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Thread: 'Woods for the trees' moments

  1. #1
    Chairman of the bored Maister's avatar
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    'Woods for the trees' moments

    Quote Originally posted by mendelman
    These are the times in the profession when the absurdity of the 'system' is evident and I remind myself that there are much more important issues for us to deal with than the minutiae and esoterica of regulating human settlement.
    I was going ginch mendelman for his choice of words, but have decided instead to take the high road and recognize he makes a legitimate point. At some point sooner or later EVERY planner finds themselves in a heated discussion over the interpretation of some arcane section of code as it may or may not apply to a particular situation....."you SAY 'is allowed' but if you read the preceding paragraph it says the Planning Commission 'may approve' provided the application meets the criteria referenced in subsection (b), not 'must approve'.... Yeah, but subsection (b) talks about building height, and says nothing about landscaping standards blah blah blah....."

    How long on the job did it take before you experienced this? Have you found yourself arguing both sides of the coin with any regularity, or do you tend towards one end of the Procedural - Big Picture continuum? Has a 'woods for the trees' discussion with a fellow staff member every caused you to question your commitment to the profession? Do you find it easy or difficult to get emotionally invested in the reading/application/interpretation of code?
    People will miss that it once meant something to be Southern or Midwestern. It doesn't mean much now, except for the climate. The question, “Where are you from?” doesn't lead to anything odd or interesting. They live somewhere near a Gap store, and what else do you need to know? - Garrison Keillor

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Plus dvdneal's avatar
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    I don't remember the first time, but it didn't take long. Usually the esoteric stuff revolves around sheds or other minutia. I've learned to just look the other way on a lot of things like the "all structures will have a 10' separation distance". Well that just doesn't work. What if it's a small building that doesn't typically need a permit? What if there is a reason to have the buildings closer together? There are to many not so esoteric what if scenarios we all face, it's just a matter of doing like the wise man said and try to figure out if it's actually a problem and will it effect anyone else?
    I don't pretend to understand Brannigan's Law. I merely enforce it.

  3. #3
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by dvdneal View post
    ...it's just a matter of doing like the wise man said...
    I'm not sure I'd say I'm 'wise' just observant, pragmatic and contemplative.

    But thanks for the compliment.

    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Every day is today. Yesterday is a myth and tomorrow an illusion.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian
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    I tend to interpret the code pretty literally. That doesn't mean I don't try to work with people, but I feel like that's the best way for me to be fair for everyone. It was probably about a year before I really got comfortable reading and interpreting the code for myself and not just trusting the general rules of thumbs that my predecessors had passed along.

    The main way that this comes up for me is in my interpretation of flag lots, which is pretty strict compared to anyone else's interpretation in my office. If that's not how they want it to be interpreted, though, then it needs to be rewritten. Otherwise, interpretation of the code starts becoming arbitrary. Pretty much anything rule that has an exception (family divisions, private roads, townhomes, etc.) becomes incredibly cumbersome to try to explain and make sense out of.

    But I believe if the code is not clear, or includes policies that are typically ignored or not followed, then the code needs to be updated, not the way the code is used. The code is our protection against any sort of citizen backlash, so I want to make sure I'm interpreting it as fairly as possible. Fortunately, our Zoning Administrator typically agrees with me. The only challenge we run into is that our Director likes to keep our regulations off the Board's radar. So sometimes he doesn't support code updates if he thinks they're not really necessary and will potentially stir up controversy, even if they simplify things for us, and the public.

    In general, I think that's one thing all localities could stand to improve on - it would make a huge difference if the codes could be much more user friendly. For us, that would require a pretty major overhaul in the format, which our director is not willing to take on at the moment.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Plus dvdneal's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by mendelman View post
    I'm not sure I'd say I'm 'wise' just observant, pragmatic and contemplative.

    But thanks for the compliment.

    Also humble.


    I'm going to have some esoteric thoughts about my crap job while I walk around the block.
    I don't pretend to understand Brannigan's Law. I merely enforce it.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian ursus's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by gtpeach View post
    I tend to interpret the code pretty literally.

    The main way that this comes up for me is in my interpretation of flag lots, which is pretty strict compared to anyone else's....

    But I believe if the code is not clear, or includes policies that are typically ignored or not followed, then the code needs to be updated, not the way the code is used.
    This is a great conversation and I refuse to see it die. I know you think you're interpreting the code literally....but that's the thing: you are - in fact - INTERPRETING it. That is the point that is always salient here. There are cases that are more clear and less clear, but it always comes down to interpretation. When you wrote about flag lots I actually laughed outloud because my staff and I debate the code about flag lots more than any other! It brings out the best in us, I truly mean that. We are at our best when we disagree. What's the front lot? How can we have this provision that says we can't create more than one flag lot from one single parcel and yet we can serve two lots from one access if we widen the access? How on earth do I reconcile this definition of "Front Lot Line" with the flag lot if we're going to allow the "stem" portion (poorly defined by the way) to be simply an easement and there is not a "lot line adjacent to the public right of way" like that definition says?

    It can't be interpreted literally. It literally can't.

    I'm messing with you because I'm on the opposite end of the pendulum and I probably would frustrate you like I frustrate Ray (he's my literal interpreter) but I truly love to discuss this stuff with him. I get a lot of insight from our work together and I think it's healthy to have both views weighing in. And I could not agree more about updating the codes. Simplify the language as much as you can, but don't fool yourself into thinking that will remove the problems. Making it more clear is worthy, but I think it will still be subject to interpretation. In the end that's what they're paying us these big bucks for.
    "...I would never try to tick Hink off. He kinda intimidates me. He's quite butch, you know." - Maister

  7. #7
    Cyburbian Plus dvdneal's avatar
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    So this esoteric discussion of code interpretation comes down to are you and Ursus or are you a Peach?

    Ursus seems to give some wide margins in his code interpretation maybe erring on the side of the property owner?

    Peach seems to go literal which draws a hard line and stops a lot of that unwanted garbage we all deal with.

    You'll have to correct me if I'm over simplifying your views.

    I'm more of an Ursus myself.

    By the way, points off both of you for not using esoteric minutia in your discussions.
    I don't pretend to understand Brannigan's Law. I merely enforce it.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian estromberg's avatar
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    I found that the longer I worked in Zoning, the more of a libertarian I became.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian michaelskis's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by estromberg View post
    I found that the longer I worked in Zoning, the more of a libertarian I became.
    Same here to a point. The question is not will it limit an owner's use of the land, but what is the justification of the regulation in the first place.
    If you're not growing, you're dying. - Lou Holtz

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