Janak Bansal Awoke One Morning From Uneasy American Dreams
Via commenter Vynnie comes the story of Janak and Vinod Bansal, whose plans to build a dream home are being stymied by a county planning board who regard the thing as just too darn big:
But there was nothing in the county's code books that specifically outlawed such opulence. The proposed home's 35-foot height was just within one of the county's few specific limitations for hillside homes.
The Bansal's dream home quickly became mired in bureaucratic quicksand as county planners tried to tone down the home without the benefit of being able to enforce specific guidelines. They recommended lowering the height to 25 feet or tucking the home behind a ridge to reduce its visibility. The Bansals balked and appealed to the board of supervisors.
Now, on the one hand, I understand why you might want to have rules like this: I expect I'd be peeved if I put up a house on a plot where the view was a big part of the value of the property, only to have it blocked out by some fresh mansion. As Coase teaches us, the best way to handle those situations is to have viewshed rights clearly allocated and let the parties negotiate an efficient outcome, but in light of transaction costs some kind of zoning rules might be a second-best solution in some situations. [ADDENDUM: Commenter joe points out that this is really a third best; better to have broader criteria that owners decide how precisely to satisfy.] But in that case, you want zoning rules, not a situation where people make elaborate plans within the constraints of what they think are clear-cut rules, only to have a battery of new restrictions slapped on them ex post. The couple are now trying to sell their land, but even in a favorable real estate market, they're now trying to unload property that's evidently got some de facto easments on it they weren't aware of when they bought it.