Monday, December 31, 2007

Over the Top Award for December

The Over The Top award for December goes to Balderdash in Hayes-Barton. This historic design is of the eurofabulous influence, not historic old Raleigh. This section of upper Cowper is becoming castlefied one estate at a time.

Price: $ 3,695,000 / Bedrooms: 4 / Total Full Baths: 4 / Total Half Baths: 2 / Garage: 2-Car / Acres: .46 / R-4
Estimated Sq.Ft.: 1300 (?!) perhaps 7500... or 75,000.
House and lot purchased 7/20/2006 for $1.125M.


The history of the neighborhood, as taken from the Raleigh Architectural Survey, notes:
By contrast, the grandest of the second wave of suburbs is Hayes Barton, Raleigh's first twentieth century upper-class neighborhood. Bordered by Glenwood Avenue, Fairview Road, Williamson Drive, and St. Mary's Street, Hayes Barton is an exclusive residential district where pecan and willow oak trees shade Georgian and Colonial Revival houses along streets that bear the names of former North Carolina governors such as Jarvis, Reid, Stone, and Vance. The earliest house here dates back to June, 1920, when the suburb developed by the Allen Brothers and the Fairview Realty Company began its transformation from the cotton fields of B. Grimes Cowper. Marketed specifically towards the high end of the economic scale, Hayes Barton was named for Sir Walter Raleigh's birthplace in Devon, England.

Hayes Barton is one of several upper and middle-income suburbs in North Carolina designed by Earle Sumner Draper, a distinguished landscape architect. His layout of Hayes Barton was similar in overall character to Myers Park in Charlotte; in 1911, John Nolen, a pioneering city planner, had created the Myers Park design which was a highly influential diagram for spatial and social organization throughout the south. There, Nolen formulated components for a successful suburban enclave such as curving streets, greenway parks, streetcar transportation, and a restricted number of entrances. [35] Hayes Barton appealed to the well-to-do with its promise of privacy, large wooded lots, and commuting distance to downtown Raleigh.

Soon after utility linkages and paved roads were installed, there was a rush to build on the 175 acres. The design of the 1920s housing stock followed traditional and popular tastes, mainly large Colonial Revival houses. The majority of dwellings are two stories tall, built of masonry, with gable roofs and handsome restrained classical details. A substantial proportion of the houses are custom designs by local architects such as Thomas W. Cooper, William H. Deitrick, Charles Atwood, Arthur C. Nash, and James A. Salter. The most prolific builders in Hayes Barton were James A. Davidson, C. V. York, Howard Satterfield, John W. Coffey, and Roland Danielson. In some cases these men built from architects' designs, but some, such as Satterfield, designed as well as built houses. Nearly half of all the dwellings in Hayes Barton were erected during the 1920s; they were inhabited by insurance agents and bankers, physicians and attorneys, salesmen and administrators, many of whom were employed in downtown Raleigh. Hayes Barton was and is an area of impeccably manicured landscapes, and pristinely maintained residences which still house some of the capital city's political and social leaders.

A drive through the neighborhood reveals a diminishing mix of housing styles. Some of the later homes were built during earlier waves of infill. These houses are meeting with the wrecking ball and houses surpassing the current median value are taking their place. Watch out for the day when the older fine homes are deemed insufficient.

Raleigh Envy?

From The Charlotte Observer | Opinion | December 30, 2007

Reining in teardowns
Charlotte loses more than bungalows when neighborhoods flip

Here's an item of interest: Raleigh's City Council will start the new year by examining ways to rein in a troubling trend: teardowns that replace homes in established neighborhoods with behemoths that are out of scale and out of keeping .

Funny, we aren't hearing anything about that from Charlotte's City Council. We ought to be. It's rampant in valuable, close-in neighborhoods. Unchecked, the practice will undermine one of Charlotte's primary assets -- thriving older neighborhoods, mostly near the city center -- by changing the character, history and mix of incomes that make them appealing.

Take a drive through almost any of Charlotte's older neighborhoods -- Myers Park, Freedom Park, Plaza-Midwood, Sedgefield -- and you'll see the issue. Huge houses that sometimes dwarf neighboring residences are supplanting the sturdy bungalows and brick post-war homes that define those areas.

Teardowns aren't necessarily bad. But when you cram a three-story 6,000-square-foot home on a narrow urban lot designed to hold a story-and-a-half, 1,500-square-footer, you wind up with something that towers over existing homes and changes the streetscape. Do it enough and you also alter the diversity of those neighborhoods, which thrive, in part, because they offer housing affordable to a wide mix of income levels.

In Charlotte, there's not much to keep that from happening. The exception: In local historic districts new construction has to maintain the scale, proportion and context of the existing neighborhood. But such districts are small, and getting a neighborhood designated isn't easy.

In Raleigh the City Council is looking for other solutions. A year-long in-depth study will be completed this spring. Next month the council will consider requiring Planning Commission approval for additions or new construction 25 percent bigger than the original structure.

That's an idea with merit. It won't keep anybody from developing their property or adding on to their house. But it will provide oversight until more permanent measures are in place.

Charlotte's City Council should be seeking solutions, too -- now. The pace of change is astounding.

Why should cities care if big, new houses are altering the character of urban neighborhoods? Because those neighborhoods' value is tied to their character, their mix of people and the quality of life they sustain. Lose that, and you've lost more than bungalows and streetscapes.

Yep, so why is this a public policy issue and not a "no-brainer" about property rights? Repeating, "Why should cities care if big, new houses are altering the character of urban neighborhoods? Because those neighborhoods' value is tied to their character, their mix of people and the quality of life they sustain. Lose that, and you've lost more than bungalows and streetscapes." Fallonia would add, you lose the heart of the city itself.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Status of Things

From the N&O ...

Raleigh City Council to weigh control of teardown replacements

RALEIGH - Some say a proposal aimed at reining in teardowns could be the death knell for the city's housing market. Others say it's a good temporary fix to preserving the character of established neighborhoods.

The proposal before the City Council next month would require Planning Commission approval for home additions or new construction that is 25 percent bigger than the original structure.

"We have an issue here that needs to be dealt with in a fair way," said council member Thomas Crowder, who says the proposal -- with some fixes to simplify it -- has merit. ...

From the Independent:

Taming Raleigh's teardown trend
Raleigh city leaders, neighborhood activists and builders are considering two options to address teardowns and infill development. The number of teardowns in Raleigh has exceeded 600 since 2002.

The old council majority wouldn't touch it. The new majority, elected in October, is wrestling with it, and it's causing the first fissure in their ranks. The issue is the rash of teardowns in Raleigh, mostly in older, inside-the-Beltline neighborhoods, and whether new McMansions should be allowed to proliferate alongside—and perhaps muscle out—the ranches and bungalows of yesteryear. ...

