The Volokh Conspiracy
Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent
When you play the game of NIMBY zoning, you win or your dream home dies! Famed science fiction and fantasy writer George R.R. Martin (author of the book series on which Game of Thrones was based) was recently prevented from building the castle of his dreams by NIMBYist "historic preservation" zoning restrictions in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where "historic preservation" is part of a broader system of zoning restrictions under state and local law. Christian Britschgi of Reason reports:
On Tuesday, the Santa Fe Historic Districts Review Board turned down the famed fantasy author's application to build a castle on his property.
Martin and his wife, through their Water Gardens Trust, had applied to build a home and seven-sided tower-like structure which would house a library, the Daily Mail first reported. That tower, in order to accommodate a stairwell and elevator, was six feet higher than what was allowed in the historic district in which the structure would be located….
The proposed castle had been revised substantially since it was first proposed (and rejected) in January 2020…..
These changes were enough to make the structure compliant with the district's design standards, but the board still got to decide whether the tower deserved an exception to the district's height limit….
The structure's unusual nature is what ultimately doomed it with both the board and the neighbors.
"It is a medieval castle, and I don't understand how we could possibly approve it in this style," said board member Frank Katz, according to the Santa Fe New Mexican.
The New Mexican also reports that 40 neighbors in the surrounding area signed a letter opposing the project, writing that "the fact remains that the proposed building is still a prominent castle in the middle of a residential neighborhood in Santa Fe."
Another neighbor compared the proposed project to the fictional castle Winterfell, telling the Daily Mail that "all it's missing is Jon Snow and a couple of dragons."
Personally, I think it would be cool to have a medieval castle in the neighborhood. I wish there was one in mine! Adding "Jon Snow and a couple of dragons" would make it even better. Regardless, it is a travesty that bureaucrats and NIMBY neighbors can veto the construction of new housing simply because they dislike it on subjective aesthetic grounds. Martin should respond to these busybodies with just one word: Dracarys!
On a slightly more serious note, it is worth emphasizing that Martin is far from the only victim of zoning restrictions that block the construction of new housing. Exclusionary zoning blocks millions of Americans from acquiring new housing and moving to areas with better job opportunities. The vast majority are not wealthy celebrity authors, but poor and lower-middle class people who end up being trapped in areas with few opportunities, as a result. Exclusionary zoning is both the biggest property rights issue of our time, and one of the biggest obstacles to economic growth and opportunity for the poor and disadvantages.
In recent years, there has been some progress on reducing zoning in several parts of the country. But much more remains to be done. Sadly, Donald Trump recently threw his weight behind NIMBY zoning, in hopes of bolstering his flagging campaign by persuading suburbanites that he is the only thing that stands between them and an influx of supposedly dangerous minorities. He's apparently trying to become the Night King of NIMBYism, or at least the King Joffrey.
If we want to protect property rights and expand economic opportunity, we need to roll back exclusionary zoning. In Martin's terms, it may be the best way to "break the wheel" of poverty and housing shortages.