Thursday, September 27, 2007

Too Much of a "Good" Thing

Entertained by the comments calling neighborhood advocates all sorts of names, it turns out the problem may be more about a lack of respect for the character of existing neighborhoods than a socialist uprising. Since there is not a socialist central, the trend toward vocal neighborhood concerns is being driven from the ground, the very ground where these offenses are being committed in the name of progress. My research indicates there are many "how to" websites" for flipping real estate, speculative luxury home building, development investment, realtor procurement of lots and demolition services, etc. So my own conspiracy theory leans toward a conspiracy of opportunity for wealth development. Nothing wrong with that per se, but when it is taken on with blatant disregard for communities and long term residents, there is something wrong. The ONLY reason this is happening now, instead of before, is the amount of money at stake.

Here is another neighborhood fighting to save itself. Yes, there can be Too Much of a good thing.

Outsize house spurs a call for limits in Wellesley
The new rules are not an outright ban, the board says, and don't prevent tear-downs. "This is not the ranch house preservation act," said board member ...

WELLESLEY - They call it The House, and not in a complimentary way. It's a 5,900-square-foot, three-story Colonial wedged into little more than a quarter-acre, a structure that dwarfs the New England sampler of quaint Capes and Victorians nestled in the woodsy neighborhood around it.

But lately, this house on Denton Road has become more than something for neighbors to despair. It has also served as a call to action among a growing number of residents to battle against the McMansionization of this real estate-crazed town.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Interesting reads from anear on Fallon Park zoning-hearing

Follow Up: Zoning Hearing
Chad Tuesday, September 18, 2007

How many egoists does it take to prove they are unconcerned with the destruction of Raleigh’s aesthetic and environmental integrity? Just one… but three can really screw it in.

Rallied by undeserved applause, unifying t-shirts and the very audible comment of “she’s a socialist,” the re-zoning opposition group banded together to show their true colors—a zoning opposition based solely on the individual property owners’ right to as large a fiscal return on their property as possible. ...

View of the City
September 21, 2007
Community scale
These houses in an older Raleigh neighborhood are new. They have been built at the same scale, more or less, as the other houses on the block.

Their height is in keeping with the one- or one-and-a-half story height of other houses on the street. ...

Interesting reads from afar

Posting the links to discussions from other neighborhoods, common themes continue. Enjoy.

On the next episode of "Maury" ...
But before visiting DPD planner Mark Troxel was finished with his guest appearance, the room was in a lather over teardowns. Especially considering, as calm and polite as he tried to be, his answers about why there are no rules ...

West Seattle Blog...

Million-Dollar Babies
Evening Bulletin - Philadelphia,PA,USA
Another neighborhood where tear-downs are all the rage is Newtown Square,
due to the proximity of several streets to golf courses. ...

Amid housing slump, high-end boom
Boston Globe - United States
The homes were a combination of "do-overs" - expansions by the new owners that preserved remnants of the original houses - and "tear-downs" by buyers who ...

They Just Don't Make 'Em Like They Used To...Or Do They?
By susan.brady
The loss of so many of the original cottages in Emerald Hills to make way for McMansions, teardowns of poorly built 1950s and '60s ranchers in San Carlos and Belmont to make way for more modern and contemporary buildings. ...

Advocacy for alternatives to teardowns
By avorob
"Battles about teardowns are being waged across the country. Without effective advocacy, teardowns will continue unabated and the future of your neighborhood will most likely be fashioned by the hands of market forces rather than its ...

Teardown Post

The future of how we'll handle our past
Globe and Mail - Canada
If only developers - rather than opting for teardowns - practised adaptive reuse of historic structures or the marriage of new architecture with old....

Decatur's Oakhurst split over preservation status
Atlanta Journal Constitution - GA, USA
... character that they must be protected, particularly at a time when "teardowns" and "McMansions" have become part of the real estate lexicon....

Dallas Neighborhood Fighting Teardowns
MyFox Dallas - Dallas,TX,USA
With the sound of change droning on behind him, Mike McCue says he's always know his community of older homes was a gem. "We've been kind of a hidden secret ...

