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Neighborly development
Property Rights vs Community Rights

11th and Luneta. The excavation covers almost the entire lot right up to the street. Photo Bill Morris
Click on image to enlarge.


To the Editor:
Your recent Sandpiper indicated there was a “grass roots” group with ideas for altering the Design Review Ordinance (DRO), specifically: valuing privacy, protecting neighborhood character, following the community plan, protecting property values, expanding neighbor’s “rights” and concern with the Design Review Board (DRB) confirming projects because there were no objections. Much of this is unnecessary.

The DRB has a tradition of valuing privacy, both visual and with respect to noise, and even smell.

Neighborhood character is a part of the DRO already. It is particularly difficult to “evaluate,” but sometimes the change is clear enough and identifiable. Of course, to object to a project, the DRB member must specifically identify that change, just as he or she must specifically identify the pertinent facts and DRO section for objecting to any other aspect of a project.

Acting in accord with the community plan is also part of the DRO. There may be disagreement about what that means; a genuine discussion of it might be appropriate for the Sandpiper. We should all realize that the community undergoes change all the time. It always has and that can be expected going forward. Managing that change is what the zoning ordinances and the DRO do. There are always people who object to change and others who embrace it.
Protecting property values is basic in the DRO. Further, it is implicit in protecting for properties the privacy, views, freedom from noise, and all the other considerations in the DRO.

The last two items in your article deserve special mention. Neighbors have a right to point out what they think are factual aspects of an application that violate the DROs. But it is not the neighbors that merit consideration; it is their property. That a person has a special place he likes to sit and look doesn’t matter. That she has lived there 40 years doesn’t matter. The fact that a neighbor objects to a project doesn’t matter. With respect to the neighbors, the DRB is charged with determining whether a landowner has a right to build a project taking into account the effects of that project on the neighboring real estate. The people involved really aren’t relevant to the determination.

The DRB should never pass a project simply because no neighbors object. It is charged with evaluating the effect of the proposed project on all the neighboring properties with all those considerations of privacy, view, noise, water runoff, landscaping and every other consideration in the DRO. To pass a project without consideration of all of those neighboring properties is an abrogation of duty. When a project is passed, it should be done with a recitation that these considerations were given, so that we are all confident there was due consideration.

It is unfortunate that the DRB meeting has often been a venue for neighborhood angst. There has long been an overemphasis on irrelevant opinions distracting members from a cold evaluation of facts. Neighbors need to realize it is not about them, it is about their property. The more objectivity that enters this process, the more predictable and consistent the decisions will be.

Nate McCay, Carolina Road


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