These two articles will give you some idea of the public policy side of this debate. The address of your city councilors can be found at the end of this blog. I encourage anyone whose neighborhood is impacted by this trend to contact the city before the Jan. 8 meeting, and encourage your neighbors to be involved as well.

If not, this will become the prevailing wind in your neighborhood:
"The reasons these tax values are up is due to the teardown lot values," [Wes] Minton said. "A half acre lot is worth $500,000, $600,000, $700,000 ... If this proposal gets approved, your lot is no longer worth that."

Sunday, December 23, 2007

But Wait, There's More ...

My holiday gift to you, Over The Top Holiday Lights.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Happy Holidays

The Christmas Castle

BOSTON -- A homeowner in Jamaica Plain is drawing a lot of attention for his Christmas display.

NewsCenter 5's Mary Saladna reported that Dominic Luberto bought the single-family castle along the Arborway about one year ago. He said that Christmas lights have always been a life-long passion. "There are about 130,00 lights (on the house)," Luberto said. "Half done."

This blog details the progress on the display, and some dismay.

The informal friendly competition for house lighting at the holidays is now referred to as creating a "Dominic Luberto."

I have my own predictions as to which Raleigh castle would be mostly likely to install Luberto lighting.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Revisiting Rothgeb

Several houses in the area of this rebuilders' classic have traded hands recently. Expectations for their speculations may depend on the answer to this question ... how did the house do on the market?

Still asking $1,399,000 in June 2007, the retail market price, without going over is:
HMMM ... no sale listed.

But wait, there are lights on and people living there now. It must have its Certificate of Occupancy because it has a tax value now, listed to a builder. Current standings are--

Zoning R-4 Acreage .41

Pkg Sale Date 8/17/2005
Pkg Sale Price $335,000

NEW Heated Area 5,436
Land Value Assessed $399,600
Bldg. Value Assessed $705,533
Total Value Assessed $1,105,133

Recent speculative sales on Rothgeb (based on corporate names for the purchaser) include:

Zoning R-4 Acreage .37
Permit Date 11/14/2007 (could be a demolith by now)
Deed Date 10/10/2007
Pkg Sale Price $425,000
Heated Area 1,778

Zoning R-4 Acreage .46
Permit Date (none at this time)
Deed Date 8/23/2007
Pkg Sale Date 5/17/2007
Pkg Sale Price $365,000
Heated Area 1,270

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Breaking News

After all the speculation about Garage Majal on Glenwood ... the story on the street was that Mr X was building it for his own use, well, it is for sale.

Got a $2,300,000 windfall -- this one is for you. If you need to make payments, then a $500,000 down-payment will get you to the $11,000 a month range, 30 years. I think the SECU still requires 25% down and a 25 year loan, so if you are a state employee, those numbers will be higher.

Gotta warn you about the neighborhood, though. Some houses on that block are for sale in the $800,000 range.

For all you budding entrepreneurs, here are how the numbers add up:

Purchased price, 2005: $385,500
Newly appraised values:
Land Value Assessed $453,600
Bldg. Value Assessed $99,000

If you do the 3x flip, then $1.15 million would have been the expected price range. If you take $2.3M and divide by 3, you get $766,667, but the land was half that, so my guess is that the build cost plus the land equals half of the asking price.

Nice flip, sir. Those 7500 square foot houses have been a shortage in town.

And in this corner...

From the News & Observer

Pam Woodyard:
Oct 12, 2007
Like fine wine, homes should age well

Never before have I lived in an expanding area like North Raleigh. Even after six years here I am still thrilled and almost overwhelmed by all the development -- especially the residential development. ...

As I looked out the windows of a million-dollar home, it occurred to me that the homes of my childhood were older homes even for 30 years ago. Parade of Homes properties are new homes that are built to look like older homes on the outside.

I began to wonder, with all the new construction in Raleigh, what happens to our existing neighborhoods. In North Hills and other sections of the city, homes are being razed and replaced by new, larger properties featuring open floor plans. Sometimes this is tastefully done and in other instances taste is not part of the equation.

This columnist writes for the North Raleigh News, making it hard for Fallonia to be a regular reader. Written during the Parade of Homes, the columnist ponders the teardown and buildup trend, and offers some commentary on the issue. As a fan of "high-end" homes, she recently found herself looking out the window at the neighborhood beyond the house. "[T]o raze and replace changes the character of a neighborhood," notes Woodyard.

Her newcomer status shows in this quote: "Did you ever wonder how some neighborhoods become historic like Oakwood? Who allows them to age gracefully while other neighborhoods become worn down or torn down? " Could it be because of the craftsmanship of that era, she wonders. "According to [Sarah] Susanka's book, '...when a well crafted object ages, no matter what it is, society almost always helps it to age well.'"

Oakwood was pretty far down on its luck when it was plucked from the bulldozer jaws. The rest is history, as they say. As I watch the new wave of neighborhood teardowns, solid nicely-sized homes being bought to get a good address for huge 5-star resort-style homes, I think it is more than that. In Oakwood, there was potential and opportunity. In the parts of town that are at a similar age-span to Oakwood at that time, the prices are exorbitant, and the opportunity is for catching the wave while it is high. This puts the value of the home purely into the economic equation.

To a person, the new neighbor will speak of loving the the character of the old neighborhood. That does not change for them, as their windows still yield the same view, for now. The older residents don't see it quite like that anymore.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Is That What It Is Called?

From Memphis:

Real Estate & Development
Grace Development Couples Preservation With Infill
ERIC SMITH | The Daily News
A local company is putting a different twist on infill development by building new homes on a 1.3-acre East Memphis parcel while keeping the property's existing 1928 home in place.

Cluster of jewels
Infill developments typically involve the razing of homes, but the developers of this project were so enamored with the look and feel of the existing home that they chose to keep it, albeit with some minor upgrades, including an updated kitchen.

They figure a modernized home with "good bones" will be easy to market, especially one charming enough to be featured in Decorating Magazine 10 years ago for its interior designs.

"It should be a good opportunity for us and somebody else," Bagley said. "I think someone's going to get a jewel if they get that house. It's not very often you find an older house like that that's got those really nice features."

Add in a trio of large new homes on small lots - i.e., no lawn to worry about - and the developers and Realtor believe they have a winning formula.

There's a term for this:

"I don't know if it's going to be as simple as putting a sign up, but I do think there's a market in that area for zero-lot-line living," ...

Coming soon, to a neighborhood near you.

Monday, December 17, 2007


It takes a certain eye to see your home this way.

In general terms, here’s what ... custom-home developers are looking for when they drive by your home, if you live in the area from ... Park up through ... Hollow:

• Older homes, often ranch-style built from the 1940s to the 1960s.
• Houses 1,200 to 2,400 square feet.
• Deep lots that can accommodate new construction and leave space for a yard.
• Mature trees on the lot.
• The character of the block, i.e., the condition of the homes near the property, the setback requirements, etc.
• Other teardowns. “It takes a real gutsy builder to be the first one in an area."

