All communities need rules. The more dense the community, the more rules they need. Were everyone allowed to do whatever, whenever they please, there would be chaos. Out in wide open rural spaces, that’s not such a terrible problem because your neighbors are a long way off. In a small, densely packed community, it is.
In a perfectly balanced community, the rules are just enough in number and strength to keep the peace and prevent neighborhood anarchy, without leaving residents hamstrung over what they can do on and with their property.
Our little town, with approximately 7,000 residents, has a lot of trouble finding that balance.
There will always be some who chafe at any rules at all. Those folks will never be happy on our small, totally developed, cheek-to-jowl island. At the other end of the spectrum are those who want to micromanage every little detail of life on our island with a code or an ordinance. Most of us fall in the middle somewhere, but it seems that our town government is on the micromanaging end of the spectrum.
The past few years, we’ve had a rash of ordinances passed. Over fifty in the past five years. They range from outdoor displays, parking, street performers and noise to more parking, special events, news racks, straws, survey requirements, electric bike rules and of course, short term rental rules.
The rich irony of all these rules is that in most cases, they add to or change the Land Development Code (LDC). The same LDC that the micromanaging crowd views as sacrosanct.
Our LDC, and for that matter, our Comprehensive Plan, are like out-of-date stilts supporting our community. As our community has grown and changed, instead of replacing the old stilts with stronger, more appropriate ones that serve the community we have now, our town has figuratively nailed thousands of pieces of paper to the old stilts trying to make them do the job of new stilts.
There’s been talk of a thorough review and updating of the Comp Plan and LDC, but we haven’t seen it yet. Town staff was directed to look at LDC “glitches,” and that’s what they did. No comprehensive review, just glitches. So we have more paper nailed to the out-of-date LDC.
All those ordinances, when combined with a Town Manager whose fervor for rule enforcement and high fines is rarely seen in a small town, plus abandonment of the town’s traditional complaint-driven enforcement, has led to a high number of cases for our Town Magistrate.
In April and May, the Magistrate was faced with a combined 109 cases. Magistrate cases include, among a long list of violations, parking fines, sign violations and work without a permit. At least two of our Island churches have been called before the Magistrate this year. Recent enforcement of new Short Term Rental rules tallied over half the May cases, with violations related to lack of registration, listings/signs without a registration number and weekly rentals in a monthly zone.
Our town needs to find a balance that is more in line with the small town atmosphere that we all claim to love about our community.
If residents and businesses feel as if they are being watched, they are.