By Deborah Goonan
One of my favorite childhood books was Mr. Pine’s Purple House. Some of you might remember this children’s classic, where Mr. Pine lives in a long line of plain white houses that all look the same. He longs to make his home stand out from the rest, to express his individuality. He tries planting a bush, then a tree. In both cases, neighbors like the idea so much they copy it. Then he decides to paint his house purple. He’s the only one on the street that chooses purple. The other homeowners prefer different colors. A few keep the house white. In the end, there are houses of many different colors, and all is well with the world.
Ah, why can’t our neighborhoods be like that once again?
Instead of learning that they can be creative individuals and still get along well with their neighbors, Marla Stout’s children are learning all about the pettiness and nastiness of governance in a Homeowners’ Association.
Last year, the Stouts built a play structure for their two daughters in their own back yard. The girls happen to like purple, so their mother found a violet-hued wood stain to finish off the project. The neighbors who can see the structure don’t mind at all. But the HOA Board, through their attorney, threatened fines, objecting to the purple stain. The family appealed the decision and ultimately won, according to KMBC News. But now, according to the news report, the HOA wants the play structure completely removed within a few weeks, or, the HOA threatens that the Stouts could go to jail.
Check out the story here (KMBC 9 News, Lee’s Summit, MO)
Raintree Lakes HOA has a 14-page document on its website detailing its Architectural Review Board Guidelines. Here’s the relevant excerpt:
The ARB has determined that detached structure or outbuilding lessens the integrity of the RAINTREE community. No detached structures or outbuildings will be approved except dog pens and play houses which meet the required specifications.
Swing sets and play equipment will be allowed and must meet the following requirements: a) Color: must be subdued and within harmony with other colors of the community including slides, swings and canopies.b) Material: must be timber construction. Other materials will be considered on a case by case basis. c) Use: play equipment is intended for juvenile play only d) Restrictions: total elevated platform cannot exceed twenty-four (24) square feet
Although it appears to most people that the play structure complies with the vague rule that colors must be “subdued and within harmony,” the powers that be in the HOA don’t see it that way. There’s a hearing scheduled for later this evening, so perhaps there will be an update soon.
But…stepping outside the box, why should it really matter exactly what the play structure looks like? The swing set is in a privately owned back yard. It isn’t doing any harm to anyone. In fact, the play structure promotes healthy outdoor play and exercise for children. If anything, it promotes public health and a greater good.
How did American attitudes shift from the “live and let live” era when Mr. Pine painted his house purple to this insidious notion that homeowners must be entitled to the right to control how their neighbors use their own properties? And do we honestly believe that severely restricting property rights somehow increases property values?