Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Hyper-Local Politics Night at Metro Council

Intown Will has a good rundown of tonight's Metro Council agenda items affecting local neighborhoods. Public Hearings involve several overlay and zoning questions around the city. If hyper-local politics is of any interest to you, tonight is the night to watch Metro Council (starting at 6:00 on Comcast Channel 3), and I expect a packed gallery of people tonight as I attend to oppose the 6th and Garfield Ordinance.

As Will alludes, one of the more noteworthy ordinances up for consideration tonight is Mayoral Candidate David Briley's bill that would practically close the loophole that allows builders to cheat current codes prohibiting buildings over three stories in urban neighborhoods by building taller floors. The bill focuses on limiting the height of residences in feet rather than in floors. It adds greater clarity and firmer limits to the spirit of the three-story code.

I noticed in today's Tennessean that a couple of other Mayoral candidates, Buck Dozier and Bob Clement, are weighing in against this bill based on the defense that property owners deserve wide latitude to do whatever they want on their property. I've already dismissed that flawed line of logic elsewhere:
Property rights are not absolute. As a property owner, my rights are often balanced by the rights of those owners around me. There are all kinds of codes and limitations and the reason that we have a legislative body is so that individuals and neighborhoods can decide which are the best for specific areas. Briley isn't imposing anything on anybody ....

If we swallow this myth of absolute property rights irregardless of any other owner, then we are left with social Darwinist conditions where those property owners who have more money and more political savvy build whatever they want any place they want and those with less have to accept it. It's survival of those with the most, like Big What's-His-Name out in Love Circle. And it's a total disregard of a neighborhood's history or legacy or intersubjectively defined character ....

[If property rights are absolute], should we do away with overgrown grass codes and allow an individual owner to grow his front yard grass 4 or 5 feet in the air? If a resident wants to turn his blown out automobile engine into a lawn ornament and a nest to breed rats intentionally simply because he can, then by the logic of the social Darwinists, it's okay. He may prefer the look of hairless tails, so why should government impose upon his preference?

What we need is to strike a balance between the rights of wealthy individuals who desire to violate the spirit of the 3-story code by building 20 foot stories and the rights of other neighbors who have lawfully abided by both the codes and the spirit of the codes, and not simply because they might not have had the money to buy themselves a loophole. The belief that money ought to buy any privilege imaginable is moral relativism at its finest.
Hence, Buck Dozier's opposition only strengthens his hold on the mantle of least neighborhood-friendly mayoral candidate and Bob Clement shows himself to be viable for that mantle.


  1. S-Town,

    Do you think it is all possilble that majorities of people in some neighborhoods might want to be able to do with their property as they please? I mean, if your neighborhood wants a height restriction, adopt one. But why must there be one cookie-cutter set of standards for the entire county?

  2. I will say this: I think we are going to see increasing opposition to zoning and planning items such as this, thanks to the Supreme Court's poorly thought out decision in Kelo v. City of New London. With their assertion that private property could be taken for an economic benefit to the community, property rights activists are understandably on edge now. I thoroughly disagree with Kelo, yet I think city planning and zoning measures are critical to ensure planned growth. Much of the opposition to the height restriction may be knee-jerk, but we are going to have to work to help the opponents see the downside of their position.