Once you get a feeling for whether a property is a teardown—meaning its primary value is in the lot—then you run the numbers and see if you (or the potential developers to whom you sell) can make a tidy profit. In general, you want to be able to sell a new home for three times the lot (or teardown) value. If new homes are going for $750,000 in the neighborhood, you won’t want to pay much more than $250,000 for the lot. (When you get into multimillion-dollar homes, you can get away with 2.5 times lot price.) Then you talk to real estate agents, look at what houses have gone for in the neighborhood, check how many days they’re sitting on market, and talk to potential buyers.


Sunday, December 16, 2007

From the NY Times today

The Heart of Teardown Country
Published: December 16, 2007
HAVE you ever lived near a teardown in progress? Has it ever been your daily fate to deal with noise, smells, dirt and construction crews right next door — only to behold, after endless months, a space-hogging “mansionization” in place of the petite Cape Cod you used to find so sweet?

If not, your turn may come sooner than you think. Despite the overall problems troubling the nation’s real estate market, the New York metropolitan region has now surpassed Chicago, the former record holder, to become the teardown capital of the United States, according to a recent report by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which has been tracking the phenomenon since 2002. ...

On Speculation:

It is the size of the profit margins required by speculators that has caused some to opt out, said Daniel McMillen, a professor of economics at the University of Illinois at Chicago who has conducted a financial analysis of teardowns in the Chicago area. Builders like to sell for two or three times the original price, he said, so “the slowdown in the housing market will slow teardowns being done on speculation.”

But regardless of how quickly a teardown project goes or how much money the rebuild sells for, the neighbors always take notice. Some will probably be up in arms about a spate of demolitions destroying the character of their community; others will be delighted at the prospects that the new construction will increase their own property values.

Tensions and Solutions?
After watching the razing of several older houses in the hamlet of Oyster Bay, on Long Island, irate residents formed a group they called Save the Jewel by the Bay. It was instrumental in instituting an 18-month moratorium on both demolitions and new construction, which ended in June, said Kathryn Prinz, a founder. Now anyone planning to demolish a house built more than 50 years ago must appear before a review board to get permission.

Gordon F. Joseloff, the founder of a Connecticut online newspaper called, riled residents two years ago when he instituted a feature called Teardown of the Day. It includes a photograph of a property newly proposed for demolition, as well as the address, the listing details and the sale price.

Mr. Joseloff, who has since been elected Westport’s first selectman (the equivalent of mayor), believes that his site’s exposure of teardown properties was what persuaded the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission to impose a 90-day waiting period on such projects. In addition, the town has hired a land-use consulting firm to help develop laws to regulate the size of new houses. . . .

But neighbors can be equally vociferous in their support of teardowns. Mr. Joseloff says that he has fielded angry calls from Westport residents who accuse him of “messing with their nest egg” by imposing size restrictions that will ultimately damage their ability to reap a substantial profit from the sale of their homes.

Frank J. Mottola Jr., the Building Department’s director and the zoning officer for the Borough of Tenafly, N.J., said, “Neighborhood groups spring up only when we attempt to curtail the use of land in their area.” He receives several teardown applications each month, he said, and almost every one is for a much larger home.

“Our Planning Board grappled with this, to put a limit on the new construction so it doesn’t appear out of scale for the neighborhood,” he explained. But, he added, “people look at their home as more of an investment than they used to, and they don’t want their development rights curtailed.”

A good article, well worth the reading -- with an open mind. It should help identify the tensions and trends.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Historical Highlights

Fallonia is a big fan of recycling -- and all things historic. So here is a link to an early post on neighborhood history, which has a link to the Raleigh City Museum Architectural Survey, for the new readers among us.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Fallon Park Update

318 Avon

Zoning R-6
Acreage .18
Permit Date
Permit # 0000070471
Heated Area 1,207

Transfer Information
Deed Date 9/27/2007
Pkg Sale Date 9/27/2007
Pkg Sale Price $285,000

From Closing to Demo Permit: 2 weeks. As of today, using R-6 setback footprint, footings have been poured.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Guest Comment

People that care about protecting existing neighborhoods need to speak up. We are out numbered 4 to one in public meetings right now. Contact the news media and council members and Planning Commission members.

There are also discussions at:

and to name a couple.

Those links are easily found in the Reader Feeder on the right -FP

Fallon Park Update

Reaves Street Teardown 12/07/2007
The ink dried on 10/15/2007. The trees were in the truck by 12/10.

Why is every body always picking on me ...
--Wooly Wooly

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Infill Debate and the Planning Commission

Does this say Bloomsbury to you?

For those of you following the game of dodge ball the city is playing on the teardown field, the ball was bounced out of bounds today.

The plays so far: the planning department made some strict recommendations, which were tossed to the city council, who sent the problem back to the planning staff, who came back to the Council with 3 more plays, who tossed the whole matter to the planning commission, who stopped play today, and then kicked it out into the netherlands. Last we saw, a City Councilor was trying to find the ball to get it back into play.

The WRAL report is here. They say the total is now 600 homes. Fallonia is within one mile of 2 dozen of these. Just this month the average teardown activity is one a week.

A exploratory drive on Runnymeade will show that there are 9 new houses in a row at the start of the street, then a scattered situation of new houses as the street continues. There is no doubt in my mind that once the activity begins, it trends through the area until the old houses begin to look like they do not fit. Soon these will be new very expensive neighborhoods.

This is a sad state of affairs. This issue will be revisited at the January 8 City Council meeting. If you are concerned about things on your street, the time is here for letting the City know how you see this issue.

Monday, December 10, 2007

As the man said ...

Not every one is so excited about the gold mine.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Demographics Anyone

Browsing around town on the internet, looking up a particular property for sale in the area, I encountered a site called Obeo which allows you to research the real estate and the demographics. On this site I learned two things about my part of town: education and age. It is fascinating.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Big Bucks on Buckingham

A trip down Buckingham to Yarmouth to Westwood in Coley Forest reveals some interesting developments there. This neighborhood is one of Raleigh's hidden treasures, a thoroughly wooded, settled suburb dating back to the 50's and 60's. Because the houses are larger than the inner ring recovery-era houses, this neighborhood has been home to growing families for decades.

It looks like the building boom began as it usually does, a small dated house on a large lot (or two) gives way to a new larger home. Then it happens again, and again, and before you know it, Big Foot arrives.

Once this level of contrast begins, the real estate game is on. Like the Gold Rush, the momentum rises and the speculators arrive, loans in hand, to cash in on the opportunity.

There seems to be a money tree growing in our midst. Neighborhood by neighborhood, house by house, our way of life is challenged.

It raises important questions. I hope we have the guts to ask them.

