Is It A Cactus Or The Finger?

Darren Wood cactusI got an email the other day that I dismissed as a joke. Here is the story:

The conflict started in 2005 when Darren Wood excavated dirt from a hill on which the homes of his neighbors, Mark Easton and Stan Torgersen, sat. The Eastons and Torgersens were concerned about the stability of the hill and contacted city officials, who ordered Wood to have a soil test performed. Wood was disgruntled by the decision because the previous owner had already done a soil test, and performing it again would cost him $3,000 and delay his construction project by four months.

Then, when Wood began raising the frame for his house around mid-2006, his neighbors were again concerned because the structure rose higher than the rooftops of the other homes around his lot and partially obstructed their view of nearby mountains. Easton and Torgersen again asked city officials to intervene because they believed Wood’s house exceeded the maximum height allowed by local building code. Although Wood conceded that his house might have exceeded the height limit by about a foot, he was again disgruntled because he maintained that once the house was completed and the landscaping laid out, the home would fall within the code, and, in any case, the city had already approved his plans.

Feeling that he was being unfairly harrassed by his neighbors and upset that the construction interruptions they prompted had cost him an additional $25,000, on 15 August 2006 Wood created a visible symbol of his displeasure by installing the vent covering pictured above, which he described as a decorative piece of “abstract art” representing a cactus. His neighbors, of course, viewed the vent cover as a giant hand flipping them off, sending them back to city officials to complain about Wood’s home for a third time.

Apparently, it is no joke. This neighborhood battle over zoning regulation has turned nasty. Here is the news report. I personally think that it could go either way, but if the email version of events is true, I would bet on the finger.

posted by michelleshinghal
  • Devious David

    I like it. Everyone wants to be free and appreciates private property… until someone does something that they don’t like. Then freedom is too offensive and inconvenient and must be done away with. Aggression must be initiated against the “offenders”.

  • Transition Force

    Yet another reason I moved away from Northern Utah – while the Republicans (and *only* republicans get elected in the vast majority of northern utah) would give lip service to private property, if anything was contrary to mormon values they’d be suppressed faster than you can say “communist!”

  • D Walter

    Anyone who thinks there’s a valid reason to allow zoning laws to continue has been smoking something.

    The only correct answer to these sorts of harassment problems is a principled, consistent, Libertarian one: throw out this bastard of the “progressive era” and repeal every zoning law. Then, go beyond that and eliminate building permits as well.

    I can hear the robotic refrain now… “but some force is good!”

  • Michelle Shinghal

    To be clear, when I said it could go either way, I meant I could see how it could be a cactus.

  • Michelle Shinghal

    BTW, from the email account of events, Mark Easton and Stan Torgersen seem to be real busybodies.

  • Brian

    He should go into business selling his cactus design. There are a lot of people who could use this artistic display.

  • Chris Hickman

    You know, I’ve never understood how these zoning regulations and homeowner’s association rules can be legal. If you own a piece of land and the home on it, you own it and therefore can do anything on it within the letter and spirit of the law. I can see how not cutting your grass could cause problems to your next door neighbor(s), but leaving a non-functional car in the front yard should subject you to nothing more than the ridicule of those in your area. Maybe this this the naive side of my libertarianism :D

  • http://freelancify.com Nigel Watt

    If it works for Houston, it should work for Utah.

  • http://freelancify.com Nigel Watt

    By that, I meant no zoning laws. Sorry, I’m a little out of it at the moment.

  • http://www.freenewworld.blogspot.com Nick Wilson

    Once again, I’ll take the heat and posit the neighbors at least had a point about the value of their property being reduced by a giant house blocking their view of the mountains and changing the landscape may reduce the safety and stability of the other houses. Zoning laws are almost always excessive, but if a new property is causing their neighbors’ land to go down in value, one can’t simplistically look at it as a personal freedom issue, because there is a property value conflict involved. Libertarians should support the idea that if a corporation dumps toxic sludge in the section of the river they own, all the people downstream should have the right to make a just claim against them. This is not as bad, but to argue one has a case and the other doesn’t is inconsistent. If you initiate a construction project, you have to take responsibility for the damage it causes. Or does my ability to do whatever I want trump my neighbors’ property rights when the two conflict?

  • http://www.drugwarrant.com/ Sukoi

    I read about this a while back and what’s not elaborated on in the report is that the neighbor who initiated the complaint and the neighbor with the “cactus” have history. Apparently, the house with the offending “cactus” is new and the neighbor was upset because the house obstructed his view. So, he found out that the house was a few inches taller than the building codes allowed and the guy was forced to lower his roof at considerable expense. It looks to me as if the neighbor with the view just has more to look at now. Poetic justice?

  • Julian

    Contracting was my occupation. I found more control freaks working as zoning enforcement officers, building inspectors, review boards, compliance officers, plan reviewers, and whatever else local government could dream up. Most of them wanted power. Many of them were failed contractors. Some of them had even worked for me and could not hack it in contracting and were stupid and basically lazy.

    I was and still am in amazement that we, as citizens, allow construction dropouts that make $22,000 a year, and in many jurisdictions less, to have the power they wield without shame, as zoning and building enforcement officers.

    If one wants to know why libertarians MUST succeed, look at the local building departments and schools. Enough said.

