I’m going to tell you about a story that appeared in the Washington Post on August 7, 2011. I have trouble believing that the event reported in that story is real.
The story I’m talking about is titled “When Historic Preservation Interferes With Modern Preferences.” That title encapsulates the event quite well.
According to the story, the municipal staff of Alexandria, Virginia, told a homeowner that she shouldn’t have removed a chain link fence in front of her house because the fence somehow contributed to the historic character of the property. The municipal staff told a neighboring homeowner that he could not remove a chain link fence on his property, for the same reason.
The houses in question, by the way, are brick row houses built in the late 1940s. Here’s what the municipal staff wrote in their recommendation about these fences, as reported by the Washington Post:
“While many feel that [chain-link] fences have negative connotations, this material has played an important role in the development of mid-century vernacular housing and their cultural landscape…. By eradicating this ‘simple fencing solution,’ the applicant would be removing an important contextual clue to the original occupants of this neighborhood.”
Boy, I wish I could have written that paragraph. I’m not sure I have ever seen a better example of using a bunch of $10 words to try to make a lame argument sound persuasive.
And what is the argument? I’ll do my best to translate it from bureaucrat-speak into plain language. I think the key phrase is “an important contextual clue to the original occupants of this neighborhood.” Translation: the original occupants of these houses couldn’t afford more attractive fencing, so you can’t upgrade it now, because then passersby won’t know that the original occupants weren’t as well off as today’s owners.
This is all in the name of preserving history, of course. After all, preserving what the neighborhood looked like in the 1940s is more important than allowing the current owners to make their properties suit their needs and desires (which might also have the effect of actually making the properties more functional and attractive as well), right?
KID-RUN STANDS ARE THE LATEST CASUALTY IN THE DRIVE TO CONTROL LAND USE
It isn’t strictly land use law, but since kids usually set up their lemonade/cookie/cupcake etc. stands in front of their houses or on the nearest street corner, the effect is the same, another example of others telling you what you can or can’t do on your property. There have been a number of reported incidents across the country recently where police or regulatory agencies have ordered children to shut down their lemonade stands because they didn’t obtain one or more government permits.
There has been, thankfully, a backlash to these enforcement actions. The Freedom Center of Missouri has posted on their web site a map showing where these incidents have occurred. You can see the map at this web address: http://www.mofreedom.org/2011/07/the-government-war-on-kid-run-concession-stands/
The proliferation of these incidents led, in turn, to the organizing of Lemonade Freedom Day on August 20, announced on this web site (under the headline, “Selling Lemonade Is Not a Crime): http://www.lemonadefreedom.com/
You may think it’s stretching a bit to liken this to land use regulations, but it really isn’t all that different from, for example, the government of Los Angeles banning construction of fast food outlets in a particular part of their city because they think there are too many there already.
But, you say, what about the health and safety of the public? You mean, what if someone gets poisoned by a kid’s lemonade? Just saying it demonstrates its absurdity, which is why the police and regulators who are shutting down the kids’ lemonade stands never say it. No, they say instead that there are rules that everyone must follow. Sure, I guess that if there are enough people who want to boss others around, they can make rules requiring permits for a lemonade stand, just like they can make rules that say I can’t paint my house chartreuse. But that doesn’t mean that those rules are good, right, or necessary.