Saturday, June 30, 2007

Favorable Outcome on Anderson

This month's award is going to a Positive Development. You can see in these pictures that a 1940's house is enlarged, updated, and basically recreated without major expansion into the setbacks or sky. Nestled in the old trees, this house makes perfect sense.


And After

Sorry about this angle, but good builders deserve credit.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Two Men and Some Trucks

Checking out the demolition site from Wednesday, we are down to a large hole in the ground. Two large dump trucks have been moving the debris. The red thing in this picture is the top of one large truck. There are two men working with the backhoe and no safety precautions.

Across the street, two day camps are meeting at the school this week.

I looked at the earth at a site that was cleared last week and is being prepared for new construction. This is what the soil will contain from here on, Chunky Monkey.

And this City Inspections permit shows that it passed.

Are there safety and hazardous material inspections during the demolition?

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Are Teardowns Dangerous?

Two words:
Lead and Asbestos

Two places:
On-site and the Landfill

That is a school across the street.

For the uninitiated, these are asbestos pipe wrappings.


Pictures taken June 27, 8 am.

For more information on this topic:

Forum in Glen Ellyn, Illinois

Environmental Report in Glen Ellyn, Illinois

Construction and demolition debris management North Carolina

Asbestos in North Carolina

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

McMansions Defined

Would you believe that Wikipedia has a complete section on the trend. Check it out here.

Here are some of the tidbits worth noting.

Starting in the U.S. boom years of the 1980s, the houses now known as McMansions were a new concept intended to fill a gap between the modest suburban tract home and the upscale custom homes found in gated, waterfront, or golf-course communities. Subdivisions comprised of McMansions have been developed around such communities, while others are built in pre-existing neighborhoods, either in empty lots or as replacements for torn-down structures.

It has been suggested that their popularity may not be purely based on consumer desires. Adjusted for inflation, in terms of square footage and features, a house in 2006 costs about the same to build as a house in 1970. Therefore, in order to increase profit margins over previous years, builders need to build more expensive houses (more features and square footage) on the same tracts. ...

Size: The foremost characteristic of a McMansion is the impression of its largeness, particularly when compared with smaller, older nearby housing. ...

Construction and materials: McMansions are most commonly framed with generic materials to facilitate construction, using the same wood-framed studwall construction as smaller houses, typically with 2x4 (38×89 mm) studs, while also incorporating more expensive surfacing materials such as hardwood, stone, tile, ironwork, and upscale appliances.

Architectural features typically include more and larger rooms and extra lifestyle conveniences. Advances in building technology have provided less costly ways for features to be incorporated. Large rooms, with large ceiling areas, would not have been possible without metal connector plates to unify the wooden struts, which can be nailed by hand. Alternatively, 5-way or larger pre-fabricated wooden trusses can be used. This allows much larger roofs over an unsupported span, without the expense of metal I-beams or concrete spans. ...

Exterior style: In addition to the general impression of largeness, the other common feature are their tendency to incorporate architectural elements from non-native historical styles. The styles most commonly drawn on are classical and neoclassical architecture, or the half-timbered European styles, particularly English, Tudorbethan, Jacobethan, and French chateau styles. Elements taken from these architectural styles are often decorative, rather than design or construction features.

The most common decorative elements used are roofs, porches, and windows. Roof spaces that contain rooms rather than attics offer ample opportunity for dormers and cross-gables. Porches, being the focus of the front elevation, are often columned and pedimented with oculus or "bull's-eye" windows.

Another characteristic often found is the use of a more expensive building material, such as brick or stucco, on the front side of the house and a much cheaper material, such as vinyl siding, on the sides not facing the street. ...

The Ten-Minute House: The movement of the "atrium concept" home layout from popularity to ubiquity in modern American architecture stems largely from the "Ten Minute House" theory that has been espoused by real estate developers, realtors, and home builders. Economic changes in recent decades have made Americans change jobs more frequently, often necessitating moving. Today, the average American family will change houses every six years.

Consequently, houses change owners more frequently and thus must be designed to be marketable and appealing to as many people as possible, with less emphasis placed on the specific needs of the house's initial buyer. Most realtors agree that a client will like or dislike a house within ten minutes of entering. Combining a home's foyer with a two-story 'great-room' leaves secondary rooms more visible, making it easier for agents to show the house — and hopefully win the client over — in ten minutes or less. ...

A substantial amount of a typical McMansion's square footage goes toward large hallways, aiding the maximum visibility required for the "Ten Minute House" concept. The individual rooms in a McMansion, particularly secondary bedrooms, are often no bigger than in earlier housing. ...

