This article is a response to a column in the January 15 Wall Street Journal. It happens that Roger Kimball’s Connecticut house was pretty much destroyed. This is your Hurricane Sandy update. He begins with a quotation:
“What sort of people were these? What were they talking about? What office did they belong to? K. was living in a free country, after all, everywhere was at peace, all laws were decent and were upheld, who was it who dared accost him in his own home?”
—Franz Kafka, “The Trial”
Mr. Kimball has run into the zoning, permitting, and general harassment undertaken in the name of helping homeowners. In the past decade or two, these policies have morphed into amazingly interventionist practices. My personal favorite anecdote from Mr. Kimball: his replacement house would have to be brought up to code. That means raising the foundation by several feet. But then the house’s overall height would exceed zoning limits. Kafka indeed.
Kafka would have liked the zoning folks. There also is a limit on how high in the sky your house can be. That calculation seems to be a state secret, but it can easily happen that raising your house violates the height requirement. Which means that you can’t raise the house that you must raise if you want to repair it. Got that?
A Personal Example
In the town where we live, there is a procedure in place for a group of residents to create a “one-story overlay” zoning district. That means houses in the district cannot be more than one story tall. The procedures for putting such an overlay in place are complicated, requiring a 2/3 supermajority of homeowners in the area. But, of course, this does not protect the rights of the remaining 1/3 of voters. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has not been inclined to extend its interpretation of the takings clause to cover situations like this. (The Court has restricted takings findings to only those situations where there was a cash loss.)
The Role of the Media