  • Transition Force

    Nick,

    Bad Analogy. One you are literally harming the land. It’s like saying that I get a big truck that is faster than yours is the same as me using my big truck to smash your car and crush it. One is emotionally damaging, but as the eagles have said they can “get over it!”.

  • http://www.myspace.com/liberty_activist White Marriott

    That cactus would make another good Gadsden flag!

    Don’t Tread on Me!

  • http://www.ReformtheLP.org Nick Wilson

    Transition Force:

    And I quote: “Darren Wood excavated dirt from a hill on which the homes of his neighbors…sat. The (neighbors) were concerned about the stability of the hill and contacted city officials, who ordered Wood to have a soil test performed.”

    If changing the landscape creates potential risk that might affect others’ property in the area, why shouldn’t the neighbors be entitled to make sure that their homes’s foundations are not weakened by the changes Wood made to the hill?

    The fact of the matter is that some basic, minimal property regulations (like “if your construction project adversely affects the your neighbors’ property , they are entitled to seek fair damages.”) are better than a system where the cost of suing would almost always exceed the value of being recompensed for property value losses. Some say “too bad”, but if some jerk felt like shining spotlights at your windows all hours of the night, you’d be pissed too. Property is multi-faceted.

  • Michelle Shinghal

    Nick- you should have kept reading:

    Wood was disgruntled by the decision because the previous owner had already done a soil test, and performing it again would cost him $3,000 and delay his construction project by four months.

  • http://www.ReformTheLP.org Nick Wilson

    Right, but his excavation makes the previous soil test moot, because he altered the landscape again. He should have been more careful about the way he went about his construction project – it’s a crappy situation that he has to pay a lot of money and delay his construction for 4 months, but that’s a factor in construction. The article doesn’t mention if his project was insured – it seems as though insurance would cover such a test. Also, it’s unclear whether he got the dirt from his own property or from common property.

    Either way, this shows the internal property conflicts that libertarianism has on property – you can’t just do whatever you want, because our decisions usually impact each other. People usually don’t live in bubbles of complete isolation, often don’t act rationally and rarely want to take responsibility for mistakes. This is exactly why anarchy doesn’t work, and demonstrates why balancing BOTH liberty and responsibility should be the libertarian priority.

  • paulie cannoli

    Either way, this shows the internal property conflicts that libertarianism has on property – you can’t just do whatever you want, because our decisions usually impact each other. People usually don’t live in bubbles of complete isolation, often don’t act rationally and rarely want to take responsibility for mistakes. This is exactly why anarchy doesn’t work, and demonstrates why balancing BOTH liberty and responsibility should be the libertarian priority.

    People not acting raionally and not taking responsibility is not an argument against anarchy.

    These problems are only excacerbated by forcible government.

  • http://www.ReformTheLP.org Nick Wilson

    People not acting raionally and not taking responsibility is not an argument against anarchy. These problems are only excacerbated by forcible government.

    Hmm…so having a binding legal system, basic Constitutional protection and a law enforcement to crack down on murderers, thieves and other people who intrude on the rights of others only exacerbates the problem of people being held accountable for their actions? I beg to defer.

    If one were to advocate the non-initiation of force as guiding doctrine, one may be able to defend oneself from being killed, but if you do get killed, theoretically your family or community can not avenge your death at a later point and still be philosophically consistent with the non-initiation of force principle, unless the killer directly threatens them. This is why there is a need for a minimal government with force initiating power (taxes) and the ability to respond to the initiation of force (legal system, law enforcement).

  • http://www.ReformTheLP.org Nick Wilson

    A completely voluntary society implies the ability to not voluntarily participate in any contract negotiation – thus if I want to dump toxic waste into the soil on the edge of my property bordering my neighbors well, and they want to hold me responsible, theoretically I don’t have to comply with their wishes. What’s the community going to do? Boycott me?

  • paulie cannoli

    Hmm”¦so having a binding legal system, basic Constitutional protection and a law enforcement to crack down on murderers, thieves and other people who intrude on the rights of others only exacerbates the problem of people being held accountable for their actions? I beg to defer.

    Anarchy doesn’t mean no binding law enforecement, it just means a non-monopoly (unless it is a non-coercively formed monopoly) on enforcement.

    Artificial monopolies are inefficient.

  • paulie cannoli

    A completely voluntary society implies the ability to not voluntarily participate in any contract negotiation – thus if I want to dump toxic waste into the soil on the edge of my property bordering my neighbors well, and they want to hold me responsible, theoretically I don’t have to comply with their wishes. What’s the community going to do? Boycott me?

    Sue you for tort damages.

  • D Walter

    Nick is wrong.

    No one owns, or holds copyright or patent over, their property value. Property values are only held in the minds of other people, and there’s no way to own others’ thoughts. They are a construct of imagination and reputation — people have an idea in their heads (imagination) of why a particular view is worth more than another, why a particular location has more value than another (reputation), and so on.

    How can anyone claim a right where none exists?

    It is government and those who advocate more government who preach about “bubbles”. They say we all live in one — and everyone inside that “community bubble” shall only do what they want if the others within the bubble say it’s OK.

    What hogwash.

    No amount of initiated force is ever justified. Period. Either we believe that basic principle, or we’re just like the sellout parties of every other flavor.

  • http://www.lpalabama.org/blog/14 paulie

    Agreed.