Even in affluent locations which already have a ready assortment of large houses, the construction of what seems to be too large a house on an existing lot will often draw the ire of neighbors and other local residents. In 2006 for example, a home in Kirkland, WA (an affluent suburb on the Seattle Eastside) was built that was only 4 feet (1.2 m) away from the neighbouring home. ...

While the average American family has shrunk in size, the average American home has grown. In 1974, average single family home was 1,695 square feet (157 m²); in 2004 it was 2,349 square feet (218 m²). The average family size, on the other hand, has fallen from 3.1 people in 1974 to 2.6 people in 2004. ...

Regional variations occur on these themes. In the South, many developers create an upscale atmosphere through references to the plantation lifestyle of the antebellum South, i.e. "Plantation Creek", "Belle Terrace", "Oakhurst" or the like. ...

Sounds like just the thing for revitalizing a settled neighborhood.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Raleigh Historic Districts Commission chairman says ...

Point of View / June 25, 2007 / News & Observer
Teardown trend not a healthy one:
Home diversity essential to city

Curtis Kasefang

RALEIGH - Around the country, teardowns have started in the spotty fashion we are experiencing in Raleigh and accelerated to the point where entire neighborhoods can change in just a year's time.

Under current policies and regulations, the tear-down rate in Raleigh is likely to accelerate, creating a less diverse housing stock and driving lower income residents to suburban areas where public transportation is less available. A diversity of housing stock, particularly smaller homes where the initial investments for land and construction have been amortized over a longer period of time, tends to be more affordable and accessible to first-time homebuyers, providing work force housing that is essential to a healthy city.

Interesting points Kasefang makes:

• Even a building that is not officially designated historic is an excellent investment because of its quality materials.

• The old-growth wood in older structures is superior to wood currently available. The wood has strength and decay-resistance, and plaster walls do not support the growth of mold like drywall.

• The fastest growing household size is one and two people. The current stock of smaller houses being destroyed, ranch homes and bungalows without stairs, meet the needs of the aging population well, allowing residents to stay longer in their homes and neighborhoods.

• "Teardowns that replace an existing structure with a radically larger, multistory structure are bucking these demographic trends and creating buildings that may prove less desirable in the long run."

Read the entire column here.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Golden Geese in Atlanta

From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, a cover story on April 26, 2007.

"They really get it," said City Councilwoman Mary Norwood, who has been making the rounds of NPU meetings to field questions about the changes. "Home builders, preservationists and the city's Planning Department have already signed off on this. It's not complicated. It's just clarifying the code, closing loopholes, and is very much needed as we bring in new construction and renovations to our communities."

So, what did they figure out?

Let's go back to Jan 31, 2006, in an Op-Ed column by Mary Norwood, city councilor:
During the task force's work, residents were asked to identify structures they believed to be out of scale near their own residence. Something interesting happened: A street would have had four or more renovations or rebuilds, but only one would be considered out of scale by its neighbors. They would point to the same structure again and again. What this tells us is that it's not redevelopment itself that concerns neighborhood residents; it's the speculator exploiting the value of our long-term investment in our community to "push the envelope" that worries us.

The Infill Housing Task Force analyzed hundreds of structures to quantify "scale." We sought advice from the construction and real estate professions. We drafted legislation last fall that was modest in scope. After extensive additional input, we are now in the process of finalizing its language.

In the meantime, with out-of-scale development now a public issue, teardowns in the neighborhoods accelerated. Perhaps this was a ploy to get ahead of any restrictions that might be coming, or maybe it simply reflected the state of the economy. Either way, voices from the neighborhoods sounded growing alarm, and they requested that I introduce a moratorium to give them "breathing room" while the final draft of the infill regulations was going through our 90-120 day review process. I understood their concerns. I conducted an analysis of demolition permits and focused on the neighborhoods that had the most teardowns. Our courageous Mayor Shirley Franklin issued a moratorium until Feb. 6 so that the Atlanta City Council has time to bring some order to this frantic land rush.

Well, that must have brought some people to the table. To be specific -- homeowners, neighborhoods, architects, homebuilders, planning commission, planning institutes, realtors, urban planners, preservationists, city councilors.... The timeline and details of the process can be found here, kindly provided by the American Architectural Institute, Atlanta Chapter.

And that seems to be what it takes. This extract from the executive summary shows the depth of the recommendations.
The proposed revisions are divided into sixteen sections. The majority of the proposed revisions are intended to provide clarification of the existing zoning ordinance rather than introducing additional regulations. The City of Atlanta, working with the Atlanta Infill Development Panel (Panel), was consistently sensitive to the balance between zoning ordinance controls and property rights. New verbiage, such as the controls on retaining walls, was introduced only after specific requests heard during the 2006 public forums hosted by the Atlanta Infill Development Panel.

