I find aspects of this political activity troubling:
A developer razed a 1930s Cape Cod-style house and began excavation for a $1.3 million, 5,400-square-foot replacement. It will be almost three times as big as the house that was on the lot before it, and nearly twice as big as any other house on the block. But it's perfectly legal, meeting all of Edina's zoning requirements.
That doesn't matter to people on Oaklawn Avenue. They've been fighting back, crowding a City Council meeting and posting a protest video on YouTube. Most of the houses on the block have signs in their yards. "Monster homes make bad neighbors!" proclaims one. "Supersized houses -- stay out of our neighborhood!" says another.
In a letter to the developer, one resident warned that whoever buys the house will be "ostracized and shunned ... no neighborly waves, no invitation to neighborhood parties."
So much for "Minnesota nice."
On a semantics note, I find the political rhetoric troubling. The term "monster home" is used throughout the article, and implies that large homes are inherently bad and their owners are evil people or, at best, unconcerned with their neighbors. Are owners of large homes that bad or uncaring? Do big houses lower neighboring property values (not according to this)? The term "McMansions" suggests that the houses are big, but cheap with little substance. They exist to fatten the ego of the owner. Are there simply positional externalities involved?
More troubling is the call for government action. Someone believes that a plot of land is valuable, but doesn't care for the house that currently rests on the property (neither do the neighbors, according to the article). So he takes his own money, tears down the house, and builds a larger home for someone else to live in. But the neighbors political talk suggests that large houses create negative externalities akin to crack houses, and any new neighbor will be on his own.
The article does point to a negative externality that presents a legitimate concern: that of large houses blocking views and light. When someone buys a house, they are buying a collection of amenities, including surrounding views. When a new structure blocks the view, current owners have a legitimate gripe. But you can also rightly argue that property buyers assume some risks, including the risk that someone else will put something on their property that neighbors, for one reason or another, don't like. Some kind of Coasian bargaining seems appropriate, but when negotiating costs are too high, we have a case for government involvement to help solve the dispute.
But instead of solving a dispute involving externalities, there is this straight out of public choice theory:
But policies that alienate longtime residents can have a political cost.
Mayor Jim Hovland said the city is still trying to shape its zoning policies, parts of which were changed last spring.
"We've been working on this, but maybe we haven't gone far enough to find that balance point," he said last week. "We're very concerned about maintaining the character of these neighborhoods."
The way I read this is that a politician considers taking away the rights of an individual person to appease a larger group so the politician can maximize the chance that he'll get re-elected. That may be the way the ball bounces, but it is also one reason why many distrust the government to allocate resources efficiently.
Update: here's more from King.