From the Government vs. Childhood chronicles, “[a] zoning board in Fairfax County, Va., is standing firm in its decision to order a war veteran to destroy a tree house he built for his two young sons.”
He said he contacted Fairfax County and was given assurances that he didn’t need any special permits to build the $1,400 tree house.
But it turns out – that wasn’t exactly accurate.
It turns out Grapin didn’t need a permit – he needed a zoning variance. That’s because his house is on a corner lot. And in the eyes of Fairfax County – Grapin has two front yards.
. . . .
In the meantime, Grapin has had to pay nearly $1,800 in permits and fees to build the $1,400 tree house.
“I paid $885 for a special permit to build the tree house,” he said. “There were additional fees of $975 to have the plats for the property redrawn to reflect the tree house and then I had to pay mail fees to notify the neighbors of hearings so they could voice any concerns they might have about the tree house.”
This example works as well as any as a backdrop for this question: Is this an appropriate use of the lawmaking function, to deprive homeowners the right to build a safe, modest structure in their own yard for the use and wholesome enjoyment of their children?
If that question seems loaded, then try this one instead: Are people justified in seeking laws to preserve the character and quality of their neighborhoods and the values of their homes?
I don’t pretend the answer is obvious, but let me offer this in favor of putting our zoning codes on a diet: If you’re agitating against your neighbor’s tree house, the beater car on blocks down the street, a surplus of local churches, or your neighbor’s third-story add-on that will destroy the area’s “small-town charm,” you might consider whether you’ve got a case of First World Problems.
Don’t sweat the small stuff. That’s good self-help advice, and it’s good policy advice.