The proposed revisions only apply to the R-1 through R-5 residential zoning districts. The proposed revisions to the zoning ordinance are not intended to be retroactive or affect existing housing stock. They would not prevent an owner from finishing an unfinished space so long as that space is within the existing building envelope. Owners of existing houses would only be affected by the proposed revisions to the zoning ordinance if they chose to make an addition to the house.

The above document is found here. It details setbacks, height ratios, footprints, attics and basement space, yards, streetscape ... it is all spelled out and falls within the realm of common sense, which sure beats the nonsense going on around here in the name of property rights.

As Mary Norwood stated in her Op-Ed,
In the past, urban renewal meant bulldozers sweeping clear huge tracts of land for housing projects, highways and malls. In today's Atlanta, change often proceeds parcel by parcel, within neighborhoods. Generally that piecemeal development is an asset to the community; both the developer and the new resident have an interest in preserving and even cultivating the very charm of the neighborhood that made the parcel attractive for redevelopment in the first place.

The problem is that some are prepared to "kill the goose that lays the golden egg." Anyone can drive around town and see parcels that have been redeveloped without any effort to fit into the existing neighborhood. This kind of development imposes a cost on the surrounding community. Much of a home's value comes from the character of the area, the charm of the neighborhood, and the physical condition of the streetscape. One "McMansion" can depress property values of nearby homes. Our residents know this. They are concerned. They turned to us, their elected representatives, for help.

So, who is the Mary Norwood of Raleigh that we can call on to get this egg rolling?

For more information, see these sites:

Councilwoman Mary Norwood website: Infill Regulations

Councilwoman Mary Norwood website: Infill Background

Councilwoman Mary Norwood slideshow on infill issues in Atlanta

Atlanta Infill Development Project at the American Architectural Institute, Atlanta Chapter

Executive Summary of the new Zoning Code for Atlanta

Proposed changes to Atlanta's Zoning Code for Residential construction

Atlanta Planning Department's Explanation and Illustrations

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Teardowns, Controversial?

Today's N&O has a column that states the debate about tear-downs is heated. To say the least.

Tear-down debate is heated
Dan Barkin, Staff Writer
If you want to get a good argument going, start a discussion about tear-downs. ...

This document, from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, highlights stories throughout the country as community after community grapple with the issue.

Teardowns in the News

Nice to see we are not alone.

Tragically sad to see it as well.

Friday, June 22, 2007

S C A R E Y Thoughts

I read this on the Below the Beltline blog, penned by one Dr. Walter de Gama:

Raleigh, as you know, is hardly one of the most progressive places in the nation regarding the tear-down issue, or anything for that matter. Golly, has your progressive City Council even bothered to sign the U.S Mayors Climate Protection Agreement?

It’ll take 10 years, if ever, for Raleigh to sort out the issues of tear-downs and fossil fuels reduction. (Heard us called “Sprawleigh” lately? OUCH). First, we’ll have a blue ribbon citizen/developer task force that will offer watered down remedies, then we’ll have some out-of-town consultants that will cost us a bunch of money only to be ignored, then some lame resolution will languish in a Council sub-committee, follow this up with pages and pages of city staff input that nobody will act on (they talked about hiring somebody to study the issue and “craft new regulations”), throw in occasional blather from interested parties in the paper, the occasional energy scare, and zzzzzzzzz from the populace….

All you folks living inside the beltline in 1200 square foot homes on a quarter or half acre get a choice: a bunch of investors that want your house for a rental that they can ignore until it crumbles, or a bunch of investors that want your house so they can tear it out. Either way, don’t waste your time looking for help from this City Council.

Dr. Walter de Gama speaks in full, click here.

I hope this prediction turns out to be premature.

In an earlier post, Dr. de Gama discusses one other issue surrounding teardowns: the concept of gentrification. "When I wrote sometime back about the trend of older homes being torn down and replaced by much larger and very expensive dwellings I wasn’t exactly sure what it is that I was commenting about. Now I know: neighborhoods undergoing this sort of transition are experiencing gentrification," he stated in April 2006.

... If we look around at other places, like London, England, for instance, we find that gentrification wasn’t so much about race as it was about class. The rich move in, and everybody else takes a hike because they can’t afford to stay. This is no different than the San Jose, CA, area, which has property values that are so exclusive they force anybody who is a government worker to commute in from the fringe. When you get near the urban core in the nation's hot spots, it's a white-collar world, folks.

In other words, what we are seeing in Raleigh now is gentrification in the neighborhoods around downtown that are older but still close to the urban core. Nobody is whining too much about this so far from what I can see, whereas in other cities like Washington entire neighborhoods are being replaced with McMansions. As a general rule “what happened” only becomes glaringly obvious in hindsight.