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

There Goes the Neighborhood

Cover: The New Yorker Magazine | September 24
originally found here

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Not in Our Side Yard

The N&O ran a thoughtful editorial today on the problems facing the inner city neighborhoods. Oddly these first ring suburbs are now referred to as downtown, but I digress...

Please check out their assessment of things here.

Enjoy reading sentences such as this --

So why are teardowns so controversial? In large part, because they're out of control. ...

Take Anderson Drive in Raleigh, often cited as an epicenter of the trend. There, where the older houses are no match for the underlying land values, many have been bulldozed and replaced by much larger structures. The scale is all out of kilter -- relatively modest houses sit cheek by jowl with their super-sized new neighbors. ...

The key issues for public policy are size and setbacks, not style. ...

A parallel route to limiting teardowns is the rezoning request slated for a hearing tonight before the Raleigh City Council and the Planning Commission.

Ever faithful Fallonia was at the zoning hearing and can honestly report that a swell time was had by all.

Something will be done in the civic arena, but the timing is crucial. The way these things work means Raleigh is just starting to be a part of this destructive cycle. If you want things to improve in your lifetime, it is time to get involved in municipal politics.

Please visit our fellow Raleigh bloggers and blogettes for the low down and higher up on our candidates for October 9th. And take a carpool when you go to the polls. It's green, in more ways than one.

PS: this is not considered recycling

Monday, September 17, 2007

Not in Their Backyard Either

This is about an older neighborhood in LA. The forces are the same, the names are different.

Suzan Filipek | Larchmont Chronicle, 542½ Larchmont Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90004

RESIDENTS are saying no to huge developments, says Charlie Dougherty, community association president.

Tear downs on hold in historic Windsor Village

• City passes measure to protect area

A wave of new developments in Windsor Village prompted city officials to approve an interim community ordinance last month.

The ICO, which limits tear downs for one year, was approved unanimously by the City Council Aug. 15.

“It’s to stop development, which we’ve just been assaulted by,” said Charlie Dougherty, president of the Windsor Village Community Association.

A petition with about 900 signatures was gathered in recent months in a first step towards halting large-scale developments on single-family lots. Area residents hope to get a historic preservation overlay zone for the area, which consists of homes built largely in the 1920s and 1930s west of Crenshaw, east of Fremont Pl., north of Olympic and south of Wilshire.

Save Wilshire Village signs have also cropped up on lawns in recent weeks.

In addition, the city Planning Dept. is conducting a study to determine downzoning of area streets from multi-family to residential.

The momentum to halt development quickened after about 12 lots with single-family homes have been bought recently by developers who seek to build multi-story apartments and condos, said Dougherty.

The residential area is scaled for single-family homes; huge developments on these lots will add traffic and clog the streets, he added.

Besides its stately homes, Harold Henry Park, The Ebell Club of Los Angeles and the Wilshire United Methodist Church are among the area’s notable features.

Since trends arrive in Raleigh after they start on the coasts, we will want to be thinking ahead about how the current comprehensive plan will be used to allow or nix re-development in our older neighborhoods. Today large houses, next year will we be facing recombinations and large units in our neighborhoods? Hopefully the downtown condo market will be met, and not overbuilt, with all the city core projects. (see for some good discussions on this). As property values skyrocket, they are not making more land it seems, who will be able to afford to live in-town? And how?

Is it my imagination, or is a lot of this upward value energy being created by speculative investment? It seems like our biggest economic engine in Raleigh right now is redevelopment of core neighborhoods. This involves shopping a built community for opportunity and land, not for homes. IMHO, it is not nice to paint bulls-eyes on other peoples homes, but that may be the lay of the land these days.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Teardowns in Raleigh

New homes on teardown sites are often bigger
Construction in established areas has residents abuzz
SARAH LINDENFELD HALL, Staff Writer | News & Observer, Raleigh

RALEIGH - Since January 2002, 588 homes have been built on land where a single-family home or duplex was torn down, according to a city report released Friday.

The report is the first phase of the city's analysis of teardowns, the trend of razing older homes and building new, often larger, ones. ...

