You’ve Got Lemons: What now?

A few months ago, I wrote about Leawood, Kansas’ efforts to shut down Spencer Collins’ Little Free Library because it constituted an illegal accessory structure. What made the story interesting is that, while certain advocates were using it as an example of government overreach, a closer look at the facts on the ground revealed that the town’s actions were precipitated by not one, but two neighbor complaints.

Now here we go again.

This time, it’s a more timeless marker of community that’s emerged as the source of conflict. Specifically, it’s 12 year old T.J. Guerrero and his Dunedin, Florida lemonade stand.

T.J. is, by all appearances, a pretty savvy young entrepreneur. Toying with and measuring the performance of different hours and locations, he ultimately settled on 3-7pm and secured permission to operate in front of a neighbor’s house with desirable, intersection proximity — something that didn’t sit well with nearby resident Doug Wilkey. Wilkey calls the stand an “illegal business” and has contacted the city on at least four occasions in an effort to get it shut down.

Says the Tampa Bay Times:

Doug Wilkey contends that the Palm Harbor Middle School student’s year-round operation is an “illegal business” that causes excessive traffic, noise, trash, illegal parking and other problems that reduce his property values.

“Please help me regain my quiet home and neighborhood,” Wilkey, 61, wrote.

Destroying property values. Not. Photo credit: © Adwriter @ Flickr.

Destroying property values. Not. Photo credit: © Adwriter @ Flickr.

Live and let live die

This is what happens in a world where we don’t know each other. Or talk to each other. When your neighbor’s a stranger, there’s no need to make room for them in your life. There’s no need to feel any sense of responsibility for their wellbeing. Or for the healthy growth and development of their children.

In short, there’s no need to do anything except remain vigilant in a never-ending effort to protect your own interests — however exaggerated those interests (and your sense of victimization) might be. The behavior then becomes self-reinforcing, further isolating us from the people we may one day need the most.

This is no small deal, and it’s a drum I’ve been beating for some time now. Our willingness to engage each other in community — to admit that we don’t exist in a vacuum and that our happiness and prosperity are inextricably linked to our relationships with others — is not optional. It’s not a pick-and-choose prospect like granite countertops. It’s a matter of survival.

Attitudes ripple

The reason I’m revisiting this issue once again is because it’s at the heart of how communities are able to respond to new challenges, which is at the heart of whether or not they’re able to effectively thrive in the 21st century.

Just as suggestions of government overreach were somewhat misplaced in the Leawood story, I’m wondering if charges of lack of vision — and lack of action — frequently levied on leadership at the local level might in some cases be equally so. That is, how much of the problem lies with government, as we seem to suggest, and how much of it lies with government’s ultimate customer: Us?

Politicians, especially local ones, tend to require some level of political cover when it comes to taking on new ideas. They need constituents organized in support of shaking things up. But where is such support expected to materialize in a disconnected place?

How can anyone expect any politician to push for change when his or her electorate wants nothing more than the exact opposite — the promise that everything will remain exactly as it is in perpetuity?

It’s a choice

The boogeymen are varied. Sprawl, technology, and our 24-hour news cycle have all conspired — in different ways — to deliver us lemons. They’ve left us disconnected and fearful of those around us.

So long as we’re content to exist that way, we’ll remain consigned to ever diminishing prospects. But if we actively choose to change, we’ll discover newfound opportunities to turn those raw resources into lemonade.

Scott Doyon

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  1. Ironically, the very thing that was supposed to have been created to encourage community has now turned out to be the very thing that has created war zones within neighborhoods. What is it? THE HOAs. Homeowners Associations.

    Over 60 million Americans now live inside of these horrible nightmares where today your neighbor MIGHT be your friend but tomorrow that neighbor is elected to the HOA board and is suddenly the controller of your house, life, and bank account. They can take revenge on you for the color of your front door or the fact you left your garage door open too long. With that they can fine, lien, and lawsuit you right into bankruptcy and foreclosure.

    For those who have experienced HOA living the way I have you know what I’m saying. For others, you cannot begin to imagine how this concept of maintaining property values (propaganda….never proven outside of the CAI studies) can suddenly destroy your health, happiness, and sense of secure living. You are walking on egg shells, checking to see if you’re being followed, receiving anonymous hate mail, threatening phone calls and more.

    In these environments we learn not to trust anyone living near us. We learn that today’s friend will happily foreclose on us six months from now. And we learn the sickness that prevails with sudden power over thy neighbor when the people elected to the board have never held a position of power before. When they go rogue…there goes the HOA.

    We don’t realize when we buy into these places that we are signing away our US Constitutional Rights. And we are becoming business partners in a non-profit corporation with all of our new neighbors. Last but not least, we are guaranteeing the financial support of the HOA with our bank accounts for loans, lawsuits, liabilities, embezzlements, construction defects and disaster rebuilds. We go in with a blind faith and trust that nothing could go terribly wrong. But it is going terribly wrong all across America.

    I encourage readers to read the book and website by Ward Lucas; And listen to Shu Bartholomew’s HOA radio show Time spent learning how the battles began and keep raging on is time well-invested. Internet search for Dr. Gary Solomon’s HOA Syndrome. These are reliable resources and only a keystroke away.

    The Little Free Libraries and the lemonade stands are just the beginning because those are adults basically bullying children to stop something productive that they are learning from and enjoying. There is nothing like an 80 year old woman bullying her neighbors with a vengeance like no middle school has seen before. It seems every little thing in life that she was disappointed about comes out and directed at the neighbor that she chooses to be her victim…and they end up with their life destroyed. All because she was elected to the HOA board of directors!

    It’s insane and it must stop!

  2. Well said and important. As a city planner I get so tired of people trying to use us – government – to beat up their neighbors over minor annoyances in the name of property values.

    • Jesse Richardson says

      The government passed the laws, not Mr. Wilkey. We can’t discriminate in the law based on what a particular person likes or doesn’t like.

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