LETTER: Property Rights at Risk in Proposed Residential Design Guidelines

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To the Editor

There will be a very important meeting this Thursday Nov. 12 at 6:30 p.m. at the Middle School on Waverley Ave., Watertown.

It is important that people who own property in Watertown show up to protect their property rights. Some are seeking to encumber a homeowner’s rights by putting style restrictions on new construction, additions, or modifications to their homes. This goes beyond the reasonable setbacks and frontage requirements, but deals with style. While we might not like the style of new dormer, addition or porch our neighbor wants to add to his or her house, we have no right to impose our style preferences on them, anymore than we have the right to tell what kind of clothes to wear. Please don’t confuse this with dimensions or square footage … they are talking about putting restrictions of style.

In addition there another move afoot to restrict the amount of non-permeable surfaces on your property to X percentage of your lot. So if you want to put a shed in backyard, a patio, a pool or anything the environmental police say, reduces the amount of “green space,” you’re going to have issues under this proposed ordinance.

So I urge all those who can attend, to attend and speak up. If the Town wants to make non-binding recommendations regarding these matters, that’s one thing. But any ordinance, which requires homeowners to get the Town’s approval on style issue or to put in a patio, shed, pool, or whether the heck you want in you back yard, in the name of green space … is not acceptable. Again, we aren’t talking about set backs from our neighbors, proper square footage, proper frontage. We’re talking about the creation of “Style Stasi” and having to beg Environmental Extremists to be able to put a patio or pool in your back yard.

Property rights are as sacred as any other Constitutionally Protected rights… Free Speech, Freedom to Assemble, Freedom of Religion, The Right to a Speedy Trial, A Trial By Jury, Protection from illegal and unreasonable search and seizure … are all rights we take for granted. Likewise Private Property live and breathe in the 3rd, 4th, and 5th Amendments, not mention that several clauses regarding Private Property Rights were included in Article 1 of the Constitution. We must protect our rights from the government at all levels, that includes fighting abusive of zoning ordinances, the encumber “The Bundle of Rights” that accompany the purchase of real property.


John DiMascio
Copeland Street

11 thoughts on “LETTER: Property Rights at Risk in Proposed Residential Design Guidelines

  1. please, just imagine that every homeowner decides to reduce the green space on the property to a single plant kept in a vase and have everything else covert with concrete? How would that Earth look like? I would rather beg for more trees, flowers and sun……

    • An extreme that is used to rationalise poor law.

      How about mentioning the other extreme where people determine what you can do with your yard. Oh thats what’s happening.

    • OK, so the style thing is probably stupid, but the runoff problem is real. It’s not about sheds, it’s about oil-covered parking lots putting toxins into our watershed which then need to be removed, by expensive processes that we all pay for. If you don’t think water table issues are real, you’ve never owned property in the Back Bay or near the Charles. You’ve never heard about the groundwater issues they are having in California or Arizona – you heard about the drought, now read a little deeper. The ground is shrinking like a drying sponge.
      I can’t attend the meeting, but will be watching what happens.

  2. This is the extreme concern. We need to stop over-legislating everyone because of a few. I’ll do with “my” property what I feel is necessary! This whole idea is rediculous. Stop reaching!

  3. Mr. DiMascio is taking a complex issue and simplifying to it a ridiculous point. He tends to see a Redcoat behind every tree, wanting to take away his rights, and perhaps wanting to make him pay taxes to King George. Likely he sleeps with his tri-corn on his bedpost and his loaded musket underneath the bed.

    This has nothing really to do with that. The permeability issue has to do with run-off, flooding, and pollution of the Charles River, one of our town’s greatest natural assets. This is as much about keeping basements from flooding as it is about “property rights”. Want to put in a patio? There are permeable materials for that.

    Hopefully the majority of Watertown residents are able to grasp complicated ideas and make well informed decisions. If this were a huge power grab, why would there be public meetings about the issue?

    Residential Design guidelines are more about maintaing a reasonable level of density and open space in residential neighborhoods, and avoiding some of the ill effects of a hot real estate market.

    Mr. DiMascio’s scare tactics are not helpful in promoting an informed and rational debate. These guidelines are something that Watertown citizens get to work on together.

  4. The Town has zoning…. when you purchase a piece of property, you make your decision in part (at least you should), based on what that zoning is. That zoning allows you to A,B,C…. that is YOUR RIGHT…. you bought that right PERIOD….. Therefore to change that zoning, during your ownership of that property, in order to further restrict what you can will, is an attack on property rights… PERIOD…..

