North Texas Objectivist Society (NTOS) Message Board › A City Defines Beautiful
|A former member||
While I find 'esthetic codes' objectionable, the judge's reasoning based on 'diversity' is something I cannot agree with, either.
The judge should have said that people have a right to do what they wish with their own property, otherwise they have no genuine right to it. People who have to ask the government what color they can paint their houses are not truly the owners of their property.
August 31, 2007
Coral Gables Journal
A City Defines Beautiful, but a Truck Owner and a Court Object
By ABBY GOODNOUGH
CORAL GABLES, Fla., Aug. 30 ? Newcomers to this resolutely lush and lovely city would do well to peruse its ?Citizen?s Guide to Code Enforcement? before settling in. They will find that pet snakes are forbidden, houses must be painted a city-approved hue and residents cannot so much as screen in their pools without permits.
But last week, a state appeals court panel struck down one of this affluent city?s premier zoning requirements: a ban on parking pickup trucks in driveways and on residential streets at night.
Lowell Kuvin, an aspiring lawyer with an emerald-green Ford F150 pickup, sued Coral Gables in 2003 after being fined for parking on the street in front of his rented home. A trial court judge sided with the city, but a panel of the Third District Court of Appeal reversed his finding, ruling that Coral Gables had ?unconstitutionally crossed the line? into an ?impermissible interference with the personal rights of its residents.?
Practically speaking, the ruling mattered little for Mr. Kuvin, who moved last year to a waterside condominium in Miami Beach. But the implications could be big for Coral Gables, whose proud status in South Florida as the ?City Beautiful? hinges on the strictly regulated look of its neighborhoods. Pickup trucks ? even the Ford F150, the best-selling vehicle in the country last year ? are a scourge on the city?s image, officials and many residents say.
?It?s an unusual law that would have no chance of passing in most cities,? said Robert Glazier, a lawyer in private practice who is representing Coral Gables in the case. ?We?re not saying everyone should ban pickup trucks, but the decision of this city to do so is not irrational.?
Mr. Glazier said the city would ask the entire appeals court to reverse the panel?s decision. At stake, he said, is the right of local governments everywhere to impose zoning restrictions based on aesthetic criteria and thus to protect property values.
The ordinance affecting pickup trucks, enacted some three decades ago, is actually broader, banning all ?trucks, trailers and commercial vehicles? from parking in residential areas at night unless in a garage. In his lawsuit, Mr. Kuvin accused the city of discriminating against an entire class of citizens, those who favor pickup trucks. He rented a house without a garage in Coral Gables, he said, and did not think it fair to have to park his truck outside the city limits every night.
?I have a problem with a city that has a very closed mind and narrow idea about how it should be run,? Mr. Kuvin, 44, said in an interview. ?This is one of the most culturally diverse areas in the entire United States, and yet Coral Gables is telling certain people they can?t act out their cultural values.?
Judge Alan Schwartz of the Third District Court of Appeal, who wrote the majority opinion in the case, appeared to agree, strongly.
?Perhaps Coral Gables can require that all its houses be made of ticky-tacky and that they all look just the same,? Judge Schwartz wrote, ?but it cannot mandate that its people are, or do. Our nation and way of life are based on a treasured diversity, but Coral Gables punishes it.?
Mayor Don Slesnick, who has been in office since 2001 and previously served on the city zoning board, said the city never implied it found truck owners distasteful ? only trucks.
?That is ludicrous and absurd to me,? Mr. Slesnick said, adding that the five-member City Commission voted unanimously this week to keep fighting the case. ?This isn?t a diversity issue; it?s a truck issue.?
Property values in Coral Gables have stayed relatively strong in the current real estate slump, Mr. Slesnick said, and he attributed that to the city?s aesthetic code. During his re-election campaign last year, he said, he polled residents on the truck ban and found that 71 percent supported it.
Outside his home in Coral Gables on Thursday, Guillermo Pernas, 75, said he was worried about the effect of the court ruling on his neighborhood.
?Look at this place ? most of the people here are upper class,? said Mr. Pernas, who has lived here for 33 years. ?One bad bean in the soup ruins the whole thing.?
Another resident, Tony Hernandez, recalled how he once asked the city?s permission to paint his home a dark shade of beige. The city said no. But Mr. Hernandez, a retired psychologist who has lived here for 30 years, said he did not mind the rigid rules.
?You want the neighborhood you live in to be as nice as it could be,? he said.
Mr. Kuvin, who just graduated from St. Thomas University School of Law in Miami and is waiting to learn whether he passed the bar exam, said he had heard from plenty of Coral Gables residents who seethe at the zoning rules ? so many, he said, that he might make litigation against the city his specialty.
?I think it?s an area ripe for a lawyer who?s willing to take on cases that seem unwinnable and stand up for Joe Homeowner,? he said.
Mr. Kuvin will keep his F150 ?forever? for sentimental reasons, he said. But he is not necessarily a pickup driver for life.
?You can put in there,? he said, ?that Mercedes can send me a station wagon if they?d like.?
Carmen Gentile contributed reporting.