Take a Sunday drive down any of the roads on our Magical Missinghouse Tour and the envision Raleigh of the future -- is it a place you will call home?

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Over the Top Award for November

November's OTT award winner is Chateau ChĂȘne Blanc. Almost complete, this home takes its place on a 1+ acre lot alongside other generously-sized properties on White Oak Rd. The land beneath this house is recently valued over $900,000. No record of the purchase price is available, it is zoned R-4.

OTT reported the original home's disappearance in June and September. Part of a continuing change on the major avenues, the mix of older homes and several new Over The Top houses and subdivisions are doing everything but blending together these days.

BTW, this lack of blend is duly noted on the City-Data Forum. After a wonderful description of life ITB, it concludes with this advice:

Be advised that living ITB comes with a cost premium. You will get less house (s.f.) than elsewhere. You will pay more per s.f. when you buy or rent. But, for those of us who think life is more about what happens outside our immediate property than inside, I highly recommend you give it a good long look.

Then a poster adds this:
I have read a little about tear down neighborhoods - problems with large homes over shadowing smaller older ones. Are certain neighborhoods more prone to this??

Some neighborhoods have fought for historic designation to ward off such vile activity. However, there are some neighborhoods where the existing home is in such bad repair that the cost of fixing it up is higher than scraping and building new. In these cases, you might see an appropriately scaled new home in a historic district.

If I were trying to avoid the most amount of scraping, I'd avoid Anderson Heights (Anderson Drive and White Oak Rd area). There is a lot of this sort of activity going on there mainly because there are lots of small homes on large lots near some of the most oustanding homes in the city. However, it's not just the small homes being scraped. Sometimes big homes are torn down in favor of even bigger, fancier ones. When they are done, there won't be any small(ish) homes in that neighborhood.
As for the neighborhoods that see less of this activity, I'd say that Cameron Park, Oakwood, Mordecai, Boylan Heights and Glenwood/Brooklyn are safer bets.

That takes us back full circle. I will miss the graceful older homes and the people who graced them.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

New and Improved

Two new widgets added to this blog ... a reader feeder for articles that are relevant, and a google map highlighting the teardown activity. I can open the map up for collaboration if readers would prefer.

Look to the right >>>>

Coming Soon, to a Neighborhood Near You

A local bi-political blog has opened the question of whether efforts by our city to deal with the issues of infill and refill in Raleigh's older neighborhoods is an effort to control growth in town disguised as neighborhood protection. In the post, the author suggests that it is "an odd thing" that any one would oppose redevelopment of existing neighborhoods with new higher priced homes. He suggests a building moratorium may be afoot.

To prevent further damage to Fallonia's sensitive inner balance, the following response was posted.

You raise a serious question here, but are minimizing the problems that can occur when a stable older neighborhood is changed drastically by new development. For the city to retain it's beautiful older charm, willy-nilly rebuilding is not in its best interest. A home that is built with respect to its neighbors will not elicit the same outrage as a home that is built only to maximize its profitability.

There is a balance to maintain so that people who have invested in living in their homes are not driven out because of rising valuations based on the recent sales of bigger homes in the neighborhood -- and the unpleasant conditions that constant construction brings.

For example, if the teardown movement gets next door to my house, the money I have invested in renovating my much smaller home may not be realized when I sell. Do I continue to care for my home (fix the foundation, pay big money to prune the trees, replace the windows) or do I just let it fall apart since it will be torn down now that the new neighborhood is unaffordable to me and my kind?

If everything unique about the city goes in the landfill, is the city still unique? Meeker and the city council are charged with care for the whole city, and this includes historic buildings, tree-lined streets, property and values. The dollar does not outweigh respect, and if some of the new infill was built with more consideration (and there is much that is built respectfully and creatively), it would have passed less noticed.

But this is not strictly about property rights or infill. Everyone in Raleigh needs to be paying attention, it can happen in any neighborhood if older well-priced stable communities can go down. What is going on is a turnover of ITB property to the highest bidder. Raleigh is not special in this regard, but to keep a mixture of population and housing near the city core, there will need to be some revision of the current code.

Atlanta did a good job of this. The architects and home builders worked with the city to come up with a better code for existing neighborhoods. The only way they were brought to the same table was thru a moratorium, however. Interrupting the flow of cash may be the only language that brings better outcome for all. [see Atlanta Infill Task Force on this blog]

From where I sit, the city would not want to cut off the flow of cash to them by being too strict in town, but could this be about trying to bring reason to the table?

If you have not done so, please let our City Councillors know your thoughts on this subject. A link is provided at the end of this frame.

Your way of life depends on it.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

What Gives

Searching around the new Raleigh Real Estate assessments ...

Did you know that some of the OTT award winners pay less tax than you and I?

Take a look.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Let's Reminisce

Frequent arguments For teardowns revolve around the obsolescence and size of older houses. Fallonia contends that more often the house is in the way of the desired lot. Stories exist on this blog about each of these examples, but I am re-posting some here together to help form the bigger picture.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Someone Said IT

and I point you to Bob Mulder's Point of View in today's News & Observer.

"Keeping house sizes in the existing neighborhood"

Only available in the print edition Opinion Page. It is worth finding a newspaper to read.

UPDATE Nov 26, a link is now available.

Monday, November 19, 2007


Text Change: Interim Infill Standards

BE THERE or Be Square

Friday, November 16, 2007

What If ...

Now here is one those good ideas that could catch on far and wide.

College Park 'Great Additions' tour combines historic homes, modern lifestyle

November 15, 2007

From cobbled streets to contemporary architecture, the College Park neighborhood of Orlando offers a blend of old and new.

The delicate act of bringing modern features into established homes provides the theme for this year's College Park Historic Homes Tour.

Now in its 17th year, the tour Sunday will include an assortment of homes that fit into the theme, "Great Additions."

"One of the main things that College Park residents are concerned about, said Jodi Rubin, chairwoman of the tour, is the tear-downs and replacement with monster houses, or the inappropriate additions that are really large."

"We are showing how you can live in a College Park house that is added on to and is still appropriate in size to maintain the historical exterior integrity of the home and charm of the street and still have the functionality of a modern home." ...

So, what if more neighborhoods decided to encourage and celebrate the great solutions utilized in updating older homes. After all, that is what brings the character to a place ... the best designs are solutions to problems, and the problem of adding space to a small well-built house is one that only the best builders can take on.

In this neck of the woods, generally 3 builders are responsible for the best renovations. All the rest of the signs, there are at least 10 at this time within a mile, are doing new builds in the over 3000 square foot range. Only one builder in the teardown craze has been known in these parts for a while. The rest are new to the game, many with names that are meant to evoke majesty, or the fortunes there of.

