Thursday, May 14, 2009

Privacy Issues

If you can’t see the faces in the doodle above, the people in the middle house are leaning out of their double-hung windows smiling and waving at their neighbors, while the people in the houses on either side are frowning.

During the last two public hearings, the issue of privacy came up and got me thinking. A small balcony was being proposed and some ARB members (Curtis, Christine, and Sheila) are adamantly against balconies on smaller lots believing they create privacy issues for neighbors. So they will allow them, but only if they are decorative and not technically accessible (yeah right). In the architect’s effort to persuade the board to approve the balcony, part of his argument included the fact that someone standing in the house’s Master Bedroom had a much better view of anything going on in the neighbor’s yard than they would on their new balcony and so any privacy issue was not made more severe by the balcony which would be further away. To me, this is where it gets interesting. The whole privacy issue is not really even related to balconies. Either you have a clear view into your neighbor’s property – whether from the interior or exterior – or you don’t. It’s only really an issue on smaller lots, one acre and less. On larger lots, where houses are spaced further apart, privacy is obtained via distance, landscaping, and gates. On smaller lots privacy is sacrificed to some degree or even completely. I’m not sure there’s any practical way to design around it. When I was 10, I lived in a nice house on a half acre in Ohio, and I remember when I looked out my east bedroom window I could be eye to eye with the girl who lived next door whose house was probably twenty to thirty feet away. It’s like this all over America. It’s only here it seems, in the land of hedges and gates and second homes, that people want everyone to mind their own business and keep out.
Back to balconies in Southampton Village, I think they should be permitted but should be limited in size so that their use’s intensity can be sensitive to their lot’s size and their neighbor’s proximity. A simple formula based on your lot size could be incorporated into the codes to determine if one can have a balcony, and then how big it could be. I live in a small cottage and the house near me has a balcony on which someone could have a complete view of my yard. If I were to one day build a bigger house on my property, whether it had a balcony or not, I would then have a complete view into their yard. That’s just the way it goes on these little quarter acres. Hang some curtains. And if you're outside, behave.

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