The first report on teardowns in Raleigh was released by the Planning Department this week. This story in the N&O, and one yesterday, point to the issues we facing, and ways to approach it.

Preservation North Carolina had a summer intern to document the teardowns in Raleigh and research how other communities have dealt with this issue. This report was submitted to the planning department.

In today's story, the preservation POV goes like this:
The group found that other communities use tools to limit height, lot coverage and building mass, or require design reviews for certain kinds of houses in existing neighborhoods. "It confirms, in essence, what we all thought was going on," said Myrick Howard, president of Preservation North Carolina, of both reports. "It's an issue of whether there is the political will to deal with it. There are plenty of tools to strike moderation."

And the developer side:
Jim Baker, a developer and former Planning Commission chairman, said the city just needs to be careful as it looks at any new regulations. Baker said much of the teardown activity is happening because, right now, the city's regulations make it easier to raze an old home and build a new one, rather than chopping up a larger vacant lot and building several homes.

Fallonia has an additional observation. What Jim Baker refers to, "the city's regulations make it easier to raze an old home and build a new one" is also true about renovations. In older neighborhoods, the foot print of the home can only be exceeded by a certain percentage without a trip to the board of adjustment. But tear the thing down and you get to go to the zoning for your restrictions (setbacks).

As long as it is easier and more profitable to scrape and flip the older properties, Raleigh will continue to be in the top 5 of such development trends.

Be sure to visit HERE to see the graphic of teardown activity in the city.

Also, tune in to Headline Saturday on WRAL-TV 5 at 7:30 tonight for a discussion starring the key players in the story above.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Historical Highlights by Irena Dorton

The Latta Place and Oberlin Village

A significant vestige of Raleigh’s African American history exists only a few blocks from Cameron Village in central Raleigh. Although the Latta House burned in the spring of 2007, its large, lushly wooded site still remains as a memorial to this African American landmark. Reverend M. L. Latta established Latta “University” on his property in the late 1800s. Latta’s house was the last remaining building of the school campus, which educated children of all ages. The campus extended the depth of the block between Parker and Tower streets in the Oberlin Village neighborhood. Neighborhood residents consider the Latta site to be sacred ground because of its significance to Oberlin Village, one of the first freedmen villages founded on the Raleigh outskirts after the Civil War. Former slave James E. Harris¸ educated at Oberlin College in Ohio, founded the village in 1866. By 1880 about 750 individuals lived in the settlement that became known as Oberlin. It stretched along both sides of a dirt road from Hillsborough Street north toward Wade Avenue, now named Oberlin Road. While newer houses and commercial development along Oberlin Road have altered the rural black settlement, much of its old-fashioned charm persists. A number of the descendants of the founding families still live in the village, and many houses reflect the neighborhood’s heyday in the late 1800s and early and mid-1900s. -Irena Dorton

This is the site of the former Latta House.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Bye Bye Byrdie?

It is said that the way neighborhoods change is by nibbling away at the edges, and before too long the heart of the neighborhood is at risk.

Frequently this takes the form of commercial development at the fringes of a residential area. Or high density housing. More recently, in this neck of the woods, it is taking place in the form of extremely high dollar homes going into a settled, well valued neighborhood.

Take, for example, the new high dollar mark for this stretch of White Oak Road, and the tone it establishes for Byrd, the side street at its corner. A stroll down property value lane will give the status at the 2000 tax valuation. Multiply those land value figures by 3 to see where things are currently.

This is the house before it was scraped.

This is the new house taking its place.

The million dollar question is whether Raleigh neighborhoods are more vulnerable to similar re-development after such a new structure is added, or if community diversity can be the norm.

In the golden olden days, old Raleigh has been a delightful mixture of housing stock. In the brassy new days, what will we become?

Parallel to Byrd is Beechridge, another of the truly wonderful mixtures of different size older homes. The first mega-rebuild came at its corner with Glenwood Ave. The idea has travelled down the block, so that there are currently 4 replacement homes in the $2M range next to original homes. Could Mansion Creep be a real danger to neighborhood stability? Who Knew....

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Recent teardowns in Fallon Park

Two more homes have been scraped and scrapped in the Fallon Park area in the last few weeks.

