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Online rangerrebew

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Don’t Like Your Neighbors’ House? Sue Them.
« on: July 14, 2014, 07:14:05 AM »

Don’t Like Your Neighbors’ House? Sue Them.

JULY 12, 2014

This story is included with an NYT Opinion subscription.

RALEIGH, N.C. — IN September, Louis Cherry, an architect here, received a building permit and the necessary approvals to begin constructing a house for himself and his wife, Marsha Gordon, on an empty lot in Oakwood, a historic district in Raleigh. The neighborhood features a variety of architectural styles, from postwar bungalows to Greek Revivals, shotguns to Queen Annes. Construction began in October and the home, modern but modestly so, is nearly complete.

But it is also at risk of demolition. Not because of a tornado or termites or some other natural disaster, but because one of his neighbors doesn’t want it there.

Through a series of protracted appeals, the neighbor has been successful in getting the city to reverse its approval of Mr. Cherry’s permit. The house passed its building inspections and is 85 percent complete, yet sits empty, its future dependent on who finally wins a legal battle that never should have been allowed to happen.

Gail Wiesner, who lives across the street from Mr. Cherry — not incidentally, in a house built in 2008 — doesn’t like it in her neighborhood. In her appeal, she complained not only that the house was too modern for the area’s historical character, but also that the impact of its completion posed a threat to the community. Testifying to the Raleigh City Council, Ms. Wiesner argued that past attempts to engage in similar stylistic treachery had been made by architects who had been “churned out from a very modernist school,” and like to “show off their abilities.”

For the most part, these rebels have been prevented from building homes like this one, she continued in her public comments, but thanks only to “scrupulous, agonizing” processes.

Over a period of about four months Ms. Wiesner filed a series of appeals to the Board of Adjustment to reverse the ruling with the intent of halting construction.

A small group of Oakwood neighbors, who call themselves the Oak City Preservation Alliance, rallied to the cause. The actions of Ms. Wiesner and her allies have created “such a weird hysteria in the neighborhood,” Mr. Cherry told me. “Words like ‘holocaust’ have been used in reference to the idea that our house could inspire a rash of tear-downs which could then be replaced with modern homes. I designed my house specifically within the design guidelines of this historic district and to be compatible, a good neighbor. But the term ‘modernism’ just clicks a switch in people’s brain and they can’t see the house for what it is.”

But should a difference in taste lead to a court date?

Some of the staunchest supporters of the Cherry-Gordon house are, says Mr. Cherry, “people who believe in property rights and are sort of libertarian.” However, those live-and-let-live types feel as if they’re in a minority. Increasingly, it seems, building a house that doesn’t fit in with your neighbor’s vision of home has become grounds for legal action, often in places emblematic of the American dream, like historic districts and gated communities.

Over a decade ago, I traveled to Louisville, Ky., to write a story about a young couple building their dream home who were sued by neighbors who claimed that the house violated neighborhood covenants, codes and restrictions (C.C.&R.s) that limited the use of certain building materials. The house was clad in polycarbonate and corrugated metal, but atypical as that may have been, several houses in the subdivision used aluminum and vinyl siding, materials also not stipulated in the C.C.&R.s. The neighbors claimed that the home had caused them everything from emotional distress to failing health to the loss of a job promotion. Ultimately, the neighbors lost their case and the couple lost thousands of dollars in legal fees. In the end, their house got to stay; the judge ordered them to cut the glare, so they planted a tree in front.

In a historic district like Oakwood, the preservation guidelines discourage attempts to build new Victorians and instead support contemporary design. This reflects the prevailing view of historic preservationists who frown on the practice of designing new buildings to look as if they’re old. And indeed, Ms. Wiesner’s arduous efforts to save Oakwood from the Cherry-Gordon house aren’t garnering the support of those whom she claims to speak for — the historic preservationists.

In fact, Myrick Howard, who has been head of Preservation North Carolina, a nonprofit group dedicated to protecting historic homes and districts in the state, for 35 years, wrote a letter in support of the Cherry-Gordon project, arguing that the home “is in line with a half-century of preservation philosophy and practice, contrary to the assertion of their opponents.” Further, Mr. Howard told me recently, the case “is giving preservation a black eye. Because it sounds like preservationists are against this house. It has put the historic development commission on the defensive.”