... Investor fever is hitting downtown; people from all over the nation are looking for places in Raleigh to buy low, flip, and sell high, or buy low, develop, and sell high. No property near downtown is immune.

In the final analysis, the one thing nobody can prevent under any circumstance is the practice of one property owner from selling to another. No government, law, rule, or covenant can stop real estate transactions. Call it the natural lifecycle of a neighborhood, or neglect, or the failure of a community to correct itself… landlords with a portfolio of shabby properties, boarded up shacks that are beyond fixing up, a city that looked the other way for too long while the decay continued, no leadership or responsibility for the criminal element, and finally, people and dwellings that simply age-out…

Once the gentrification train leaves the station, it only picks up steam. All aboard!!

As my favorite teacher used to say, "A word to the wise should be sufficient."

Thanks Dr de and Ms C.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Enough is enough

I was enjoying some MP3's on a car trip this weekend. One was Sarah Susanka, of the The Not So Big House fame, who has now written The Not So Big Life. The other was Barbara Kingsolver reading from her new book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. They both talk about enough, and what happened to having it.

Susanka put it this way in an interview I heard: "The idea of enough, I think about it this way. In our species historically, everything has been geared up to getting enough: enough shelter, enough food, and enough security. So we have been focused on this as a species, but we have no model for what happens when we get enough. So we seek more, more shelter, more food, more security. And we keep doing it. We see enormous houses ... shopping ... we are accumulating stuff as if it is going to bring us meaning. That is the model for our society these days. If we stop and ask, do I have enough ... we may find we are spending more energy seeking more than we need. Is there a way to use the energy in another way? Where is meaningfulness in our lives? "

Enough used to be enough. In the great American landscape, though, enough seems to be in a constant state of re-definition. Enough is being replaced by more. And plenty is never enough either. Seems like the scale is always changing.

Our neighborhood used to be made of houses and yards that were enough. Now someone is raising the stakes and placing huge houses next door to a house that was enough. And then they call the old house inadequate.

What changed? The house was there since it was built as a recovery house in the 1940s. Proud owners have come through and added their touches and changing needs to it. And now it sits beside a misplaced giant, one that is clearly over the top, and speculators tell us that the huge house is the future, the enough house is the past, and my neighborhood should get over it. When society keeps redefining enough in order to make more money by selling more of the stuff to people who do not need it, we all lose.

Enough is enough.

Monday, June 18, 2007

We've lost our everlovin minds

I figured it out. We've have lost our collective minds. This property is scheduled for a rebuilding with a superhouse. Every detail was attended to in its construction, an authentic Williamsburg reproduction, considered one of the best in the area. You cannot say it is dowdy or worn out. You can only say it is in the way of some higher (that is more valuable) use of the land.

I think this is a good time to wake up and recognize what is going on here.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Point of View / News & Observer

In today's N&O, the best composite of points yet to be rolled into in piece.

Myrick Howard of Preservation North Carolina writes:

The lowdown on teardowns
Bad on neighborhoods -- and on the earth

RALEIGH - The teardown trend in Raleigh is bad for the environment -- and bad for Raleigh's residents. When global warming, water conservation needs, landfill shortages and the need for additional electric power generation fill the newspaper on a daily basis, tearing down a perfectly habitable house (even if it's "dowdy") to make way for an oversized replacement is environmentally irresponsible. ...

Howard also states that "Contrary to building industry rhetoric, teardowns do not financially benefit the existing property owners in a neighborhood. After oversized houses are built, neighboring property values actually drop in many cases." He itemizes these areas of concern -- "the quality of life is diminished, living next door to a monster house (with the issues of increased runoff, and loss of sunlight, view and neighborhood tree canopy) and the streetscape loses its charm."

Just what those of us with monster houses looming were afraid of. Ask the neighbors of Garage Mahal on Glenwood Avenue what they think about the house next door.

Read the whole story here.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Can this be true?

I need some help with this, there is a house missing from the corner of White Oak and Byrd. The lot is a nicely settled older acre. I have tracked the lot and found this photo for the house that went on it. Does this match anyone's memory for that location?

The new "dwelling" is taking substantially more of the lot than this. If this is what they tore down, then too small and outdated do not apply either. The new house is monstronormous.

Oh Nooooo, this is correct. The 2005 map shows the older house at home on its lot.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

What went down in Chapel Hill

This is the story about the teardown in Chapel Hill that inspired the debate over demolitions. Final hours for historic Dey House

The contractor expects to begin demolishing the historic Dey House, 401 E. Rosemary St., on Thursday, Dec. 21. [2006]
Staff photo by Mark Schultz The Chapel Hill News

Final hours for historic Dey House
1800s-era house to be demolished Thursday

CHAPEL HILL -- The Dey House, thought to be one of the 25 oldest homes in town, is coming down.