The historic character of a neighborhood has always been important to me. It is a shame to lose all of that to mediocre modern design. The historic fabric of a community kind of tells us where we came from. — College Park resident

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Hot Off the Hot Potato

A Post on Talking About Politics reveals someone's view of the inner workings of the zoning text changes to be be discussed at the Nov. 20th City Council meeting. This wording matches a document being sent throughout the builder and development community. There is a movement afoot to derail this approach to saving the character of our older neighborhoods. Expect a crowd and a contentious debate as Raleigh wrestles with the definition of growth.

Without some text changes, growth will continue to mean this.

Back in the Day

I enjoyed this read at a fellow Raleigh blog. Reminded me of the good old days where the country was 12 minutes away in any direction. Particularly fun was the old Reedy Creek Road, which wound its way past the NCSU research farms, Umstead Forest, and Reedy Creek itself. Parts of its wildness still exist, other parts are getting developed or swallowed whole. There was one dirt road that was more ruts than than dirt. The old Valiant took to it like a Jeep.

But I digress.

The small-town-ness of Raleigh has given way to a pleasing mixture of small town, suburban, and now urban. This pleasant mixture will be forced to make some hard choices if economics rule the scene. We give up something unique every time an older home bites the dust. It is not just about the house, it is about a way of life. It hurts to see us haul it away.

Check out the story above. He has said it better than I.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Interesting Little Tidbit

This is from
Mansions may face resale obstacles
By Jay MacDonald •

Are McMansions McOver?
Opinions vary, even among the experts.

If recent trends are any indication, however, the bigger-is-better approach to residential real estate may already be giving way to a more reasoned levelheadedness, both in home buying and building.

No, don't expect a return to that less-is-more, small-is-beautiful aesthetic from the Age of Aquarius; there is absolutely nothing austere going on here. Rather, call it a redefinition or right-sizing of what we consider luxury living that has more to do with architectural scale, energy efficiency and creating livable space than with gross square footage.

Like some real estate equivalent of the SUV, McMansions have been the object of scorn and ridicule since they started elbowing their way onto the suburban landscape in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Loosely defined as a house between 5,000 and 10,000 square feet with soaring grandiose entryways and multicar garages, often jammed onto an undersized lot, McMansions quickly went from ostentatious status symbol to something even the Joneses didn't want to keep up with.

"I think a lot of people who could well afford a McMansion today would find it embarrassing on aesthetic, environmental and political grounds, rather like movie stars who could afford a Hummer but choose instead to drive a Prius," says architect James Gauer, author of "The New American Dream: Living Well in Small Homes."

Shifting winds
As a historic confluence of factors -- boomer inheritances, the post-2000 tech stock collapse, superlow interest rates, the mortgage lending explosion -- drove America on a cattle stampede to invest in real estate, more and larger forces -- including energy costs, higher interest rates, the mortgage lending implosion and demographic shifts -- have now slowed the market to a surly teenager's stroll.

The housing times, they are a' changin' -- again. If during the past couple of years you bought a much larger home than you needed, primarily for investment purposes, you might want to cover your eyes now.

"I firmly believe that when the housing market slows, you'll see a short-term drop in the demand for large homes. But in the longer run, it's going to be even more challenging to sell these because the average household size of the boomers is going to go down as the last kids leave," says Thomas Lawler, a housing consultant based in Vienna, Va. "Builders will respond by reducing the number of those homes they build, but you can't turn that on a dime."

Meaning the inventory of McMansions is likely to grow. And grow. And grow. Could we one day see a landscape with large white elephants lingering on the market?

"I find it difficult to see how we won't," Lawler says.

Gopal Ahluwalia, vice president of research for the National Association of Home Builders, isn't as quick to perform last rites on the McMansion.

"There is a definite decline in those homes, but are they on their way out? No. This happens often as the housing market goes up and down. They are not on their way out; they have slowed down with the whole housing market," he says.

The SUV of suburban homes
In recent years, McMansions also became an attractive alternative to investing in the stock market.

"We know that, beginning right around the latter part of 2003 and 2004, there was a fairly dramatic increase in the number of people who bought real estate as an investment," says Lawler. "There are two ways that an individual can increase their investment in real estate: buy a rental property or just buy a bigger home. Most people want to invest in real estate but not everyone wants to be a landlord."

During the past 30 years, a curious phenomenon occurred: The size of American homes increased at the same time that family size decreased. Ahluwalia says the average home size has grown from 1,500 square feet in 1970 to a projected 2,450 in 2006. U.S. Census figures show the average household size declined from 3.14 people in 1970 to 2.58 people in 2002.

Ahluwalia says the average home size and what Americans consider their optimal home size seem to have reached a sweet spot at roughly 2,400 square feet, less than half the size of the smallest McMansion.

"I don't think the home size will continue to increase anymore," he says.

The trouble with hugeness
There are numerous reasons why McMansions are in decline:

McMaintenance. The cost of maintaining a McMansion continues to rise. Energy, insurance and home maintenance costs are all affected by home size. Energy costs have been on a tear nationally; over the past three years, natural gas is up 43 percent and electricity rose 12 percent, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. If you own an average-size home but fancy a McMansion, imagine these bills suddenly doubling. Or tripling.

McFinancing. McMansions looked better when interest rates were lower. With rates on a 30-year fixed mortgage at 6.29 percent as of early May 2007, a $1 million McMansion would cost you $6,183 per month; the same manse at 5.28 percent in June 2003 would have cost you $5,541 a month.

"Interest rates are still relatively low, but as rates rise, as they inevitably will, the cost of financing the 5,000 square feet you think you want will look very unattractive compared to the cost of financing the 2,000 square feet or less that you actually need," says Gauer.

McTaxes. It's hardly news that municipalities from coast to coast have been rapidly reappraising and reassessing homes to capture revenue based on "bubble" values. Not good news if you own a McMansion.

"I think property taxes are getting to be a huge factor," says Gauer. "Cities and towns across North America are scurrying to bring real estate appraisals up to date so they reflect currently inflated values. For many homeowners, the tax bill is more than doubling."

McInvestment. As the housing market slows to a crawl, the demand for McMansions as an investment has declined. "An obvious reason is the desire for people to have a larger amount of their net worth invested in real estate has gone down," Lawler says. "You would expect that the larger homes are going to have less home price appreciation, and possibly more home price depreciation, over the next decade than would be the case for the smaller homes. There is a tendency for people to focus on how much housing they actually want."

McResale. Simply put, who's going to want my McMansion? The buyer pool may be drying up as boomers downsize for retirement and Gens X and Y eschew size for more modest, versatile modern spaces they can afford. If you built a much larger home than others in your neighborhood, it may take you additional time to find a buyer.

Ahluwalia recently polled 50 select architects for an NAHB study, "The Home of the Future." The consensus was that America's new home aesthetic emphasizes upgraded amenities (premium countertops, hardwood floors, heated flooring, Sub-Zero refrigerators), increased functionality (larger and more garages, multiuse rooms), higher ceilings and improved light (more windows, recessed lighting), all in a footprint of about 2,400 square feet.

