Tuesday, December 28, 2010

CLUCK Asks: Which neighbor activity would you veto?

One of the recurring suggestions regarding the re-legalization of chickens in Sarasota is the notion that neighbors would have to sign off, that is somehow authorize your ability to have a few hens.

There are a number of communities around the U.S. that have such provisions, but this would represent a radical departure here in Sarasota, and it's hard to see how someone could be blamed for calling it un-American.

It would be a major, unprecedented shift in our understanding of Sarasota's traditional neighborhoods for it would amount to handing veto power over your yard to your neighbor.

There are two sound reasons to oppose such a major shift in doctrine, the first is purely practical and the second, principled.

The first reason is that it would, of necessity, demand an entirely new bureaucracy -- some government entity (probably an office) mediating your relationship with your neighbors, keeping track of which neighbor approved what and when. Would these approvals need to be notarized? Are they perpetual, renewable, revokable? Would you need all, or just some neighbors in accord? Some people in town live on inholdings and have but one neighbor, while others have eight neighbors -- what is fair? Would it be the owner of the adjacent parcel, or the occupant? What if someone changed their minds?

The amount of paperwork that might be required is staggering and all to replace what used to be taken as common sense or common courtesy. It would appear that if we are unwilling to maintain a working relationship with our neighbors, the recommended solution is having government mediate that for us. You don't need to be a Tea Party member to see how off-base that is.

The second reason doesn't deal with the practical realities, but rather the principle that a man or woman's home is his or her castle. We all proceed with major home additions, fence building, tree cutting and other activities that require a permit from the city -- but none of these require the blessings of our neighbors. Yet each of these would appear to have far greater impact on our neighbors than a half dozen or less seven pound birds.

Here's a fun thought experiment: Go around your lot and fantasize about what YOU would veto about each of your neighbors. Nix the beginning trombone scale practice? Ban the leaf blower than interrupts your Saturday nap? Oppose all of their garage color choices until they have to paint it to match your house?

Of course, the kicker is what they might veto of yours. Thought you were adding a pool? Guess again. Butterfly garden?  Not happening. Solar panels? Sorry. Oh, and your cat, Mr. Bigglesworth, he was found in the neighbors sandbox and now is felis non grata.

If the City of Sarasota really wants to head along the slippery slope of allowing neighbors to veto other's activities, they should advance it as a new community planning tool and hold workshops to decide what activities would be covered and which would not. Otherwise, either let people have chickens or not.

Creating a new bureaucracy and a dangerous new doctrine is not a solution.

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