On April 5, I attended the Mercer Island Planning Commission’s public hearing on the proposed revisions to the residential development standards; changes that will significantly affect every resident by imposing further restriction on what can be done with our property.
The commission attempts to justify its actions as being done in the name of “community values.” Well then, just what exactly are those values? As I listened to one person after another speak about their views, I discovered that there is no such thing! For example:
– Some people want to preserve trees on the island for a variety of reasons. Other people want to be able to remove them from their property, again for any number of reasons.
– Some people expressed concern about homes being built on the island that were “too large.” Others complained about being restricted from building the size of home that they desired on their property.
– Some people saw the variance process as vitally necessary while others though it an inequity favoring some people or groups over others.
– Some people thought that “builders” were gaming the system. Others thought that “the system” itself was a game of arbitrary hoops and barriers that unnecessarily imposed onerous fees and delays while significantly driving up construction costs.
– A number of people were concerned with the loss of their property value resulting from the new regulations and restrictions. Others were concerned about the rapidly rising cost of housing. Still others were concerned about the cost/value impact upon specific groups such as seniors.
– Some were primarily concerned about the environment while others were primarily concerned about the limitations that new setback, lot coverage, height limits, daylight and landscaping requirements, etc. would impose on their current or future plans.
– Some people expressed concern over the “ugliness” of some buildings that have been built. Others championed the right of anyone to pursue and build their dream home without interference.
So where in this list are the “community values” to be found? There was nothing close to a group consensus expressed on any single issue let alone the entire standard being proposed. Yet, every speaker passionately addressed values most important to them.
The answer is that “community values” are a fiction. Values are something that only individual people possess in relation to the specific context of their own lives—a context that is unique. Yet this obvious fact will be ignored by the Planning commission and City Council as they make the ultimate determination of what new restrictions to impose, by force, upon the rest of us—restrictions that will be uniformly applied to everyone across the board, completely indifferent to the unique circumstances of our lives and to our right for self-determination and the exercise of control over our own property.
The path of least resistance is to sit back and accept whatever is imposed upon us. So to all Mercer Island residents, I ask that you don’t let your autonomy simply slip away. Stand up, state that your life is your own, and demand that your rights, including your property rights, be respected.
C. Jeffery Small