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."