Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Zoning Horror Stories, Part 2

If the stories weren’t true, they would almost be comical. My comments are, in case it isn't obvious, sarcastic. All of these stories come from an article by James Bovard:
Flosmoor, Illinois, in an act of legislative snobbery, banned pickup trucks from its streets — and even from private driveways. Coral Gables, Florida, charges residents $35 to get a permit to paint the bathroom in their home — or the living room, or any other room. Local building inspectors patrol the streets looking for painting trucks parked at homes that have not paid the permit fee.

I am sure that the residents of Coral Gables sleep well at night knowing that their neighbors have paid the appropriate fees to have their bathroom painted. I know I stay up at night worrying about such things.

Los Angeles prohibits freelance writers from working out of their homes in residential neighborhoods, fearing that the tap-tap-tap of their keyboards could devastate the quality of life in their neighborhoods. Similarly, Chicago issued a cease-and-desist order to a couple using two personal computers in their home to write software and magazine articles.

I am sure that the incredible volume of noise generated by the keyboards was threatening the character of the neighborhoods, destroying the quality of life there, and diminishing property values.

Pasadena, California, banned residents from having weeds in their yards, a policy sometimes referred to as "crabgrass fascism."

There is nothing quite so frustrating as neighbors with weeds in their yard. Since gardeners generally define a weed as a plant that you do not want, would the city inspector who enforces this absurd law be considered a weed?

The Office of Code Enforcement in Alexandria, Virginia, sent certified letters to twenty-two homeowners in June 1993 threatening to condemn their properties unless they fixed chipping paint on their window sills or door frames.

I seem to recall an episode on HGTV where a house collapsed because of peeling paint on a window sill. These city officials likely saved countless lives.

A Princeton, New Jersey, store owner was threatened with a 90-day jail sentence in 1993 for the crime of having a few barbecue grills lined up in front of his hardware store. Though Irving Urken had put the grills and other goods outside his store for 57 years, a new zoning ordinance banned anything in front of the store — except books, flowers, plants, vegetables, and newspapers.

Barbecue grills are so much less attractive that flowers. No wonder this business owner has only managed to make it 57 years-- he has such unattractive displays outside of his store that it is a wonder anyone would patronize his store.

East Hampton, Long Island, issued a warrant for the arrest of a food-shop owner guilty of an unauthorized exhibition of large orange gourds. Jerry Della Femina, the co-owner of a local market, had a few dozen pumpkins stacked in front of his store. Village bureaucrats ruled that the pumpkins were the equivalent of a sign advertising the sale of pumpkins, and thus the owner needed a sign permit. The shop was in a historic district, and government officials may have thought that similar markets in East Hampton in the 19th century never placed pumpkins in front of their stores.

Pumpkins are signs. I've seen orange signs before. What was this market owner thinking to advertise what he is selling? He might actually entice some mindless consumer to purchase his products. I am sure that consumers would much prefer to purchase a permit to have their bathroom painted, rather than a pumpkin.

In September 1993, the New York City buildings commissioner bushwhacked Fordham University. Fordham had received permission from the city government to build a 480-foot radio tower at its campus in the Bronx. After the radio tower was almost half finished, the city government reversed its position and revoked the building permit. The government's action cost Fordham over half-a-million dollars.

That NYC building commissioner is such a practical joker. "Sure, you can build a tower. Just kidding, I had my fingers crossed."

Newtown Borough, Pennsylvania, requires citizens to pay a $10,000 nonrefundable fee in order to challenge the constitutionality of the local zoning ordinance.
How dare citizens question the authority of zoning officials? Don't they know that they have no rights and should meekly submit to the dictates of those officials?

None of this, of course, could never happen in Houston. Our public officials-- like Chuck Rosenthal, the HPD crime lab, those involved in the City Hall bonus scandal-- are completely above reproach and we can always trust them to make better decisions regarding our lives than we can.

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