Why are Basements Free?

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When it comes to hand-outs, Rye basement-builder welfare runs deep. The city’s basement FAR loophole amounts to a government subsidy that distorts the housing market and creates artificial incentives to hammer, chip and blast rock.

The loophole exists because our zoning laws are not keeping up with technology. Under the Rye city code, basements are still treated as a place for spiders and rusty water heaters rather than the modern climate-controlled entertainment space that exists under most new homes.

Does this mean we should outlaw basements? Of course not, but there are good reasons to count basements as livable space like other rooms in the house. While homebuilders routinely balance the size of kitchens, family rooms and bedrooms based on lot size and FAR there is no opportunity cost of adding a basketball court sized basement. Because of the basement FAR loophole, basements are protected from the free market process that governs the size of other rooms.

New basements and healthy real estate margins are natural and in many ways, desirable features of Rye’s robust real estate market. In a well-planned and well-balanced community, economic incentives help keep the system rolling. But loopholes in our zoning distort the market and create unintended consequences like monster basements and rock hammering that impact landowner rights to quiet enjoyment.

As our community continues to debate the need for a stricter noise ordinance, it would help to close the loophole and treat all livable space evenly. The basement FAR loophole is a symptom of Rye’s outdated zoning and master plan; looking forward, a master plan and improved land-use regulations will not only help preserve landowner rights, but also ensure long term economic sustainability.

 

 

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