"Previously, more people were saying, 'We want space. We'll add the features later on.' Now, a lot of people are saying, 'We want features.' That is the main difference," says Ahluwalia.

That said, he expects McMansions to remain a viable and even desirable option well into the future, even if it takes longer to find the right buyer. The reason? It's as simple as human nature.

"Why do people buy huge houses? Because they can afford it. It's the same as asking why do you buy a $90,000 Mercedes when the same function can be provided by a $30,000 car? I can afford it, I like it and I have enough to spare. It does not have to do with the functional need of the space. If the lifestyle can afford it, it's a good investment."

Jay MacDonald is a contributing editor based in Texas.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

"Remaking Raleigh" by Bob Geary

Remaking Raleigh: Visions for an urban landscape in 2030
Planning Director Mitch Silver sees a 21st-century city
By Bob Geary

The most important element in a comprehensive plan, says Raleigh Planning Director Mitch Silver, is the vision statement. You pick a point in the future—2030 in this case. You determine your desired outcome: What do you want your city to look like? Then you write down the policies that will make it so, draw a land-use map to go with them and adopt zoning codes to steer it. Pretty dry.

But it wasn't dry at all when an energized Silver described his own vision for Raleigh at last month's meeting of the Special Transit Advisory Commission (STAC), a 29-member regional body studying whether—and how—to graft a rail and bus system onto the fast-growing Triangle. Silver told them transit "is not an option, it's a necessity" if Raleigh and its neighbors are to remain economically competitive.

"All great cities have great transit," he declared.

But to make transit work, Raleigh will also need growth management, Silver continued. Raleigh's new comprehensive plan, expected to take shape by 2009, will emphasize both: City leaders are intent on changing development patterns from strictly suburban to newly urban—and on designating specific transit corridors where it's possible to create the dense, but also walkable, bikeable places that appeal to young folks and empty nesters, too.

Raleigh's been looking at possible streetcar routes, Silver said, rapid-fire. It's getting into matters of "public realm." It's going "multi-modal." It's hoping the region will go that way with it.

This extract should give you an idea of the places this story goes. By far my favorite quote is this.

"When I took this job," Silver concluded, slowing his cadence for emphasis, "everybody said, 'Please, we don't want to be Atlanta.' What's ironic is that we seem to be making all the same mistakes as Atlanta did. But the good news is, we still have time to correct our mistakes."

Be sure to visit the Indy for the full story. Bob Geary is one of our best local journalists.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The View

Things are progressing in my neighborhood, in the last week these 2 houses hit the dump.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Painted Ladies Tour

Beauty skin deep
November 1, 2007
By MARY GRAHAM Staff Writer | Sun-Times

As a youngster, Louis Perlia walked by a stately Queen Anne home, circa 1895, on Forest Avenue in Evanston on his way to school.

Even then "I had my eye on this beauty," Perlia said. Little did he know that 40 years later as owner of Graphic Construction and Painting he'd embellish the grande dame into its grand-prize winning status in this year's Chicago's Finest Painted Ladies competition. ...

This beautification project for homes originated in Chicago, receiving national attention when seven of its winners were featured in Painted Ladies, U.S.A. by Michael Larsen and Elizabeth Pomada.

Entries are judged by the beauty of paint application, how colors chosen fit the home or business property and how the finished project fits its surrounding neighborhood. Categories include profession and non-professional in six Chicago and suburban areas....

Now this is fun.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Over in Greensboro

Growing pains in Irving Park
By Jim Schlosser | Greensboro News & Record
Friday, Nov. 2, 2007 3:00 am

Amid yard signs touting City Council candidates, another kind of sign is popping up in exclusive Irving Park.

"Let's preserve the character of Old Irving Park ..." the signs say.

Irving Park carries with it a deep history in Greensboro. It has been a "good" neighborhood since it began in 1911. Quoting one resident, the teardown trend "is changing the appearance of Irving Park." She adds that it is a "unique neighborhood'' and was designed by two renowned early 20th-century landscapers, northerners John Nolen and Robert Cridland.

"It is not the teardowns that upset everyone in Irving Park, that is to be expected a little with age. It is what is being built on those empty lots."

This is the chorus to songs being sung in older neighborhoods across this land. The times they are a changing. But are zoning regulations the answer, or consciousness raising, sensitivity training for the builders, Golden Rule lessons for the buyers? I suggest a visit to for the complete article.

Here's a clue, tho.

Although many replacement houses have blended well, others meet only minimum setback requirements — and those are meager, [the resident] says.

The rules mandate houses stand at least 30 feet from main roads, such as Sunset and Country Club drives, and 25 feet on smaller streets.

In the old days, setbacks hardly mattered. Wealthy families built large houses far back to allow for spacious lawns.

The city has yet to approve an NCO district. Westridge Road's application is winding through the approval process, which Sertell says can take six to 18 months. ...

Although some of Irving Park's 719 property owners surely will oppose being an NCO district, [the resident] says, "Everyone has come up to me, and said we should have done this 75 years ago.''

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Over the Top Awards for October

This month's Over The Top award goes to:

Xanadu on Oberlin

You know the one.

Just so you know, that 1.23 acre tract is zoned R-6, which allowed the 13,022 (heated) square foot house to use a maximum footprint. You can see how that looks quite easily by tracking the depth and girth of this project from the road.

This property changed hands twice, first in 2003 and then again in May 2005. Looks like the occupancy permit for this single family home will be coming up soon, the landscaping has begun.

To help you with perspective, 3 doors down is St. John's Baptist Church, which weighs in at 2 acres and 16,773 square feet.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Houstonist

Another web site is tracking teardowns in their community:

Teardowns of the Week

Speaking of
Once named a "scenic wooded wonderland" with streets named after operas, Memorial Bend is losing its charm, one house at a time. This week, say goodbye to 12927 Tosca (picture) and 12802 Hansel (picture). You will be able to see the new homes in the works shortly, and they eerily resemble the Cali-Medi-Tuscan flair of Sonoma.

In this first report, there are residential and commercial properties listed. Both are speculative opportunities for above average housing options. After all the older middle class neighborhoods are converted to eurofabulous homes, I am wondering where all the worker bees will live. Seems to be a widespread trend afflicting older neighborhoods everywhere. Is it possible these new neighborhoods will be as sustainable as the neighborhoods they replace? And will these city residents be able to sustain the cities where they live?

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Beyond Repair?

It is possible that this house has met the end of its useful life.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Million Dollar Babies

There are now 9 over-a-mil ready-to-buy houses within a mile of my modest homestead (actually I think my home is quite nice, but the scale is changing dramatically, so I guess I am living in a future teardown in someone else's mind).