Ms. Wiesner, who works in real estate, has also argued that having a modern house on the block will adversely affect the resale value of her own home. Here, too, Mr. Howard begs to differ: “The Cherry house doesn’t bring her property value down; in fact, it probably has a more positive affect on the neighborhood than Wiesner’s. Her house is two-thirds bungalow and one-third Victorian cottage. This is like putting strawberries and broccoli in the blender together. I love strawberries and I love broccoli, but not together.”

For Mr. Cherry and Ms. Gordon, the outcome remains to be seen. The North Carolina Modernist Houses organization helped the couple by starting a legal-defense fund. Their lawyer is preparing a brief for a late August court date in front of a Superior Court judge, who will decide if the Board of Adjustment’s decision should be affirmed, reversed or remanded.

“We do feel like we’re being held hostage by her actions against us,” says Mr. Cherry, who had expected to move into the house back in May.
Abraham Lincoln:

There is no grievance that is a fit object of redress by mob law.
--January 27, 1838 Lyceum Address

Don't interfere with anything in the Constitution. That must be maintained, for it is the only safeguard of our liberties. And not to Democrats alone do I make this appeal, but to all who love these
great and true principles.
--August 27, 1856 Speech at Kalamazoo, Michigan

Let us then turn this government back into the channel in which the framers of the Constitution originally placed it.
--July 10, 1858 Speech at Chicago

Online Oceander

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Re: Don’t Like Your Neighbors’ House? Sue Them.
« Reply #1 on: July 14, 2014, 07:25:54 AM »
The house in question:

As it appears now, with construction incomplete:

Architect's rendering of how it should look when complete:

Street picture showing the neighbor's house across the street:

Honestly, I can't see why the new house is objectionable; certainly it's no worse than the spec house across the street.  I understand, and believe in, a certain degree of community control over what gets built in residential neighborhoods, so that something that is utterly out of character or very destructive of the neighborhood's character can't be built, but I see those as fairly wide boundaries that 90% of proposed houses don't violate; this house doesn't violate those boundaries IMHO.

Offline Chieftain

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Re: Don’t Like Your Neighbors’ House? Sue Them.
« Reply #2 on: July 14, 2014, 07:55:51 AM »
From personal experience, I can tell you there are people out there who are so unhappy with their miserable lives that the only way they get any kind of pleasure is by inducing suffering in other people.  People like that are never satisfied with anything, and are not capable of compromising about anything.

It only takes one neighbor to ruin a neighborhood by bullying the other residents into doing things their way.  The definition of a fanatic, is one who, upon losing their purpose, redoubles their efforts.  A lot of times one miserable resident can bully local authorities into making decisions they otherwise would not make, that seriously affects other people, regardless of the consequences, just to try and make the problem go away.

Very often, the biggest single problem in the neighborhood is the chronic complainer who simply will not approve of anything.


Offline AbaraXas

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Re: Don’t Like Your Neighbors’ House? Sue Them.
« Reply #3 on: July 14, 2014, 08:53:16 AM »
Not surprisingly, the cranky, lawsuit happy neighbor is a radical lib nutjob.

« Last Edit: July 14, 2014, 08:54:21 AM by AbaraXas »

Offline Chieftain

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Re: Don’t Like Your Neighbors’ House? Sue Them.
« Reply #4 on: July 14, 2014, 08:55:40 AM »
Not surprisingly, the cranky, lawsuit happy neighbor is a radical lib nutjob.

That figures....

Offline massadvj

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Re: Don’t Like Your Neighbors’ House? Sue Them.
« Reply #5 on: July 14, 2014, 09:57:57 AM »
This is why I don't like government ordinances regulating property use.  It becomes a political game and often infringes on property rights.  For a good example of what can happen see the movie "Still Mine," which was based on an actual case in Canada.

If people want to restrict their property rights in exchange for community cohesion then I say let them do it at their own expense and not the taxpayers.  Create CCRs and community associations.  They can sue to their heart's content.  If they are smart there will be something in those founding documents about the loser paying the winner's attorneys fees.
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