As I See It: The right to a reasonable view

Mark Twain’s style is very convincing like: Whiskey’s for drinkin.’ Water’s for fightin.’ So, to borrow a technique: Trees are for shade; hedges’ for fightin.’ Therein lies a perenial problem. Many communities seem to have used the phrase view-plane in their bylaws, or CC&Rs, but the root of the problem is that there is no general definition of view-plane. Looking up the individual words does not help. A plane may be horizontal, or not. A plane is only two-dimensional, but a view is three-dimensional. A view may be specific, or not. Is view of the same as view from?

No question: a view of some kind has a psychological benefit. People who live without one, underground miners, submariners, prisoners or arctic residents who do not see the sun or sky for weeks, or months are notoriously depressed. Alcohol and other drugs seem to get involved. How much view is appropriate? Being able to see a bit of the sun or sky helps. Some people have an idea that they have a right to a particular view: the mountain top, the shoreline, a neighbor’s window or the horizon. How about a particular tree, canyon or island? Benjamin Franklin invented bifocals so he could look up from his papers to the exterior view without the need to change his spectacles. In 18th century Philadelphia, I doubt his view was far or majestic, probably the house across the street, the sky above or at best across the Delaware River. Nevertheless, being able to see farther is empowering.

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I once had an office facing three interior walls. I did not realize how depressing that had been until one of my partners rearranged our office furniture so that I could look out across the tiny office, through the workshop and warehouse to the steel ingots stored outdoors, and the small patch of gray sky above them. That extra 100 feet made a psychological difference. Our company had an off-site drafting office in a former supermarket with no windows; at break time, it seemed like everyone was standing outside, even in the rain.

To the Polynesians, a view of the mauna (mountaintop) was paramount. The tiki statues on Easter Island faced inland before they were toppled by haoles (foreigners).

People have rights. Every person’s rights are limited by other people’s rights. They can be summarized as the right to be left alone. Everyone has a right to a reasonable view. Every property owner has a right to the quiet enjoyment of his property. Does one person’s right to an undefined view justify compelling another or a community organization to optimize his view of whatever he says is his entitled view no matter the cost? A neighbor once said he wanted to see nothing but rooftops, yuck.

The only legal definition I can find has to do with view to the sky in Denver. A view of some sky should be no issue, some horizon or ocean, probably no issue. What if the want is very specific? “Shoreline” comes to mind. The legal definition of shoreline is the water’s edge at mean, higher high water. Something that can be seen only the air, or near sea level, but that is not necessarily what they mean.

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There are natural rights, such as those self-evident ones enumerated in the founding documents, and entitlement rights such as right-of-way in traffic. Unless the entitlement rules are very clear, which is rare in bylaws, then it is best for everyone if people negotiate in good faith. Does one’s hedge really have to be 24 feet tall? Does a small break in one’s ocean view really matter? There are many trees that enhance the view by creating a reference. Trimming usually stimulates growth, thickens the foliage and makes it more opaque. The way to ensure a specific view is to buy a property that has one inherently, and that might be expensive. Otherwise negotiate in good faith and figure out how to apportion the cost.

Ken Obenski is a forensic engineer, now safety and freedom advocate in South Kona. Send feedback to obenskik@gmail.com