There are also two tornout lots available for approximately 500K each. One of these lots had plans for a 5000 square foot private home, those plans were abandoned after the teardown. (see several stories in June and July).

Two in the 1.25-1.5M range have sold this summer; the on-sale prices were $1.1M and 1.15M.

The replacement house for the poster child for teardowns on Anderson has a SOLD sign already on its new build. I am thinking it is less expensive than its half-sibling, dubbed "Entertainer's Paradise " by their builder cum real estate company. That house has a price tag of TBD, BTW.

This means that over on the sidestreets of Anderson, there are still 5 spec castles in the over 1.25M range, and some have sat vacant a long time (a year is a long time, right?). The over-a-mil spec house on Cooleemee has been in process since before Tropical Storm Ivan blew through.* Unsold: 6 out of 9, 2 out of 2; shooting too high? We are looking at approximately $10 million dollars at stake here.

And this does not include 3 properties in process on Claremont.

* The original speculator on this property was fined for his failure to secure the site against runoff. During Ivan, a red stream flowed from this construction site to Fallon Creek for days.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Another one down

The second teardown on Cooleemee was completed this week. The house sat next to the May OTT award winner, which, by the way, is still for sale.

The house sold for $300,000 on 9/28/2007. 926 square feet, built 1950, on .25 acres. Renovation in 1990.

The first thing to go was the trees.

Cooleemee was part of a rezoning effort in the 1980's -- from R-6 to R-4 to match the buildout of the neighborhood. Imagine how this would look if these houses were built even closer to each other and the street.

So, will it be a compatible structure with the existing neighborhood, or the imposing new neighborhood they are building on top of us?

Fallonia holds out hope for an undermilliondollar house here. But she is not putting money on it.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Raleigh's Comprehensive Plan

Raleigh to update its growth guide
David Bracken, Staff Writer | The News & Observer | October 25

RALEIGH - The rapid pace of Raleigh's growth is forcing officials to rewrite the city's core planning document for the first time in nearly two decades.

Today, the city begins a 15-month public process to update its comprehensive plan, which is Raleigh's long-term vision for how it should grow.

The comprehensive plan -- a document about the size of two phone books -- is perhaps the most important city document residents have never heard of. It helps determine where roads, parks and greenways go, as well as how crowded certain areas of the city should become. ...

In this article, we learn that Raleigh's current population is 368,000, an increase of more than 70 percent since the latest comprehensive plan update in 1989. It is possible that the next twenty years could bring growth of another 70 percent, that is if the remaining undeveloped land (20,000 acres) is built out to the current plan. Or not.

Another hot-button issue that the updated plan will have to deal with is infill development. Over the next 20 years, older areas of the city will experience some redevelopment as property owners tear down existing houses and put up larger buildings.

"The biggest issue is how we'll approach density and infill," said Brad Mullins, chairman of the Raleigh Planning Commission.

The Planning Department will hold three citywide workshops next month at which residents will be asked to say what they want the updated plan to include. Silver said that those priorities will help guide public funding. For instance, the 1989 plan made greenways a priority and set the stage for the current greenway system.

In addition to this article, you can learn more about this important issue by attending the Comprehensive Plan Update Kickoff. Say what, you say?

WHAT: Comprehensive plan kickoff event

WHERE: Art gallery in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St.

WHEN: 7 to 9 p.m. today

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Out of This World

Unusual Architecture From Around the World

From incredibly cool to totally weird; a collection of unusual houses and buildings from around the World.

This a great collection of imaginative designs. I am thinking the thin house could fit on my driveway if I can get a permit.

Monday, October 22, 2007

On a Tear

These folks mean business.

'Monster house' is neighborhood's nightmare

Photo by Jeff Wheeler
Residents of the 5300 block of Oaklawn Avenue in Edina, many of whom have posted signs in their yards protesting a large new house going up on the block, have watched as nearby neighborhoods have been altered by developers who buy old houses, raze them and replace them with homes much bigger than the neighbors’.

Some Edina residents fear that a big new house will hurt a quaint neighborhood on Oaklawn Avenue, just as large new homes have taken over other nearby streets. They're not taking it lying down.

By Mary Jane Smetanka, Star Tribune
Last update: October 20, 2007 – 6:57 PM

For years, residents of the 5300 block of Edina's Oaklawn Avenue watched nervously as the big-home developments known as "monster houses" rumbled ever closer to their quiet street.
This fall, Godzilla stomped onto their block with a roar.

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."

Oaklawn's rebellion presents a dilemma for the city, pitting the wants of residents who helped make their neighborhood a desirable place to live against the rights of property owners to do what they like with their land within the law.

For the city, big new houses renew housing stock, add to the tax base and help attract new, affluent families.

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."

Pam Starkey is one of the Oaklawn residents who oppose the new house.

"The developers don't care, they're going to build it, get the biggest bang for their bucks and get out of town. They have no emotional investment," she said. "We all love this neighborhood. ... It makes you sick that you're going to look out of your window and see this right there when everyone has done so much to preserve and maintain the homes."

"Street of dreams"

Monster houses have been an issue in southwest Minneapolis, St. Louis Park and some other inner-ring suburbs, but ground zero just may lie a few blocks from Oaklawn on Edina's Halifax Avenue. A decade ago, Halifax was lined with modest homes on big lots that were just a stone's throw from the shops at 50th and France. Developers bought those lots, razing the houses and putting in big new homes. Some Edina residents began calling Halifax "the street of dreams" or "millionaire's row."

There are not many older homes left on Halifax near 50th and France, but among those that remain, it's common for lots to be worth twice as much as the houses on them.

Oaklawn residents watched with trepidation as Halifax was rebuilt. Then houses were razed and replaced on surrounding streets. Yet Oaklawn -- which one resident described as a "Leave It to Beaver" street of mostly 1930s and 1940s New England-style houses with dormers and big oak trees in the yards -- remained untouched.

Until now.

Residents agree with Paul Peloquin, the project manager for Dailey Homes, that the 1937 Cape Cod at 5308 Oaklawn had fallen into disrepair and had been mostly vacant in recent years. Still, the house sold for nearly $630,000 last spring.

In an e-mail, Peloquin said it's no mystery why his company was interested in building on Oaklawn. "Edina is a high-demand area that supports sales values and costs for tear-downs and in-fill development," he wrote. He said Dailey has built similar homes in Edina and in Linden Hills in Minneapolis. To his knowledge, none has drawn objections.

On the Oaklawn site, much of the new five-bedroom, five-bath house that Peloquin described as "traditional" in appearance will be below ground. Only about 3,700 square feet will be above grade, he said, and the building will stand about 27 feet high, below the city limit of 30 feet. The main roof will have sloping sides and ends, which Peloquin said should reduce the visual impact of the structure.

