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Monday, August 17, 2009

Prissy Neighborhood Rules Foul Snob Hill Construction Plans

Local building codes and property rights bring out my inner conservative.

Madison residents (and my former students!) Jerae and Kendra Wire appear before the Madison City Commission tonight to request a variance to the building code. According to their appeal letter (2009.08.17 meeting agenda packet, pp. 13–14), the Wires bought their house on 939 Maplewood Drive last February "after renting it for two years and falling in love with the neighborhood."

These youngsters have already accumulated lots of toys, including a boat. The Wires would like to spare their neighbors the "eyesore" of parking that boat on the street, not to mention storage fees at a rent-a-shed facility elsewhere. Alas, their neighborhood, the Muggly Addition, has a covenant that forbids any outbuildings or sheds. Therefore, the Wires' only remaining option on their land is to build a third storage stall on their garage that would bring the total width of their garage to 42 feet, two feet wider than sideyard rules allow. (There is some dispute on that point: city regs say the sideyard must be at least 7.5 feet, but the Wires say their legal description says the sideyard can be 5.5 feet, like other homes in the neighborhood.)

I consider a 42-foot garage an architectural monstrosity. That's just two feet shy of the length of my house. A 42-foot garage symbolizes the absurd consumerism of our society.

But if Jerae and Kendra have the money and inclination to acquire lots of boats and mowers and other outdoor equipment, then they should be able to store that equipment on their property however they see fit. As long as that garage doesn't pose a hazard to neighbors' life and limb (and the eight neighbors signing the Wires' application don't think it does), then build away!

While we're at it, let's rescind the silly covenant forbidding sheds on their lawn. Neighbors who think a shed in the neighbor's yard is an eyesore need to spend less time looking in their neighbor's yard. We buy our own land so we can do what we want with it. If Jerae and Kendra could save money and grief by building a simple single garage for the boat in the backyard, I'd say let them. A ban on sheds is an artifact of the misguided pretentiousness that earned the northeast part of town its "Snob Hill" moniker.

Some neighborhoods in Madison need to get over themselves and let people make their own reasonable decisions about how to use their property.


  1. A semi-anonymous commenter agrees that Madison goes too far in telling property owners what to do with their property, then shares this splendid comment:

    "A word of advice for the Wires if they really want the garage. Perhaps if they tell the commission they plan on selling alcohol out it, they will approve it without question!"

  2. The covenants in that neighborhood and most of Muggly's Additions also prohibit three car garages, but some neighbors have gone two wide and put on an addition to make their garage deeper providing extra storage. The covenants also prohibit an outside antenna (pre-satellite era). Unfortunately, covenants can only be enforced by civil lawsuit which means one neighbor has to put up quite a bit of money to go after another neighbor, but covenants take priority over zoning ordinances in legal standing.

  3. "Some neighborhoods in Madison need to get over themselves and let people make their own reasonable decisions about how to use their property."

    Cory, you sound like a libertarian now!

  4. Rod, you make me want to move to town and build a shed. Two sheds. And some nice outdoor sculpture.

    Stan, as you can see, the line isn't always so clear between liberal and libertarian. (We're all out to maximize liberty, right?)


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