Workers removed asbestos from the white two-story house at 401 E. Rosemary St. Tuesday afternoon. Windows gaped open, black rectangles with particleboard removed or shards jutting out of the panes like broken teeth.

"We're going to move a backhoe in on Thursday," said Juan Carroll, a vice president with D.H. Griffin Wrecking Co. "It'll take us a couple of days to get it on the ground and a couple of days to haul it away."

The demolition disappoints historic preservationists.

They had hoped former owner ... would repair the building, a one-time log cabin covered over in clapboard in the early 1900s to look more modern....

You can't save them all, but this one does sound unique, to say the least.

The rest of the story can be found here.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Preserving Chapel Hill

This from the N&O blogs, June 12, 2007:

Preservation Society chief: Don't let Chapel Hill become Cary
Ernest Dollar, the Preservation Society of Chapel Hill director, asked the Town Council Monday to consider requiring property owners to wait two years before building anything more than a single-family home after demolishing a historic structure. Dollar said a similar rule in Apex has helped to preserve antique architecture because it makes tear-downs less lucrative.

"We really need this ordinance to make sure we don't become like Cary," he said. "It will save the very things that give Chapel Hill its very unique, distinct culture. The next time you find yourself in Cary, ask yourself if you want Chapel Hill to end up like Cary."

. . .

Around here a single family home is a pretty big deal.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Ah, the sound of money rustling in the vortex

Found on a realtors blog today, in response to yesterday's N&O article. The names are removed to protect the bloggee.

With the popularity of larger houses (bigger is better, right?), kids don’t share rooms anymore. In larger homes, there are spaces created for home offices, laundry, even (at least according to the N&O) for your in-laws! Want 2 master bedrooms? Some homes even have 3.

In downtown areas, it has usually been a bit more difficult to find existing large homes.

The newest real estate solution: tear-downs. Existing (outdated) (and smaller) homes are being bulldozed at a record pace. Tim Minton, executive vice president of the Home Builders Association of Raleigh-Wake County, told the News & Observer that in 1968, the average size of a home was 1,200 square feet. Now, Minton says, its double that.

The number of tear-downs has rapidly increased within the Raleigh Beltline because many people want to live near their downtown jobs. Controversial? Sure - because much of the area inside the Beltline can be considered historic district.

. . .

This type of re-construction/re-modeling/re-building is transforming the Triangle. Land values have jumped, and many folks who relocate to North Carolina are well-off and desire prime residential locations.

When an old home is torn down, the site is typically replaced by a huge, beautiful new home. Areas in which this is happening include Raleigh’s Five Points, University Park, and North Ridge; and Durham’s Trinity Park and Hope Valley.

Time to upgrade? Call XXX today and we’ll help you find the home of your dreams. Whether you want to be in urban Raleigh or in an outlying area, our full service buyer’s agents will be with you during the entire process.

As we say around here, there goes the neighborhood.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

In today's News & Observer

Tear-down fever pumps up values
Modest houses are razed and larger,
fancier ones are built on the site

Sarah Lindenfeld Hall and Jack Hagel, Staff Writers

Sunday Front Page June 10

Good reporting on the problem in today's N&O. The web version also has interviews with residents and a video of Anderson Drive. Ironically, one of the houses on Anderson went missing this week. You can see the bulldozer chomping it up as the videographer goes by.

"The trend will continue until every house on the street is" torn down and replaced or expanded, said John Bruckel, a developer who has lived on Anderson Drive since 1983. ...

The remaking of Anderson Drive reflects upheaval in neighborhoods across the Triangle. The rising value of land and an influx of well-off newcomers who want prime residential locations have left many older homes too modest for their addresses. ...

Now the bulldozing of once acceptable homes to make way for larger residences is at a new high. In Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill, at least 212 single-family home demolition permits have been issued this year. That average of about 42 a month is 75 percent more than last year, when the municipalities issued a five-year high of 291 permits.

A little research shows that this was the latest house demolished on Anderson. As we say around here, it was one of the good ones -- nicely renovated, 1500 square feet, 2 baths -- it deserved better than this.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Just the Facts, Maam

A visit to Wikipedia bring this little tidbit about Raleigh.

The median income for a household in the city was $46,612, and the median income for a family was $60,003. Males had a median income of $39,248 versus $30,656 for females. The per capita income for the city was $25,113. 11.5% of the population and 7.1% of families were below the poverty line. Approximately one out of four (25.5%) Raleigh citizens are beneath 200% of the poverty line. Out of the total population, 13.8% of those under the age of 18 and 9.3% of those 65 and older were living below the poverty line.