    Fortunately, we don’t have to worry about King George anymore… But we do have to worry those who think they have right to impose their radical agendas on this community, and those who think they have a right to eviscerate property rights….

    It is that simple folks…. you bought a house, you bought a piece a land. It came with a bundle of rights. These people want to dictate what rights you get to keep and what rights you don’t.

    • So according to that logic, a town could never change zoning to respond to changing circumstances, even if a vast majority favor the change, because it might impinge on the RIGHTS of one homeowner? Sorry not buying it. . .this kind of thinking would keep us mired in the past. And it is not democratic to boot.

  5. No Joseph, by my logic you can change zoning, but you need to grandfather in those who currently own the property. What you can do on your property is part of your financial portfolio. If you buy a single family home, zoned in a 2 family zone, you bought the right to build a 2-family home on it. Or perhaps, depending on the zoning, you bought the right to build an addition. You can’t take that right away from someone without taking value out of his portfolio…

    Quoting SCOTUS in Pennsylvania Coal Co. v. Mahon…. A property own has certain “Investment backed expectations” and when zoning regulations begin impact that value, it becomes a “taking,” and should be subject to the “Just Compensation Clause” of the 5th Amendment.

    So yes, a zoning change can be made…. but it should only affect the next buyer. Even that of course affects the re-sale value…. But it’s not completely unreasonable.

    But these Guidelines being discussed… aren’t even normal zoning changes that limit size and set-backs. We’re talking about style and taste… And that not only violates Property Rights… It violates the 1st Amendment right to Freedom of Expression!

    We can’t treat the whole town as though it was a Condo Complex or Gated Community. In those cases there are covenants and restrictions bases on common ownership. A buyer knows upfront what those restrictions are. As well he or she agrees to covenant, whereby the majority of owners, may by a vote change those restrictions, if such provisions exist in the contract.

    Imagine going to Best Buy on Black Friday to buy new color T.V. You find a 50 inch model you just love on sale and make the purchase. Two months later, Best Buy calls you and informs you that 50 inch T.V. sets are no longer allowed…. they will be by to pick it up and replace it with a 36 inch model, worth much less. And oh by the way…. don’t expect to compensated for difference in price.

    That is precisely what certain elements in the Town who have ZERO respect for PRIVATE PROPERTY are seeking to do with these changes. They want to tell people what their house should look like. What style it should have. Perhaps later they may want to pass ordinances about our fashion… what kind of cloths we can wear!

    What is most interesting, is that some of the proponents on the Town Council of these measures, are the very same people that about 10 years ago, were all very much concerned with civil liberties and rights of terror suspects… Back then it was all about protect individual rights. But apparently protecting individual rights doesn’t include Private Property for them. Why is that? Well they are so far to the left, they don’t believe in Private Property .
    Mind you this is nothing personal. I happen to like these people very much and have good relationship with them. Some of them got my vote last November 3rd. But their world view is very different. They believe they have right to impose dictates through government, at any level, on the rest of us.

    Are voluntary style guidelines, with an incentive to follow these guidelines are good idea? Yes absolutely. But mandatory restrictions on style are simply wrong, no matter how good the intention.

    I look at some of the construction and shake my head. I wonder what they heck are these people thinking, that is so ugly. But I don’t have the right to tell a guy, he can’t use a rod iron rail and put obnoxious lion statues at his gate, if it’s he property. It’s gaudy, it’s tacky, It looks like hell to me… But it’s his house. I have no right to tell him what it should look like.

  6. Oh for Pete’s sake, John D., you are blowing this way out of proportion! What this is about is what restrictions the majority of Watertown citizens will accept for the good of the town as a whole. I think folks are less concerned about your shed or dormer than they are about tear downs and increasing density in desirable residential neighborhoods. In other words, that a developer can’t buy houses on three sides of you, tear them down and build outsized buildings and thus LOWER the value of YOUR property.

    Frankly, I find you use of terms like “certain elements” and “extremists” to be ugly and divisive. I think that many in Watertown have well thought and well founded concerns about what the future will bring in this development climate. “Certain elements” reeks of Joe McCarthy. Calm down John and think about the whole issue and the welfare of the Watertown as a whole.

    John A., I think that many homeowners would be amenable to certain restrictions that would protect their neighborhoods. Those who own real estate simply as an investment maybe not so much.

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