their houses. But nearly every government hoop can be twisted into insanity if someone is vicious enough and has enough cash to keep the opposition going. HA’s have rules in place upfront (cream, bone, or ecru) and smaller number of people required to overthrow ridiculous legislation. County rules are typcally much more vague, have to respect umpteen rules from senior jurisdictions (all of which can be used to block a judgement one doesn’t like), are the purview of a guild, rather than a few busybodies, and require large numbers to effect change (have to elect new concillors and then control them, rather than simply voting for a new board which you can stack with your movement members).

    As an example of ridiculous zoning: lakes district near Toronto, Muskoka, has had a number of different boathouse bylaws in the past 15 years. First, you were allowed anything that got approved by the province (they legally own lake bottom and lake water, so you need to get approval, mostly focused on maintaining fish habitat). Then new, anti-development people moved onto council, and you were not allowed to have living quarters on a boathouse (which are almost always on top, given the expense of building over water). Then, 5 years ago, living quarters became legal, as long as there were no washroom or kitchen facilities (legitimate concern with pollution) and enclosed square footage didn’t exceed 650 sq feet. This applies to the territory of the Township, which includes a large area, including most a Lake Joseph, but not its far northern end. That is under the control of the neighbouring township, which doesn’t allow living quarters at all (though you can have a boathouse that has more than a flat roof).

    What happened? people who built boathouses during a specific period were disadvantaged, as te rules were always in flux. As well, people build around the rules… building boathouses that are accomodation ready, but don’t have them fully built out until the law changes. In Muskoka, there is also now a fad of exceptionally large covered screened porches. Many boathouses have several of these off of the main living areas, and people are installing removable glass windows to “protect” their porches against winter…

    Other land use reg follies is the regular change in max. allowable height. This changes as new concillors join, and pressure is brought to bear, so what was legal and may be legal in the future is illegal now.. a massive taking form people who need to build at a given time…

    All in all, regulation not specifically designed for safety reasons (set backs of septic tanks, property set backs to reduce fires, etc) should be abolished, and even most safety regs (the ever higher minimum height for railings) should be reviewed critically

  63. Jennifer,

    You make it sound like a review of the plan to add a room is some arbitrary personal process. In most jurisdictions, it is matter of law. In some cases, it requires nothing more than a building permit. In other cases, it requires more.

    If you don’t like the law or application of the law, exercise your right to appeal or amend the law. Or engage in civil disobedience and build the room without permits… although this approach is best reserved for hypothetical additions.

    Rich,

    The Board did err. Deeds restrictions and zoning regulations are apples and oranges, separate and distinct. A variance is a specific permission granted to a property to vary from the zoning regulations. Granting the variance does not force the association to relax it’s rules. The variance has no application whatsoever to the covenants. It only applies to the municipal regulations. In turn, the HOA can grant permission to a property owner to build something. This permission does not trump the municipal regulations. In a subdivision with covenants, the property owner must comply with both the zoning regulations and the covenants. Permission from one body is not enough… and again, the permission granted by one body has no jurisdiction over the rules of the other.

    Let’s say the local City Council granted you a license to sell apples. That license does not give you permission to sell apples in my front yard. I can give you permission to sell apples in my front yard, but if the City requires a license, my permission is not enough. There is nothing unlawful with the City granting me a license even if I can’t find a single property on which to conduct my apple-selling business. Entiendes?

  64. Jose,

    I think we are talking about the same thing. Perhaps my language about the board “not being able” to grant the variance was too strict.

    Yes, the board could have granted the variance, but it would have been a meaningless gesture (as both you and I have been explaining to each other).

    Could the property owner have sued the zoning board for denying the variance (assuming the substantive requirements of the variance were met in the absence of the deed restrictions)? Sure, but the existance of the deed restrictions makes the issue moot.

  65. Ah, yes, we agree then. If the Board denied the variance on the grounds that the covenants prohibited the use, I think the Board’s decision could have been overturned in that the deed restrictions are not a proper basis for denying a variance. Remember, Rich, reality has very little to do with the law. Perhaps with variance in hand, the property owner would have launched a successful effort to change the covenants. In that case, the Board would have preemptively denied the owner his opportunity. Personally, I doubt the owner could have made his case for the variance, but it should have been denied for the proper reasons.

  66. Jennifer

    One can not take politics out of local land use decision. If you removed gov regs, this personal disput would manifest in other ways like in the courts or extra legal actions.

    I dont see how this is a good example of zoning run a muck. The planners are not to blame on this one.

  67. “…any house I buy which isn’t new-build construction could, at the whim of The People, be declared ‘historic’…”

    No, Jennifer, joe seems to be saying any house you buy, given enough time, WILL be declared “historic” ay somebody’s whim. Furthermore, you will be “happy” about it. After all, they are only doing it for your own good.

    joe seems to believe that cases like Mr. Rousetto’s mom are aberrations, and do not constitute an argument against historical desgnations “appropriately” applied. Unfortunately, the subjective nature of aesthetics and what is historically significant renders an objective judgement on appropriateness impossible. Such abuses by neighbors as described are the inevitable consequence of the inherent flaws of the rationale for such regulations, not an aberration. Arbitrary and capricious proceedings happen because the regulations are arbitrary and capricious, but the joes of the world will cling desparately to the notion that they are just. For, if they do not, how can they rationalize imposing their will on others?

  68. I’d also like to point out to Joe that a house with a “higher value” is only a benefit if you want to sell it and move; not if you want to continue living there and be left alone to live your life. So when my house is declared historic, if I want to live there, I have to obey the various regulations so I can enjoy the benefit of a higher property tax bill. Hooray!

  69. “If you removed gov regs, this personal disput would manifest in other ways like in the courts or extra legal actions.”

    This is a key point – squabbling about land use is inherent to the institution of land ownership. Whether it’s bashing your neighbor with a rock, filing a nuisance suit, or filing a complaint at the zoning board, the nature of land ownership and the fact that surrounding properties define your property’s value, use, and character make such fight inevitable. It is therefore essential that there be some kind of predictable, enforceable, reliable, understood system of determining what can fly and what cannot. It is also essential that the public have a voice in determining what these norms will be for the area they live in. If you’ve got a problem with a certain regulation, you’re going to have to be able to argue it on its merits. The MJs of the world can enjoy their wanking about the ahistorical idea of unregulated use of land, but such ideas bear so little relation to how land use dynamics actually work that they cannot ever actually come to pass. You might as well argue that we shouldn’t have to breath air other people have exhaled into.

  70. thoreau, on performance zoning, there is still pre-development review. The government doesn’t just take your word that your arsenic container doesn’t leak, and sit on its hands until someone’s well gets poisoned – you have to show them that the tank won’t leak, and commit to a maintenance and monitoring program. The difference is, they leave it up to you to figure out how to build and maintain the tank, rather than telling you how to ensure the preferred outcome.

  71. In a sense, the historic character of certain areas is an asset held in common by all of the property owners in an area. – joe

    What a load of codswallop.

    I once made the case for libertarian policies before a meeting of our local chapter of the Architects’ Cartel. When they asked me about “historic preservation” I told them that this was a much more important thing to preserve than any building:

    … nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

    I suggested that anytime they were agitated enough to preserve some mid-19th century monstrosity of gingerbread, that they pass the hat and buy it.

    Perhaps because I was trained in history, not architecture nor “planning,” that I have a different opinion about what should be preserved.

    Kevin

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