Suppose the person or business across the street from your home wants to build something you find noxious. What can you do to protect your view, your tranquility, and your property value?

You might consider taking over a plate of cookies as a bribe, or maybe engaging in the political process by speaking at a town meeting. But if the new development is approved anyway, can you appeal?

Usually, no. The Court of Appeals reminded homeowners today in Cherry v. Wiesner that merely living nearby the proposed development is not enough to give standing to appeal the development approval.

The Cherry case involved petitioners’ proposal to build a “modernist” home in Raleigh’s Oakwood neighborhood—a protected historic district.  The Raleigh Historic Development Commission approved the design, but the neighbor across the street preferred Queen Victoria to Frank Lloyd Wright.

The narrow holding of the case was that the neighbor’s vague allegations of harm did not constitute “special damages,” which are required for a nearby landowner to be an “aggrieved party” under the Historic District and Landmarks statutes. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 160A-400.9.  It simply is not enough to say that the new development will hurt your property values or ruins the aesthetic congruity of the neighborhood.

Of course, the whole point of an historic district is to protect aesthetics. The opinion does not specify how a neighbor could ever have standing in this kind of case, when aesthetics are precisely the issue—not runoff, noise, odors, or other recognized secondary impacts.

The Cherry opinion is notable for another reason—it is an excellent example of clear judicial writing.  The need for such clarity is particularly acute when the parties are individuals and the subject matter is as dear as the enjoyment of one’s own home.  Take a minute and read Judge Stroud’s introduction.  The court explains esoteric concepts like “standing” and “special damages” in plain English.  Win or lose, the parties can read these two pages and understand the outcome.

As always, let us know if you find other exceptionally well-written opinions. The public (and the bar!) deserves more like this one.

–Matt Leerberg