Missing from the neighborhood now are these two houses, this makes 5 lots that are currently devoid of houses within the 2 blocks of the park itself. Two lots are for sale near the half million price point, one is a mystery, these two projects are listed to individuals, altho one has a real estate company sign in front that matches their name.

0.32 acres / 1959 / R-6 / 1763 SQ FT
VALUES from last assessment $85K LAND / $129K HOUSE.

0.44 acres / 1952 / R-4 / 1576 SQ FT
VALUES from last assessment $100K LAND / $136K HOUSE.

Fallonia's predictions: the R-6 rebuild will be priced compatibly with the houses up at the Oaks at Fallon Park ... say 900K. If sold for the lot, expect a $450K price tag.

The other private home is predicted to be the first 5000 square foot house around the park itself.

Chapel Hill Looks Ahead

Chapel Hill News | What the future may hold
Planners, others offer perspectives
By Samuel Spies, Staff Writer

CHAPEL HILL -- The Chapel-Hill Carrboro Chamber of Commerce held a briefing Monday for community and business leaders on future development projects. ...

"We've got Chapel Hill-Carrboro, and they're so close to a build-out, we're going to start seeing more teardowns or renovations than we've seen in the past. ...

Interesting article on land use projections.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Coker This

Remember the old days when the battle over Coker towers was being fought on the ground and at the City Council?

A local Raleigh blogger has revisited the story and added a few observations of his own.

Bob Geary has a thorough response, which includes:

There followed major efforts made to get the Council to adopt its loosely followed, oft-ignored Urban Design Guidelines as code — meaning developers would be required to follow them. No soap. (Code words for ignoring them, then & now: “But they’re only guidelines”.) How about adopting form-based zoning, with scale the major element, and mixed-uses encouraged? No soap there either. How about an infill ordinance to help new stuff fit in amongst the old? Todays’s teardowns and mega-mansion replacements are the best evidence that no such infill ordinance has been adopted in the (now) 6 years people have been trying to get one. Council a month or two ago voted to study the question.

Don't miss this interesting revisiting of recent history. It will give you a warm cozy feeling of Deja Vu, and a glimpse into the future if we do not get our collective wits together.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

It's Not Easy Being Green

Big Houses Are Not Green: America's McMansion Problem
By Stan Cox, AlterNet

Posted on September 8, 2007, Printed on September 8, 2007

In Los Gatos, Calif., controversy has raged this summer over the city planning commission’s approval of a proposed hillside home that will occupy a whopping 3,600 square feet – and that's just the basement. Atop that walkout basement will be 5,500 more square feet worth of house.

The prospective owner says he’ll build to "green" standards, but at the Aug. 8 meeting where the permit was approved, the city's lone dissenting planning commissioner stated the obvious when he told the owner, "You have a 9,000-square-foot house with a three-car garage and a pool. I don't see that as green."

The just-popped housing bubble has left behind a couple of million families in danger of losing their homes to foreclosure. It has also spawned a new generation of big, deluxe, under-occupied houses bulked up on low-interest steroids.

The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) estimates that 42 percent of newly built houses now have more than 2,400 square feet of floorspace, compared with only 10 percent in 1970. In 1970 there were so few three-bathroom houses that they didn't even to show up in NAHB statistics. By 2005, one out of every four new houses had at least three bathrooms.

Smaller families are living in bigger houses. In the America of 1950, single-family dwellings were being were built with an average of 290 square feet of living space per resident; in 2003, a family moving into a typical new house had almost 900 square feet per person in which to ramble around.

Not surprisingly, monster houses are especially popular in Texas; in Austin, regarded as the state’s progressive haven, 235 new houses of at least 5,000 square feet each were built in a single recent year; 41 of them had between 8,000 and 29,000 square feet. In the size of our dwellings, North Americans are world champions. The United Nations says houses and apartments in Pakistan or Nicaragua typically provide one-third of a room per person; it’s half a room per person in Syria and Azerbaijan, about one room in Eastern Europe, an average of a room and a half in Western Europe, and two whole rooms per person in the United States and Canada (not counting spaces like bathrooms, hallways, porches, etc.)

