Thursday, June 28, 2007
Are oppressive governmental land use laws to blame for the loss of so many homes to the big fire south of Lake Tahoe, Cal?
Few places in the United States have seen as much contention and litigation over environmentally spurred land use laws as the Lake Tahoe area, which combines a perfect mix of a great demand for beautiful and expensive real estate, a state with exacting environmental and wildlife laws, and a climate and geography that regularly generates both avalanches and mudslides in wet winter and fires in dry summer.
Some residents who recently lost their homes blame the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, which they see as protecting trees at the expense of homes. The agency defends by saying that its rules are not as restrictive as some believe. As in many places in the West, the agency is still behind in plans to conduct prescribed burns, to make up for decades of excessive fire suppression, which has lead to too much small brush. Moreover, would these residents truly wish to live in area in which most of the trees of their neighbors had been chopped down to avoid fire hazards? Many a landowner wants to limits his or her neighbor's rights but at the same time wants to be allowed greater personal freedom to cut wood that threatens his or her house. And they are not placated by the environmentalist argument that maybe people shouldn't be living permanently in such a volatile area in the first place ….
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
So, you like "in theory" the idea of greater density of American housing development, but you're not exactly ready to buy into the extreme notion of abandoning the suburban ideal for a world in which everyone lives in high-rises and takes trams to work. What's a good place to start in changing the zoning laws of your community?
One way might be to allow accessory units in suburban neighborhoods. Not usually the "granny flats" that advocates often like to call them, such accessory units can be a second housing unit in a suburban lot -- a basement apartment, a second story unit above the garage, or even a small studio with bath in the backyard. The great benefits of such accessory housing are that it creates low-cost housing in areas that otherwise would financially exclude many citizens (especially young singles or the low-income elderly) and it makes the main house more affordable for more families. Here's an intelligent essay in the Rocky Mountain News, where Denver is reconsidering its zoning laws.
Some of the usual suburban objections to accessory housing can be addressed by changing the details of zoning laws, such as by prohibiting accessory separate units from being built right up against the neighbor's property. But the biggest objection -- although one might not hear it explicitly voiced very often -- is that it brings the wrong "type" of people into the suburban neighborhood.
Now, this isn't a reason to avoid supporting this first step toward greater density, is it?