Whenever I talk to my neighbors about the price of real estate locally, the conversation generally concludes with a question about who can afford these expensive houses. There are many of us who would not be able to buy our way into our own homes now, so the idea of $1 and 2 million houses seems, shall we say, over the top. Is it really possible that the economy in this area will be able to sustain an increasing quantity of this type of housing? A quick search of the real estate sites in the triangle brings some amazing examples of the high-life.

Why are so many still for sale? Is the sky the limit, or are we over-building for the over-the-top crowd?

Do your own research on the New Triangle here.

"It's a poor sort of memory that only works backwards."
-- Lewis Carroll Through the Looking Glass

Friday, June 8, 2007

Behemoths on Beechridge?

I keep hearing that it is necessary to replace some houses in our "better" neighborhoods because they do not live up to the potential of the neighborhood. You be the judge.

While I think this is a sweet, petite home that could enjoy a new life for a downsizing couple, a case could be made for it being too small for folks nowadays. Now that the replacement home has hit the market for nearly $2 million dollars (5 bedrooms, 6 baths, 5380 sq ft), I am thinking it could start a trend. Let me show you why.

Both of these houses went missing earlier this year. One is next door to the above example, and one across the street. 2200 and 2500 sq ft respectively, $500,000 and $650,000 purchase price.

Raise your hand if you think teardowns are about fixing up under-developed neighborhoods.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Property Rights

I have heard this brought up since I started paying attention to the teardowns in my area ... trying to control teardowns is a violation of private property rights. Is it?

The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states in part "... nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation." Those few words express one of the most important rights enjoyed by Americans. It enhances our freedom, gives us security, helps protect our personal financial investments. But it is not absolute. Rights are - and always have been - tempered by responsibilities.

The Fifth Amendment does not give owners the right to use their property in a way that harms the rights or welfare of others. Indeed, restrictions on land use - such as zoning laws, for instance - were first created to protect owners' rights and property values against the potentially harmful actions of other owners. The value of a parcel of land derives in part from the improvements made by its owner, of course - but it also derives from public improvements paid for by the community as a whole - and from the labor, investments and good stewardship of neighboring owners.

What I said a moment ago is worth repeating: Rights are tempered by reponsibilities. We all should be able to enjoy an attractive, livable environment - and we all have a responsibility to ensure that our actions don't prevent our neighbors from doing just that.

-- Richard Moe, National Trust for Historic Preservation

What's a City to Do?

I watched the City Council wrestle this Tuesday with how to get personnel onboard in the Planning Department to wrestle with infill issues, more precisely called teardowns and overfill. All this falls into a time when growth is stretching the budget, and the tax slashers have made certain that the budget is slim and trim. If Raleigh neighborhoods are rebuilt with houses that are double the value of the existing housing stock, then the City stands to gain some revenue. It is not exactly in their "best" interest to stop this when you look at it fiscally.

But is it good for the City to let this go on unfettered? Here is what we are losing, in the words of the National Trust for Historic Preservation:

Across the nation a teardown epidemic is wiping out historic neighborhoods one house at a time. As older homes are demolished and replaced with dramatically larger, out-of-scale new structures, the historic character of the existing neighborhood is changed forever. Neighborhood livability is diminished as trees are removed, backyards are eliminated, and sunlight is blocked by towering new structures built up to the property lines. Community economic and social diversity is reduced as new mansions replace affordable homes. House by house, neighborhoods are losing a part of their historic fabric and much of their character.

"From 19th-century Victorian to 1920s bungalows, the architecture of America's historic neighborhoods reflects the character of our communities," said Richard Moe, president of the National Trust. "Teardowns radically change the fabric of a community. Without proper safeguards, historic neighborhoods will lose the identities that drew residents to put down roots in the first place." To date, the National Trust has documented more than 300 communities in 33 states that are experiencing significant numbers of teardowns, and that number is climbing fast.

In this posted address, Moe adds:
A growing disaster is tearing apart many of America's older neighborhoods. ...

I'm talking about teardowns - the practice of purchasing and demolishing an existing house to make way for a new, much bigger house on the same site. Teardowns wreck neighborhoods. They spread through a community like a cancer, destroying the character and livability that are a neighborhood's lifeblood. I believe teardowns represent the biggest threat to America's older neighborhoods since the heyday of urban renewal and interstate highway construction during the 1950s and 60s.

