Living With Outdated
Zoning And Building Codes
By James Donahue
Back with President Lyndon Johnson was promoting his “Great Society” and pumping
federal tax dollars back into local coffers via a program called Revenue Sharing, towns, townships and even counties were
forced to adopt zoning and building codes before they were eligible for the money.
Meeting the federal standards was no simple task. Most communities hired
professional city planners to help draft “master plans” for future development, and then write zoning and land
ordinances in accordance with those master plans. And many town councils found themselves adopting codes and ordinances calling
for Utopian communities.
The ordinances established the size of yards, the set-backs from rear and side property lines
required before erecting houses and out-buildings, the number of windows and doors required in homes and even the design of
new homes that were allowed.
adopted uniform building, plumbing, electrical and mechanical codes establishing the number of electrical plug outlets, the
way plumbing, furnaces and even hot water heaters were installed and located. New housing developments soon lost their individuality
and all the houses began looking alike. The term “cracker box” housing became a common expression. People couldn't erect
a shed in the back yard to put their yard tools without getting a building permit and having their work inspected and approved
by building inspectors.
Now as the cost of homes,
maintaining them, paying the taxes and insurance and living with a rising cost of living while people earn less and less….and
the energy crisis rearing its ugly head, those city ordinances so right for the 1970's are out of date and in the way of contemporary
People living in large houses
in single family zones are prohibited from renting parts of their home to help cover the rising cost of keeping the house.
Power mowers, snow blowers and weed whackers used to help in the task of keeping up such large lawns are not only noisy, but
they are blowing toxic exhaust. The cost of heating these large houses is going through the roof.
Robin Speronis, a 54-year-old Cape Coral
woman and former real estate agent, is currently fighting city hall over the renovations she made to her small duplex to simply
cut her utility costs. Speronis installed solar panels to generate electricity, installed a tank on the roof to capture rainwater,
uses a camp stove to cook and uses propane lamps to generate light and heat. The only public utility she is using is the city
Last November a city building
inspector determined that Speronis is in violation of city ordinance. He attempted to evict her from her home for not using
public utilities. A local magistrate supported the eviction notice.
Speronis has now hired a lawyer and is appealing the decision.
She also is refusing to move out of her home or pay a growing number of fines because of her violations of city codes and
ordinances. The lawyer, Todd Allen, who is taking the case pro-bono, said he sees “an inherent conflict in the code.”
Strangely, the ordinance requires
that homes that can be serviced by municipal water to at least be connected to the system. The homeowners are not required
to use the water.
The Speronis case has captured the attention of the media. Hers is perhaps one of many such issues facing city,
township and county governments all across America as citizens utilize innovative ways to heat, light and remain in their
homes while getting “off the grid” in any way possible.
It is time for local governments to take a new look at zoning
and building codes and make them more flexible for the new lifestyle that looms. The homes of the future are going to be small
and compact, and their occupants will be using solar, wind and other forms of green technology that will conflict with the