One of my guilty pleasures—actually it’s a combination of boredom and late-night TV—is watching one of the local commissions on zoning on public access on Thursday nights.
Setting aside the finer points of the matter in front of the council, after having watched a few of these proceedings I notice a pattern emerges.The curmudgeonly old lady, presumably a throw-back incumbent and self-confessed “life-long resident” of the city is strictly by the book. She is also as clueless as she is curious; often questioning the petitioner or petitioner’s representative about the details of the petition, despite these facts having been made painstakingly clear in the opening. She often raises the sort of technical questions the merits of which she is clearly unqualified to evaluate, as evidenced by improper use of legal and technical jargon in the midst of rambling Dubya-esque sentences. Without regard to time or cost, she usually tosses out a solution which essentially amounts to, “I don’t see why they can’t fix it to code.”
Clearly, every violation could be made compliant, but at what cost?
In the most recent installment (B-2), petitioner was seeking a .47′ variance from the setback line on the side of the property, in regards to a garage that a contractor had already completed, which subcontractors had mistakenly built on a compliant footing, which had been poured closer than usual to the setback line, because the soil was sandy and kept collapsing. The old lady wanted to know why the footing wasn’t poured somewhere else. Because it kept collapsing in sandy soil. Then she wanted to know why the footing wasn’t removed! Because it was compliant! Then she wanted to know why it couldn’t be moved. Because a garage is already built upon it! Then she wanted to know why the garage couldn’t be made narrower by 5 inches, to comply with the 3′ setback—without regards to the aesthetics (zoning boards often consider these things) or costs of moving a wall which runs perpendicular to the trusses! Altering the building in such a manner would be expensive, and it would look ridiculous, unless the roof was re-framed to be symmetrical given the new width of the structure.
A vindictive neighbor wanted to see the garage torn down, for the sake of complying with the rules: a few years back, she had wanted to construct an outbuilding on her property and was told that she had to comply with the ordinances. Vindictive neighbor was allegedly interested in public safety, since “there are rules and they’re in place for a reason such as utility easements.” Essentially, the neighbor was pissed off because she thought it unfair that she had complied with the regulations ex ante, and now the new kid on the block after recognizing a mistake has been made, is seeking a variance ex post. She wants to penalize her new neighbor, who through no fault of her own and no ill-intention on behalf of the contractor, has a non-compliant garage!
Really? This is the sort of community we want to foster?
Unfortunately, many people view their relationship with their neighbors and their government just like Vindictive Neighbor:
I participate, therefore so should you. I follow the arbitrary and capricious whims of petty-tyrants, therefore so should you. Because I obeyed, the quality of my life is less than I would have otherwise preferred. Rather than help my neighbors attain happiness (which does not come at my expense) I want the quality of his or her livelihood brought down to my level (which does not bestow upon me any tangible benefits).
These folk allege to have accepted the burden of government, from which it follows (according to them) that you should bear that burden, too, and that if you do not, you’re somehow “cheating” the others who do. They profess to have chosen bondage, so long as others will share the weight of the chain.