Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Over the Top Awards for October

This month's Over The Top award goes to:

Xanadu on Oberlin

You know the one.

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Houstonist

Another web site is tracking teardowns in their community:

Teardowns of the Week

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

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

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Beyond Repair?

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

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Million Dollar Babies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 26, 2007

Another one down

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

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

The first thing to go was the trees.

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

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

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

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Raleigh's Comprehensive Plan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT: Comprehensive plan kickoff event

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

WHEN: 7 to 9 p.m. today

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Out of This World

Unusual Architecture From Around the World

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

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

Monday, October 22, 2007

On a Tear

These folks mean business.

'Monster house' is neighborhood's nightmare

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

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

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

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

A developer razed a 1930s Cape Cod-style house and began excavation for a $1.3 million, 5,400-square-foot replacement. It will be almost three times as big as the house that was on the lot before it, and nearly twice as big as any other house on the block. But it's perfectly legal, meeting all of Edina's zoning requirements.

That doesn't matter to people on Oaklawn Avenue. They've been fighting back, crowding a City Council meeting and posting a protest video on YouTube. Most of the houses on the block have signs in their yards. "Monster homes make bad neighbors!" proclaims one. "Supersized houses -- stay out of our neighborhood!" says another.

In a letter to the developer, one resident warned that whoever buys the house will be "ostracized and shunned ... no neighborly waves, no invitation to neighborhood parties."

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

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

But policies that alienate longtime residents can have a political cost.

Mayor Jim Hovland said the city is still trying to shape its zoning policies, parts of which were changed last spring.

"We've been working on this, but maybe we haven't gone far enough to find that balance point," he said last week. "We're very concerned about maintaining the character of these neighborhoods."

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

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

"Street of dreams"

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

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

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

Until now.

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

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

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

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

Neighborhood integrity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380

Mary Jane Smetanka •

© 2007 Star Tribune. All rights reserved.

The Heart of the Matter

Edina Neighbors Distraught Over Teardowns
By Bruce MacDonald

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

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Palais De Fortune

Mega-Mansion Quiz:

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

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

The answer and complete story can be found here.

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

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

Saturday, October 20, 2007

What Residents Want to Say

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

Builders Johnny-on-the-spot with big houses

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

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

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

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

Dan Levine, Dallas

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

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

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

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

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

Steven Boll, Dallas

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

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

Sandra Matthews, Dallas

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Ironic or iconic?

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

Now it makes sense.

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

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

Market trends. Something I will never really understand.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Confusing Claremont

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 13, 2007

$1 million down

from CBS News Assignment America:
Steve Hartman visits a Seattle woman who refused offers for up to million for her home in a redevelopment area.

Video URL

What I really like about this story is that she has befriended the workers, thus re-making a construction zone into a small community, like the one that was destroyed. Heart is heart, and hearts don't give up easily.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Oh, Woe is We

OPINION: McMansions hit close to home
Once quiet street being torn apart by tear-downs

Published on: 10/10/07 | Atlanta Journal Constitution
I can empathize with the three metro Atlanta neighborhoods, many with homes built around World War II, trying to set up historic districts. Atlanta's Virginia-Highland and Midtown and Decatur's Oakhurst are trying to stop tear-downs and the spread of "McMansions."

They are fighting for the very lives of their neighborhoods. And no, it is not hyperbole to say that. I know how real and urgent the battle is because I live near Chastain Park on Tuxedo Terrace, where the same destruction of family homes is taking place to make way for mammoth edifices totally out of scale with our existing houses.

In a recent article on the front of the business section ("Some still feel like a million," Aug. 31), a house under construction on my once modest street of ranch-style houses from the 1960s was profiled as an example of multimillion-dollar homes still selling well in Atlanta. While the story talked of the BMW 750 LI pulling up to the curb with the tanned and trim real estate agent, the 7,000-square-foot house offered for $2.2 million, the home theater, porte-cochere, wine cellar, gym, pool, etc., it failed to mention a few things:

For more than a year, a once close cul-de-sac neighborhood of 17 homes literally has been torn apart by two tear-downs and two renovations. It had been a street of different ages and financial means — some people had a good bit of money and some didn't, but none of us lived in faux chateaux or estates.

We drove each other to the airport, baby-sat each other's children, celebrated births and mourned deaths. We were a real community. That was before the developer feeding frenzy moved onto Tuxedo Terrace, transforming my street — as much of the rest of Atlanta — into a landscape worthy of Dali with bizarre out-of-proportion monster mansions on small lots next to one-story family homes.

Our street started looking like Appalachia before the War on Poverty; instead of outhouses, we had lines of portable toilets. Inexplicably, a venerable landmark poplar tree on one lot disappeared right where a developer wanted it to be gone. Dirt was hauled in to build up one side of a lot for a daylight basement, a large magnolia was bulldozed up by the roots. Cracks occurred in the foundation next door, all un-reimbursed. Lines of concrete mixing trucks and long tractor-trailers delivering lumber and Sheetrock were daily obstacles, at times totally blocking all access to enter or leave. One neighbor finally gave up hosting her bridge club because her friends were afraid of the relentless construction with no place left to park. Another neighbor, 6 feet 4 inches tall, ran off an eager portable toilet delivery driver at 4:20 a.m. Repeated calls from my neighbors have been made to the city arborist, inspection office, erosion control, City Council members. Even the fire department arrived one night after a fire was left burning in front of a construction site.