The U.N. defines a room as "an area large enough to hold a bed for an adult" -- at least 6 feet by 7 feet. That's not an uncommon size in many countries, but it’s not exactly the kind of room that an American real-estate agent would be eager to walk through with a prospective homebuyer. (A dozen such rooms would fit into a single bedroom in this surgeon’s house.)

To go along with those big primary homes, Americans now own 5.7 million non-rental vacation houses with a median size of 1,300 square feet; together, those second homes represent enough surplus living space to accommodate the nation’s homeless population ten times over. Challenges to the oversized-house trend are being mounted across the country, most often on aesthetic grounds. Monumental bad taste can be morbidly fascinating (as when CBS’s 60 Minutes paid a visit to the suburbs of "Vulgaria" last March), but a far more serious issue is the lasting environmental damage these incredible hulks can do. Since 1940, the average number of people living in an American home has dropped from 3.7 to 2.6, but the average size of new houses has doubled. That extra space has gone partly to free children from having to share a bedroom, partly to accommodate Americans’ ever-growing bulk of material possessions, and partly to make room for more lavish entertaining.

But if there seems to be no limit to the size of the material- and energy-hogging houses built in recent years, it's thanks most of all to that good old law of supply-and-demand run amok.

A little brown house beats a big green one
The current slump notwithstanding, homebuilding continues to account for a big slice of the nation's resource consumption. For example, the manufacture and transportation of concrete to build a typical 2,500-square-foot house generates the equivalent of 36 metric tons of carbon dioxide.

Construction and remodeling of residences accounts for three-fourths of all the lumber consumed each year in the US. In this business, there’s no substitute for good old-fashioned wood. Laid end-to-end, the pieces of lumber required to build a typical 3,000-square-foot house would stretch for more than four miles.

In its review of the year 2004, the Western Wood Products Association (WWPA) crowed that "an all-time high of 27.6 billion board feet of lumber was used in residential construction, framing some 2.07 million housing starts recorded for the year. Lumber used in repair and remodeling surpassed 20 billion board feet for the first time in history." Consumption broke records again in 2005 for the fourth straight year, only to fall with the housing slump that began in 2006. Wood, unlike concrete, gets some credit for being a "renewable" resource. Spokespeople for the lumber and construction industries emphasize that they are taking greenhouse carbon out of the atmosphere and locking it away in wood-frame houses.

That’s correct, as far as it goes; about half of the mass in a stick of lumber is carbon. But putting that wood into a house is a one-time capture, whereas the house itself will spend decades cranking out carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Over a 50-year lifetime, greenhouse emissions caused by the standard American house account for 30 to 40 times the weight of the carbon that's socked away in its wood frame. The bigger the house, the bigger the emissions.

Furthermore, with the currently popular focus on the sheer quantity of greenhouse gas emissions, the ecological impact of uprooting complex forest ecosystems in favor of industrialized wood plantations doesn’t figure very prominently. And a "green"-built house can require almost 50 percent more wood than a standard house of the same size. Hard times in the housing market will provide forests and the atmosphere at least a little bit of much-needed rest.

The current bust has already curbed lumber consumption, although WWPA expects demand to "rebound" in 2009. Meanwhile, the American Chemistry Council reports that production the plastic polyvinyl chloride (PVC) fell sharply in 2006. Environmentalists have long sought to stem the highly toxic production of PVC, 80 percent of which is used in construction.

But, as environmentally significant as construction materials are, it’s estimated that only about one-tenth of a house’s total energy consumption occurs while it's being built; the other 90 percent happens while it’s being lived in. That can be reduced by "green" construction, but making green houses too big can cancel out all of those gains. A 2005 article (pdf) in the Journal of Industrial Ecology concluded,

A 1,500-square-foot house with mediocre energy-performance standards will use far less energy for heating and cooling than a 3,000-square-foot house of comparable geometry with much better energy detailing. Downsizing a conventionally framed house by 25 percent should save significantly more wood than substituting the most wood-efficient advanced framing techniques for that house. And it is easier to reduce the embodied energy of a house by making the house smaller than by searching for low embodied-energy materials.