Here's how it works: Developers and home-buyers look through desirable neighborhoods for a building lot that can lawfully accommodate a much bigger house than that which currently stands on it. The property is acquired, the existing house is torn down and a bigger house is constructed in its place. There are variations: Sometimes a large estate is leveled and subdivided to accommodate several new houses; in others, several smaller houses are cleared to make way for a single, massive new one.

It's a simple process, but it can totally transform the streetscape of a neighborhood and destroy its character. It's especially destructive in older and historic communities.

Their information itemizes the losses this way.

Loss of Historic Houses
Teardowns often destroy older homes that are part of the community’s heritage.

Loss of Community Character
Without proper safeguards, historic neighborhoods will lose the identity that drew residents to put down roots in the first place.

Loss of Livability
Neighborhood livability is diminished as trees are removed, backyards are eliminated, and sunlight is blocked by towering new structures built up to the property lines.

Loss of Diversity
Community economic and social diversity is reduced as new mansions replace affordable homes.

. . . . . . .

So, what is a city to do?

I recommend a read of the entire speech. It can be found here, along with some detailed reports, which have some good ideas from other cities on how to keep balance. But the first step is to get past the battle cry of "property rights."

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Watch this Space

The For Sale sign came down today. How long until the bulldozer?

Tuesday, June 5, 2007


I love that windy wooded section of Lake Boone Trail. To me that is the essence of west Raleigh. I turned my head to look at the homes as I went by, and saw a bulldozer standing there like a dinosaur over a pile of rubble. I wrote down the house number so I could check which one we lost, and found it was this one. I can't exactly say this was a small house in need of being removed from the face of the earth.

When the new house arrives, we will have a better idea of the redeveloped vision for this part of Budleigh. I have a bad feeling that the price may be over a million since the house that was torn down was bought in March for $475,000.

There are 2 other houses in the same general area that have sold for over $1.2 million this year (Nottingham and wider Lake Boone Trail). The rest of the sales are in the $400-500K range. So the established value in that area is around $500,000, which is compatible with other older comfortable neighborhoods.

So my question is this: Does having a teardown arrive on your street make your area vulnerable to more of the same? Or will it stay an isolated phenomenon?

To answer that question, I suggest a ride down Yarmouth, or Churchill.

Monday, June 4, 2007

The Names of Things to Come

Lest anyone believe the purpose of this site is to put down our new neighbors, I want to let you in on a little secret. The names of these big houses are the nicknames being passed around by the old neighbors, the folks who have created the character of the neighborhoods that are on the receiving end of these changes. I love the humor involved in trying to cope with things that feel so out of control. By naming and taming these incursions, the older residents are bonding around the way things used to be.

I do not know many people who believe that progress can be stopped in its tracks. But the thing many do not understand is the ginormousness of this new trend. When Hayes-Barton was understood to be Upper Class (see history lesson), I do not think anyone imagined how much more Up things could be. I believe older Raleigh has prided itself on the tastefulness and charm of its neighborhoods, and not felt the one-upmanship that is coming into town with these new mansions. What some builders see as resistance to change is actually something else quite entirely. If the neighborhood you have known and loved being a part of is suddenly being thrown away and replaced with something you do not recognize, it can feel hostile.

After this you get two choices, go along with it or fight for it.

I have chosen to fight for it; I see much at stake if we don't try to bring some moderation into this trend.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

A History Lesson

An interesting document resides at the Raleigh City Museum. It can be found at this link:
Raleigh City Museum Architectural Survey

It is a document I recommend to all who enjoy the beauty and benefits of the old small town.

by Helen Patricia Ross, Principal Investigator
June 4, 1992

From the section on residential growth in the 1920s...

One of the most dramatic manifestations of 1920s growth in Raleigh was residential development. Inside the new (1920) city boundaries, previously established suburbs were intensely built up, while vacant lands were targeted for a second wave of subdivisions. An example of the infill pattern is especially noticeable in Raleigh's south and east black-occupied neighborhoods. The old boundaries remained unchanged in this part of the city, yet many of the streets were paved and water and sewer lines were installed. These improvements combined with greater streetcar access encouraged substantial building in the suburbs of South Park, Battery Heights, and College Park. [34] Subdivisions illustrating the expansive type of residential development are situated along the streetcar routes in north and west Raleigh, on land that had been cotton fields, cow pastures, and the grounds of the North Carolina State Fair. These areas are: Hayes Barton, begun in 1920, Roanoke Park and Mordecai, both 1922, to the north and College Crest, 1922, Wilmont, 1924, and Fairmont, 1926, in the west.

