Category Archive 'Zoning & Building Regulations'

15 Jan 2013

Roger Kimball Meets the Progressive Housing Regime

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Roger Kimball lives in one of the Fairfield County, Connecticut towns bordering Long Island Sound, and his neighborhood was hit by Sandy. He has to repair his home, and consequently ran into the nightmare regime of building codes and zoning regulation that prevails everywhere in developed portions of America.

Our first exposure to the town zoning authorities came a couple of weeks after Sandy. We’d met with insurance adjusters, contractors and “remediation experts.” We’d had about a foot of Long Island Sound sloshing around the ground floor of our house in Connecticut, and everyone had the same advice: Rip up the floors and subfloors, and tear out anything—wiring, plumbing, insulation, drywall, kitchen cabinets, bookcases—touched by salt water. All of it had to go, and pronto, too, lest mold set in.

Yet it wasn’t until the workmen we hired had ripped apart most of the first floor that the phrase “building permit” first wafted past us. Turns out we needed one. “What, to repair our own house we need a building permit?”

Of course.

Before you could get a building permit, however, you had to be approved by the Zoning Authority. And Zoning—citing FEMA regulations—would force you to bring the house “up to code,” which in many cases meant elevating the house by several feet. Now, elevating your house is very expensive and time consuming—not because of the actual raising, which takes just a day or two, but because of the required permits.

Kafka would have liked the zoning folks. There also is a limit on how high in the sky your house can be. That calculation seems to be a state secret, but it can easily happen that raising your house violates the height requirement. Which means that you can’t raise the house that you must raise if you want to repair it. Got that?

Read the whole thing.

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I blogged about a second-hand horror experience with building codes back in 2011:

One day, while I was still living on the SF peninsula in San Carlos, I went outside to get something from my car, and the pretty Oriental young lady who lived in the house across the street (whose name I did not even know, we had only been on waving-hello terms) ran crying into my arms.

She and her husband, a silver-haired, distinguée executive-type who drove an S-class Mercedes, had purchased the typical run-down 1960s-era California spec house across the street from our rental for something north of a cool million. They then proceeded to gut snd completely rebuild the place. Construction activity had been going for about two years, and seemed finally to be nearing completion. I thought these neighbors seemed likely to be about to take up residence just about the same time I was scheduled to depart.

My neighbor began sobbing out her story. A building inspector from the city of San Carlos had just left. He had disapproved of the nails used to attach the wire-mesh to the outside of the house which had already been covered with stucco cement and painted. Because the city didn’t like the contractor’s choice of nail, my neighbors were going to have to give up plans to move in. They would be obliged to tear off the entire new exterior surface of their house, and re-attach new wire mesh and stucco, and paint the whole thing all over again. It would take months to do the demolition and exterior covering again, and it would cost a lot of money.

Beyond the many tens of thousands of dollars all that extra construction was going to cost, they’d have to do an additional move (their lease was up) and pay thousands of unnecessary dollars a month for another rental house. My neighbors had been hit with six figures in extra expenses by the local building code enforcement system over a nail.

No wonder the poor girl was sobbing. She probably felt a lot like Richard III.

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In all the suburban enclaves of the community of fashion, layers of officials have erected regulatory empires funded by the tax dollars of the generally oblivious ordinary citizen. No rational person would buy a home burdened with exorbitant levels of taxation which he can only actually use with the grudging permission of hostile and tyrannical officialdom, but one always discovers the character of one’s place of residence too late.

Really, the best choice is the complete reverse of what most people desire. Instead of living in the most toney neighborhood, surrounded by affluent neighbors with prestigious careers and elite educations, you want to live in a rural township: the kind of place lacking in prestige, fashionability, and good restaurants, where your neighbors are all rednecks and poor. That kind of township will have next to no government, taxes will be extremely low, your neighbors will be friendly, and you can hire labor at cheap rates.

06 Feb 2007

A Very Unattractive Vista

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Michael Geist, in the Toronto Star, points out some things about Microsoft’s new Vista operating system, which are enough to make me think twice about my future OS plans.

For the past few months the legal and technical communities have dug into Vista’s “fine print.” Those communities have raised red flags about Vista’s legal terms and conditions as well as the technical limitations that have been incorporated into the software at the insistence of the motion picture industry.

The net effect of these concerns may constitute the real Vista revolution as they point to an unprecedented loss of consumer control over their own personal computers. In the name of shielding consumers from computer viruses and protecting copyright owners from potential infringement, Vista seemingly wrestles control of the “user experience” from the user.

Vista’s legal fine print includes extensive provisions granting Microsoft the right to regularly check the legitimacy of the software and holds the prospect of deleting certain programs without the user’s knowledge. During the installation process, users “activate” Vista by associating it with a particular computer or device and transmitting certain hardware information directly to Microsoft.

Even after installation, the legal agreement grants Microsoft the right to revalidate the software or to require users to reactivate it should they make changes to their computer components. In addition, it sets significant limits on the ability to copy or transfer the software, prohibiting anything more than a single backup copy and setting strict limits on transferring the software to different devices or users.

Vista also incorporates Windows Defender, an anti-virus program that actively scans computers for “spyware, adware, and other potentially unwanted software.” The agreement does not define any of these terms, leaving it to Microsoft to determine what constitutes unwanted software.

Once operational, the agreement warns that Windows Defender will, by default, automatically remove software rated “high” or “severe,” even though that may result in other software ceasing to work or mistakenly result in the removal of software that is not unwanted.

For greater certainty, the terms and conditions remove any doubt about who is in control by providing that “this agreement only gives you some rights to use the software. Microsoft reserves all other rights.” For those users frustrated by the software’s limitations, Microsoft cautions that “you may not work around any technical limitations in the software.”

Those technical limitations have proven to be even more controversial than the legal ones.

Last December, Peter Gutmann, a computer scientist at the University of Auckland in New Zealand released a paper called “A Cost Analysis of Windows Vista Content Protection.” The paper pieced together the technical fine print behind Vista, unraveling numerous limitations in the new software seemingly installed at the direct request of Hollywood interests.

Guttman focused primarily on the restrictions associated with the ability to play back high-definition content from the next-generation DVDs such as Blu-Ray and HD-DVD (referred to as “premium content”).

He noted that Vista intentionally degrades the picture quality of premium content when played on most computer monitors.

Guttman’s research suggests that consumers will pay more for less with poorer picture quality yet higher costs since Microsoft needed to obtain licenses from third parties in order to access the technology that protects premium content (those license fees were presumably incorporated into Vista’s price).

Moreover, he calculated that the technological controls would require considerable consumption of computing power with the system conducting 30 checks each second to ensure that there are no attacks on the security of the premium content.

Good grief! I can just imagine how many programs will get removed by Defender.


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