Note the important word "geometry." To make outsized suburban manors more interesting, builders tend to avoid boxy forms, loading up their product with multiple rooflines and gables, dormers, bay windows, and other protuberances. Such houses have more surface area than does a squared-off house of the same size, thus requiring more fossil-fuel to cool and heat them. Additional energy is wasted by the longer heating/cooling ducts and hot-water pipes in a big house. And for a given house design – "green" or standard, monolithic or pseudo-Victorian -- the bigger its square footage, the bigger its environmental footprint.

A question of "want"
Although American houses have been growing since World War II, the low mortgage rates and hot housing market of the past decade are widely credited with pushing square footage to record levels. It’s partly simple math and partly not-so-simple psychology -- and it's all about money.

At the interest rates prevailing in 2003, according to the Wall Street Journal’s Jonathan Clements, you could buy a 40-percent bigger house and owe $273 less per month on your mortgage than if you were buying the smaller house at 1983-level interest rates.

Of course, noted Clements, you could show some restraint, buy a smaller house at the 2003 interest rate, and save another $281 per month. But the real-estate industry isn’t all that interested in helping you downsize and stow the savings in your bank account or 401(k) plan. The question that the industry urges homebuyers to ask themselves is not, "How much do I want to save on my monthly house payment and utility bills?" but rather, "How much house can I afford?"

The heavy-breathing house market of the past few years added to the pressure by shifting many buyers’ emphasis away from acquiring shelter and toward making an investment. Within a given neighborhood, houses are sold more or less by the square foot. So in boom times, the bigger and more expensive the house you buy, the bigger the profit you can make by selling it a few years later.

The steep inflation in house prices that hit some cities during the bubble spurred big-home sales all across the country. At the height of the boom, the Wall Street Journal cited the example of a San Jose, Calif., couple who bought a 1,250-square-foot house in 2000 for $415,000, sold it in 2004 for $593,000, and bought a house in Bozeman, Mont., for $425,000 – a house nearly three times as large as the one they sold, giving them plenty of cash left over to fill it with furniture and appliances.

Ollie Bohnert, a real-estate agent in St. Louis -- where the housing boom-and-bust has been milder than in many other big cities -- says that she sees houses of all sizes selling well. From her experience with house shoppers, she told me, "Buying a big house is not a question of need but a question of 'want'." I asked her if, for a realtor, a big house has a bigger commission payoff per hour of time invested. She said, "Large houses typically take a little more time, because there are a limited number of buyers. But it depends. I've had small houses sell quick, and I've had large houses sell very quick."

When you can't afford not to tear it down
Square-footage fever emerges in a doubly wasteful form in cities where normal-sized, sound, comfortable houses are being demolished to make way for bigger, more luxurious ones.

In North Carolina’s thriving Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill triangle, demolition permits for single-family homes are currently being issued at the blistering rate of 42 per month. Speaking to the Raleigh News and Observer in June, the city’s planning director described homeowners’ motivation this way: "They have homes that are built in the '50s and '60s that are somewhat outdated for the lifestyle."

Last year, Les Christie of attempted to provide homeowners with an answer to the question, "Is your house a teardown candidate?" He advised that "even beautiful homes in excellent shape can be torn down," if they have come to be surrounded by larger ones. But taking a wrecking ball to your home-sweet-home makes the most sense when real-estate prices are running wild.

Christie used the example of "a little bungalow" in suburban Dallas valued at $500,000. The demolition cost would be comparatively trivial, and it would cost a builder about $600,000 to replace it with a "new, upscale house" of 3,000 square feet. In that situation, "if nearby new homes are valued at $1.2 million or more," economic logic dictates that the owner of a perfectly good house should tear it down and replace it -- or sell it at a big profit to a mansion-building company that will demolish the house to get the lot.

Edmund C. Grant, an attorney in Lexington, Mass., who works in land-use and real estate law, told me that Lexington got an early start on the "mansionization" trend when 1950s- and '60s-era ranch and Cape-Cod style houses began being demolished in the 1990s to make way for houses two-and-a-half to three times their size. The trend drew renewed energy from the early-2000s boom, when, says Grant, "Property values rose 65 percent in just five years."

