Thursday, May 18, 2006
Homeowners associations assure uniformity -- a rigid conformity, some communitarian critics say. But this privately enforced uniformity can also ensure a neighborhood's "character" in some ways that communitarians may approve of. A court in Colorado recently upheld a Denver HOA's disapproval of a plan to replace a small house, like most in the neighborhood, with a 30-feet-high, 5000-square-feet mansion. The Belcaro Park HOA covenant allowed the HOA to veto house plans that are not compatible in height and appearance with surrounding homes. Although such discretion to an HOA may ensure stifling uniformity and holds the potential for the mischief of unequal treatment, it can also stop the trend of "mansionization," whereby property owners build giant edifices in the middle of a block of smaller houses -- a practice is especially appealing in an age of high property values. I wrote about this role for HOAs in one of my first blog entries, on March 16, 2006.
Those who seek to preserve old neighborhoods from behemoths may rightly applaud the covenants and the Colorado court decision. It allows the private market for covenants to serve the cause of community preservation. But are existing neighborhoods that do not already have such covenants likely to adopt them today, when many homeowners may be thinking about mansionizing (or selling to mansionizers) themselves? And are any opponents of sprawl worried that too many such covenants might -- as some who worry about conservation easements "bottling up" useful land forever -- simply push out to the exurbs the desires of Americans for their own mansion?