Northern suburbs flourished around the Five Points intersection in this era. Bloomsbury and Georgetown which had been platted before and after World War I, were the earliest settled neighborhoods. In Bloomsbury, the first roads carved out of the land were given names that instilled a sylvan image such as Myrtle, Woodland, and White Oak Forest (shortened to White Oak) roads. The electric streetcar provided fast access for the commuters who moved here. Between 1920 and 1922, thirteen dwellings had been erected inside and beyond the city boundary on either side of Glenwood Avenue, north of Five Points and past the older Glenwood neighborhood and the Methodist Orphanage. Five of them were located along the streetcar route.

They are one- and one-half and two-story, frame and brick foursquares and gable-roofed bungalows. The owners and neighbors were upper management and businessmen. And yet, a five-or ten-minute walk away from Glenwood Avenue on the side streets of Alexander or Creston roads were found homeowners with occupations such as meat cutters and managers, foremen and clerks.The houses were brick and frame bungalows and Colonial Revival houses with a wide range of architectural massing and details. Due to this mixture of inhabitants and dwelling designs, Bloomsbury grew to become an economically diverse neighborhood.

The other early 1920s residential development, situated east of Bloomsbury and north of the Norfolk-Southern Railroad tracks, was Georgetown. The land, owned by James H. Pou, developer of Glenwood, was platted in the 1910s. City Directories reveal that railroad workers occupied this stretch of the road. Significant examples of workers' housing still remain on Sunrise Avenue. One of the most intact is at 1512 Sunrise Avenue, a single-story, frame, gable front shotgun house with 2/2 windows, a brick foundation wall and two interior brick chimneys. During the 1920s, the adjacent vacant lands gave way to modest frame bungalows which were inhabited by tradesmen and working people. ...

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.

Rebuilding Royster

Two homes were removed from the short leg of Royster St where it intersects with Claremont. Each were purchased for $300,000 and each are being rebuilt for the $250K per 1000 sq. ft per .10 of an acre market. Above is the look of the block for the past 50 years.

These are good examples of the changes in the nature of this neighborhood.

Riverview on Royster
Another in the fine river house series, this one does does indeed back up to water -- we could call it Rich ditch, since anything it touches is all the rage these days.

$ 1,250,000 / 5 Bedrooms / 4 Bathrooms / 1 Half Baths
Sq Footage 4983 / Built 2006 / Lot 0.46 acres / Garage for 2

Transitional Traditional on Royster
This new home is closer to keeping with the tone of the new neighborhood springing up on Claremont. The prices of houses on Anderson Drive's sidestreets, though, are a major concern to many. Historically, homes on the sidestreets have been owned by the "workers" in Raleigh, while the business owners resided on the streetcar lines themselves (Glenwood, Anderson, Oberlin). This pattern has remained in this area with more modest homes on the side streets.

$ 1,425,000 / 4 Bedrooms / 3 Bathrooms / 1 Half Bath
Sq Footage 5743 / Built 2007 / Lot 0.43 acres / Garage for 2

The emergence of mansions in modest neighborhoods will bode well for those who wish to cash out, but not so well for those who wish to remain. The property re-evaluations of 2008 may force out some long time residents. In addition, the reduction in diverse housing stock for average income residents will be changing the economic flavor of the central neighborhoods, possibly forever.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Crabtree Creekview on Claremont

Raleigh, NC
4 bedrooms
3 bathrooms
1 half bath
4288 sq feet

Another example of this trend is this new home on Claremont. A lot on a sharp curve that backs up to the greenway, this 4288 square foot house actually has a .51 acre lot, but it seems small to the onlooker because of the building's scale. Notice the natural setting of the previous home. Several new homes have already been built on this segment of the street, many in an updated craftsman design. When I see a home like this, I am certain it is built on spec and not going to be bought by people who have connections to the old neighborhood. The price tag and the height are at least double that of its neighbors.

It is said that on a clear day, the residents of this house will be able to see all the way up the creek to the Soleil Center from their back porch.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Riverview on Rothgeb

This house has been on the market since it's completion in 2006. It is built on .41 acres, it sits quite close to the curb -- surely it respects the R-4 setback of 30 feet. The water feature, a small creek, is in the back yard, making the massive front porches overlooking the street all the more interesting to ponder.

I am curious about this new flavor of architecture that seems to be arriving in our area, and on the small lots typical of older neighborhoods. I remember these homes from my childhood travels around Georgia, where they make sense facing a river or sound. Do people from other geographic areas buy them thinking they are indigenous to here?

Because we of the modest neighborhoods are unsure about what makes a house a million dollar value, I am quoting verbatim from realtor's blurb:

Southern Charm in the Heart of Raleigh Type: Single Family



New Single Family Home $1,399,000
Zip Code: 27609
Bedrooms: 5 Bathrooms: 5 full, 1 half
Square Footage: 5445

So, what's the deal about the 1955 foundation?