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Learning to live with new rules

By Staff | Oct 30, 2011

A friend of mine once told me that the very best thing about living in the country was the fact that there were no rules.

“I can do any dang thing I want to,” he used to tell me. “And I ain’t got any neighbors that are going to say anything about it.”

Of course, he was only partially correct. A person living in the country – on a farm or acreage – does have to follow some county zoning rules. And, I would assume, have to follow the laws of Minnesota and the United States of America.

But, I see his point.

Living in the city means you have neighbors and a whole lot of people are going to see the condition of your house, yard and lawn.

You know they will notice if you have painted the place recently, cleaned out the backyard or left some of your possessions scattered about the premises.

My friend’s point was that he could let the place become a mess and no one would care.

He could mow or not, rake or not and paint or not.

I think he also meant that if he wished to race around the place on a four-wheeler, or burn garbage in a barrel, or raise a couple of chickens in the front yard, no one would say boo.

Try that in town and someone is going to bring it to the attention of the City Council at their very next meeting.

Again, I see his point.

I have never lived in the country so I guess I don’t know any better. Living in the city, though, I do feel the pressure to keep up with the neighbors and try and keep the place looking at least decent.

My friend says that it would drive him right off the deep end – knowing people were talking about whether his lawn was mowed all the time or not.

What my friend did not mention, but seems like a logical extension of his thoughts, is that he is able to build a garage or shed or deck on his place without a lot of worry of following any zoning rules.

Oh sure, he needs a building permit. But he could pretty much build it anywhere he wanted.

Not so true in town.

There are a lot of rules contained in the city’s building codes and zoning ordinances. They specifically deal with what and where a homeowner can construct items.

This is not necessarily a bad thing.

If everyone on a block has their house or garage a certain number of feet back of the front sidewalk, one that is not at that distance would stick out like a sore thumb.

Likewise, if a homeowner constructs a garage that is too big and obstructs the views his neighbor has out the picture window, that isn’t going to go far either.

Now, there is even air flow issues.

Garrison Keillor is just one person who has successfully sued to halt construction by his neighbor because it would block air flow (breezes) to his home.

The Blue Earth City Council and their Planning and Zoning Commission were recently stunned to find out that there is a new state regulation dealing with zoning ordinances.

The changes came about because of a ruling by the State Supreme Court.

As I understand it, one of the parts of the ruling dealt with the issuance of variances to a zoning ordinance.

In the past in Blue Earth – and many other small towns in Minnesota – variances were handed out like gum drops.

If a homeowner wanted to construct an addition to his/her home, or build a deck or garage, which did not quite conform to zoning regulations, they simply applied for a variance.

The variance was almost always granted.

What the Supreme Court said was that if you have a set of rules (zoning ordinance), then citizens must abide by them. Only in very extreme circumstances should the city allow a citizen to break these rules.

I guess that makes sense.

If the rule has to be broken all the time, then perhaps the rule needs to be changed or eliminated.

So, if the city is going to have a zoning ordinance, the courts say they need to enforce it; not let everyone get away with doing whatever they want.

If they don’t like it, they may have to sell their home and move to the country like my friend.

Then, they can build it, add it or do it, without having any rules to follow.

And no neighbors who are going to complain about it. Or the fact that the lawn isn’t mowed and the sidewalk isn’t cleared of snow.

Not to mention all the possessions scattered about the place.