A long-time opponent of teardowns, Grant sees the future as unpredictable: "It remains to be seen whether the jumbo loans that support these houses can continue" in light of the current turmoil in the mortgage industry. But, he laments, "There seems to be a certain inevitability about it. The trend started in older, more densely populated parts of the country [like Lexington], but it has spread to most markets. People object to the first teardowns that happen in their neighborhood, but eventually, they seem to get used to it – especially when they see studies showing that teardowns tend to raise all property values in the neighborhood."

I asked Grant -- who was on his city’s planning commission in the '90s and currently serves on its board of assessors -- if there have been attempts to put legal limits on square footage of houses in Lexington, as has been done in some other liberal cities like Boulder, Colo. To do so, it turns out, would actually be illegal, because Massachusetts state law forbids local governments to restrict the amount of indoor floor space that a house can have. "It’s considered a property-rights intrusion," Grant says. Can the law be overturned? "I don't know. The real-estate lobby is pretty strong in this state."

When questions of property rights and house size come up, things seems to move in only one direction, and that's up. Many neighborhood homeowner associations across the country mandate a minimum size -- often 2,500 to 3,000 square feet – for new houses. Under their rules, property rights are sacrificed for the sake of perceived property values.

An SUV that runs for 100 years?
The long-term impact of titanic houses parallels that of gas-gulping SUVs and pickup trucks. Sales of the big vehicles may be ebbing, but the buying binge of the past decade means they’ll still be out there by the millions, belching pollutants, for years to come. In the same way, even if the mania for big houses fades, Americans will be stuck with heating, cooling and powering the millions of them already littering the landscape – not for years like SUVs, but for decades.

To tackle the problems created by these multistory SUVs-without-wheels in a resource-limited world, Don Fitz, editor of the Green journal Synthesis/Regeneration, has suggested a mathematically obvious but too-often overlooked solution: to have more people living in each house. For example, he says, extended families could regroup, or all-too-common municipal laws against unrelated people living under the same roof could be eliminated.

In the current climate, though, political pressures are pushing in precisely the opposite direction. In July, the commissioners of Cobb County, Ga., passed an ordinance requiring all houses in the county to have at least 390 square feet of living space per adult. The new law, widely seen as a weapon to be used against immigrant residents, would prohibit more than four people over 18 from living in a 1,600-square-foot house.

Very few houses now being built are as energy-efficient as they could be, and there is no good excuse for that. In one recent survey of 33 nonresidential green buildings across the country, their construction costs were found to average only about two percent more than what they would have cost had they been standard buildings (pdf). Built according to specifications of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) system, the green buildings are predicted to provide energy and environmental savings averaging about 75 cents per square foot per year over 20 years.

Yet such prospective savings, if they can also apply to single-family homes, might simply serve the industry as yet another inducement that sells even more square footage -- as in, "Hey, with this bigger LEED house, you'll get a couple more rooms, and it'll be like you're heating and cooling them for free!"

Clearly, the issue of mansionization will have to be yanked out of the tangle of other housing issues and dealt with as a serious problem in its own right. The individual question, "How much house can I afford?" will have to give way to the public policy question, "How much house can we afford?"

Stan Cox is a plant breeder and writer in Salina, Kan.

© 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.

View this story online at:

Saturday, September 8, 2007

The Oaks at Fallon Park

This is what the article in last Saturday's N&O said about this new development:

The new [web]site showcases the historical Five Points area and paints the picture of a community that will successfully combine urban living with the fabric of the traditional neighborhood.Homebuyers can learn about the award-winning builder team who is enhancing a charming, old neighborhood with beautifully designed, upscale homes, using architecture that blends in with the surrounding communities. In addition, visitors to the site can download home renderings andfloorplans, while perusing the unique amenities nestled within a natural, historic setting.

Homebuyers can learn about the award-winning builder team who is enhancing a charming, old neighborhood with beautifully designed, upscale homes, using architecture that blends in with the surrounding communities.