Peloquin didn't have to ask for any zoning variances for the house. But Edina has been studying and tinkering with its zoning requirements for some time. Last spring, setback requirements on side yards were adjusted for smaller lots. New height requirements are being discussed. North of 50th Street and east of Hwy. 100, there is a moratorium on teardowns in the historic Country Club district while a detailed survey of properties is done.

Neighborhood integrity

One of the reasons Oaklawn residents are alarmed by the new house is that most lots on their street are relatively small, measuring 60 by 135 feet. A giant house can block light and views and ruin the integrity of the neighborhood, they said.

Many of the homes on the block, which have market values between $550,000 and $750,000, have been remodeled. But the work was done in a way that was invisible from the street and had little effect on neighbors.

"Everybody is interested in upgrading their homes and having the amenities," said homeowner Peter Robb. "But it is possible to do it without destroying the neighborhood."

The Oaklawn block is tightknit, with kids running between houses, people caring for each other's kids and dogs, and regular get-togethers. A few residents have declined to put protest signs in their yards. But many were involved in a video made for a presentation at a City Council meeting.

Residents were incensed earlier this month when the council declined to watch the video, saying that viewing it at that meeting would have violated policy. Residents were invited to show it at a later meeting. Someone then put the video on YouTube, where as of Friday, it had been viewed more than 1,200 times.

The Oaklawn group has begun to hear from other people who oppose some of the new homes. While it looks like they will not be able to stop construction of the new house, residents said they will press city officials on zoning and monitor the efforts to rewrite those rules.

"They won't do anything at City Hall unless you change the ordinances," Starkey said. "I feel like we're butting our heads up against the wall, and it's getting later and later and later."

Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380

Mary Jane Smetanka •

© 2007 Star Tribune. All rights reserved.

The Heart of the Matter

Edina Neighbors Distraught Over Teardowns
By Bruce MacDonald

We sometimes think of Edina as a wealthy enclave but it’s really an old Minneapolis suburb comprising smaller houses, by today’s standards. Neighbors on Oakland Avenue have produced a video to express their outrage at builders who teardown ...
VIDEO here

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Palais De Fortune

Mega-Mansion Quiz:

Where would you expect to find the new gated community called Palais De Fortune?
1) Norway
2) Wisconsin
3) Los Angeles
4) Beijing
5) New Orleans
6) Inside the Beltline

On a tour of a model home in Palais De Fortune, sales manager [Madam Doe] points out features one might expect in any French-style chateau. There are sculptures of cherubs adorning the front gate, a Swarovski crystal chandelier hanging above a sweeping central staircase, and a maid in a lace-ruffled uniform waiting at the front door.

The answer and complete story can be found here.

WSJ | Oct 19 : A look inside [these] "villa compounds," gated communities of multi-million dollar homes that give a view of what it's like to be rich in a country that's coming to terms with being communist in name only. WSJ's Geoffrey Fowler reports.

Just 10 meters away, another miniature Versailles rises out of the Beijing smog, and down the road there are 172 more like it. The sight is a jarring reminder that this gated community, where houses cost about $5 million and measure approximately 15,000 square feet, isn't in France. It's one of the most exclusive, if architecturally incongruous, neighborhoods in China. ...

Saturday, October 20, 2007

What Residents Want to Say

OPINION Letters: Little Forest Hills
Saturday, October 20, 2007 | Dallas Morning News
Residents want to 'Keep Little Forest Hills Funky.' Is that reasonable in the age of teardowns?

Builders Johnny-on-the-spot with big houses

Re: "'We got discovered' – Some say teardowns tear at charm of White Rock neighborhood, push for conservation district," Wednesday news story.

I'm so glad Little Forest Hills builders have come to our rescue. I don't know what we would do without their "help."

I'm sure there is no other solution than a 3,000-square-foot home in a neighborhood where two-thirds of the homes are between 700 and 1,200 square feet.

How much does a builder make on a 3,000-square-foot home anyway?

Dan Levine, Dallas

Pleasant Little Forest Hills ambiance is lost
I have lived in Little Forest Hills since 1994. I fell in love with the neighborhood as soon as I found it, which was not so easy back then.

The neighborhood has changed. I do not enjoy walking to the park anymore because of the large homes that have been built.

Jeff Dworkin said, "By building houses, are you ruining the neighborhood or are you bringing in new people?" Well, you know what? I like the people that are already here.

Not long ago, the residents of the Ash Creek mobile home park, which had been here for decades, were driven out of their homes. As new development came in, the new residents could not tolerate that mobile home park.

Are the residents in Little Forest Hills going to face the same thing? Will there be excuses made to try to condemn our little homes so the developers can have our lots?

Steven Boll, Dallas

There are always trade-offs
Jeff Dworkin states that Little Forest Hills' great location makes people want to move in there, but people don't want houses that small. Sorry, but people do want to live there, and they already are.

Mr. Dworkin means his customers don't want houses that small. Tough. Some people want to live in Highland Park for the great schools but don't want the mortgages or taxes. There are always trade-offs.

Sandra Matthews, Dallas

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Ironic or iconic?

Noticed a large van emblazoned with GEEK SQUAD coming out of my neighborhood. It even had ladders on the roof rack.
Odd, I thought, computers are so much smaller these days. Then I noticed the side said "Home Theater Division."

Now it makes sense.

But only sort of. When you think about it, going to the movies used to be a social activity, so now we are trending that to being more part of our private lives. And need a room for it. Okay.

But now we prefer to have a cup of coffee as a social occasion?

Market trends. Something I will never really understand.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Confusing Claremont

The first street in this neighborhood to undergo "revitalization" was Claremont. Young couples were moving into new houses that were built in the style of old bungalows, with more size and amenities. Builders were working their way up and down the street a house at a time. The downside was the loss of affordable housing, the upside was the new houses had nice setbacks and yards and attempted to blend with the older tone. It was a little odd to see craftsman-style homes replacing homes that were built after WWII, and some in the early 60s, but teardowns-aside, respect for other values was in the right direction, something that has not been observed in many rebuilds.

Concern for original houses remained, though, whether the house next door would also bite the dust as the new neighborhood appeared. It's a size thing, you know; this row is now in play.

Then some other forces entered the mix. As the land rush continued, million-plus dollar homes began appearing. Three of three are still empty at this time. Note the unique blending of home styles as individual speculation continues.

And now, across the street from another perfectly unfitting 3 story river house, comes not one, but two new large builds. One is clearly intended to be a mansion. The other merely a very large house. Le Manse is being squeezed in between a new bungalow and beautifully kept older ranch. This one goes for another style, huge and genteel is the best I can come up with. It kinda dwarfs most of the other new houses.

This ranch is the vine-ripened tomato in a huge speculator all bun sandwich. Best I can tell, the only way they offended the gods of fate was to settle in and love their homestead. Surrounded on all sides and their view across the street obliterated, by what market rule do they get protection?