Just a reminder to the other builders in the area who are specializing in replacing said charm with some kind of other-world inspired starter castles.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

It's a Small World After All

Couldn't resist noting that the flavors of the world were turning up in one upscale Raleigh infill development. A quick ramble down the street will allow you to see the architectural influences of Spain, France, England, and Lancaster -- Pennsylvania, that is. At ten feet apart, could this be a tribute to world peace?

Photo: The sun sets over Franspananglicanerica.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Fun Facts

For those interested in conserving and preserving the unique character of older Raleigh

Number of homes in housing stock that are Pre-1945: 8%

Number of demolitions (homes and buildings) in the last 5 years: 600

Percentage increase in demolition permits issued this year over last in Triangle: 75%

Construction and demolition debris as percent of solid waste in Wake landfill: 35%
(exclusive of road and bridge debris)

Percentage of methane emissions that come from the landfills: 34%

Power of methane over carbon dioxide to trap heat in atmosphere: 20 times

Number of energy years used to construct a new home: 50

Average number of square feet in new single family home, 1973: 1525
Average number of square feet in new single family home, 2006: 2248

Average number of people per household, 1973: 3
Average number of people per household, 2006: 2.6

Fastest growing segment of household size: 1-2 people

Unofficial observations:

Average number of square feet in new single family home built to replace a teardown in Raleigh: the sky is the limit ... but informal research would point toward 4000 to 5000 feet.

Average price differential between teardown purchase price and new house built on old lot: 2.5-3x

Number of Million Dollar speculative homes still for sale near or on Anderson Drive: 6

Number of Million Dollar speculative homes sold near or on Anderson Drive this year: 2

Number of Million Dollar homes being built by private owner near or on Anderson Drive currently: 2

Number of $500K empty lots for sale near or on Anderson Drive: 2 out of 2 with signs, 1 mystery.

Where we are in the national trend toward rebuilding older neighborhoods: at the beginning of an upward trend.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Losing Lake Boone Trail

As mentioned in an earlier post, this windy woody stretch of Lake Boone Trail has always been a pleasure to behold. I was shocked to see the house chosen for removal, and then the trees that went after it. See picture in earlier post.

The million dollar question is whether a teardown or two will change the tone of the street and encourage more rebuilds, or if these new homes will become a part of a diverse community culture.

Here's a clue.

This house down the street and across has also sold and been destroyed. Dated 6/8/07, the transaction cost $430,000.

It currently looks like this.

Land in these parts is netting approximately $330,000 for nearly .50 acres and another $100,000 plus for the house. With teardown costs, the builder is facing around $500,000 in base costs. My prediction is that these will be $1.5M-2.0M investments in order to recoup the costs.

The character of this section of town hangs in the balance. Down the road on Nottingham are several more megahouses. Further down in Sunset hills, Banbury Park is replacing the older rental units and displacing tenants. Up on Brooks Ave, up and down the cross streets, pre-1945 houses are going into the landfill and new larger houses are taking their place. Ridge Road is particularly popular for hunting down ranch houses.

Call me paranoid, but I think there is a plan for rebuilding old Raleigh. In the past they cleared farmland to develop subdivisions, now they clear lots. Lake Boone Trail residents are soon to be living in a million dollar neighborhood, it is happening one house at a time.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Quote of the day

Heard this morning on the radio.

You can't stop it, people who have been here a long time have to understand that it is changing. We live in the United States of America under a capitalistic system. That means that if you have the money and you want to do something with the money, then you are allowed to do it. That is the bottom line.

Spoken by a resident of a brownstone in a gentrified street in Harlem about the African drumming circle held in Marcus Garvey Park. Apparently some drummers are using their drums to voice their protest to the loss of their neighborhood, which has energized the tradition.

If you happen to be in Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem on a Saturday late afternoon or evening during the summer, you can drop in on the neighborhood's African drumming circle.

Longtime residents and African drumming enthusiasts have held an informal, hours-long, drum circle there for more than 30 years.

But new residents of the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood are not as keen on the pulsating rhythmic sessions that sometimes last more than four hours— and are complaining, loudly. (NPR)