I was working downtown during the MARTA construction in the 1970s and remember the booming, window rattling pounding. Being across the street from the house profiled in the AJC, I can assure you the digging and pouring for a 7,000-square-foot house with home theater, wine cellar and pool, which consumes most of the lot, is only a decibel less shattering day after day. Every day I pick up the remains of the fast-food lunches rotting in my front yard.

The Tuxedo Terrace Truck Stop opened at 5:23 a.m. Oct. 2.

That was when the tractor-trailer began grinding and bumping in reverse up the driveway across the street, delivering an empty commercial trash bin and winching up a full bin. Massive headlights shone in my living room, dining room and bedroom windows, a scene rather like one of those old drive-up to the room motels, but on steroids. When a neighbor and I converged on the driver to ask him to wait until the legal time of 7 a.m. to begin, he rolled up the truck window on me and continued without pause.

For six days, a long-bed trailer loaded with irrigation pipes and an irrigation tractor with digger attached parked at the end of my cul-de-sac, day and night. While it's irritating for cars to make the turn with such an obstacle in the way, it was nearly impossible for the school bus.

While the other three houses torn down or renovated on my street are larger than the original homes, still they are in keeping with the lot size and are attractive. However, the one profiled in the AJC is three times the size of the originals.

When I'm in my sunroom, looking out on what was once a totally renovated home before it was bulldozed for this altar to get-rich-quick, I miss the woodsy, low slung home with the Frank Lloyd Wright attitude. Now I see this barn-like Bates Motel looming up, up, up. Having fouled our nest, the developer will make his millions and move on. While I appreciate the good intentions ... finally ... of the Atlanta City Council attempting to restrict this kind of architectural rape of our neighborhoods, I wish it had come soon enough to save Tuxedo Terrace.

— Linda Lanier Fortson lives in Atlanta

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Channelling Isabella Cannon

I had to smile last night when I thought of Ms Cannon and her mayoral victory in 1977. Could our neighborhoods be coming back to civic life? If we ever needed Isabella's energy since 1977, now is the time.

As part of the Southern Oral History Program at UNC, Jim Clark interviewed Ms. Cannon in 1993. That oral history can be found here, for those who missed this era, a synopsis follows.

Isabella Cannon was the first woman mayor of Raleigh, North Carolina. As part of the Raleigh Bicentennial Task Force oral history project, Cannon discusses talks about her community and political involvement in Raleigh over the course of the twentieth century. Originally born in Scotland in 1904, Cannon came to America with her family in 1916. Cannon first moved to Raleigh with her husband during the Great Depression because of his job with the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and the National Youth Administration (NYA). She immediately sought to learn as much as she could about the history and culture of Raleigh. During this time, she and her husband were actively involved in the United Church of Christ, which she explains was very progressive in terms of its early advocacy for integration. In addition, Cannon was an active participant in community theater with the Raleigh Little Theater.

She left Raleigh for a number of years when her husband was asked to head the fiscal planning for the Lend-Lease Program in Washington D.C. Cannon worked intermittently as a statistician during these years and lived abroad with her husband in Liberia. After his retirement, they returned to the Raleigh area. After her husband's death, Cannon went to work for the North Carolina State Library for fifteen years, during which time she became increasingly involved in local politics. In the early 1970s, she actively campaigned for Jim Hunt's election as Lieutenant Governor.

Then, in 1977, at the age of 73, Cannon campaigned to become the first woman mayor of Raleigh. The "little old lady in tennis shoes" describes her grassroots campaign against incumbent Jyles Coggins and the national and global press her election received. As mayor, Cannon was especially concerned with issues of affirmative action, the Long Range Comprehensive Plan to support the growth of Raleigh, reconciling tension between the city and the police and fire departments, strengthening the relationship between city and state, establishing parks, and revitalizing the downtown area.

In 2000, she delivered the commencement address at Elon. She was 96, and she once again shared her philosophy of life: think globally / act locally, get and stay involved in your communities and neighborhoods.

I found this paragraph from Time Magazine, published at the time:
Generally, election winners were an eclectic group for whom age, sex or race seemed to be no barrier. Denying that she was a "little old lady in tennis shoes," retired Librarian Isabelle Cannon, 73, proved to be fast on her feet as she upset Jyles Coggins, 56, mayor of Raleigh, N.C. "How can you debate with someone who is old enough to be your mother?" complained Coggins. Said Cannon, who was backed by groups in favor of controlled growth for the city: "Raleigh is ready for a fresh new face."

Hear, here.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Why YOU Want to VOTE today

quicktime video here

Our Town (google video here)

And you know the sun's settin' fast,
And just like they say, nothing good ever lasts.
Well, go on now and kiss it goodbye,
But hold on to your lover,
'Cause your heart's bound to die.
Go on now and say goodbye to our town, to our town.
Can't you see the sun's settin' down on our town, on our town,

Up the street beside that red neon light,
That's where I met my baby on one hot summer night.
He was the tender and I ordered a beer,
It's been forty years and I'm still sitting here.

But you know the sun's settin' fast,
And just like they say, nothing good ever lasts.
Well, go on now and kiss it goodbye,
But hold on to your lover,
'Cause your heart's bound to die.
Go on now and say goodbye to our town, to our town.
Can't you see the sun's settin' down on our town, on our town,

It's here I had my babies and I had my first kiss.
I've walked down Main Street in the cold morning mist.
Over there is where I bought my first car.
It turned over once but then it never went far.

And I can see the sun's settin' fast,
And just like they say, nothing good ever lasts.
Well, go on now and kiss it goodbye,
But hold on to your lover,
'Cause your heart's bound to die.
Go on now and say goodbye to our town, to our town.
Can't you see the sun's settin' down on our town, on our town,

I buried my Mama and I buried my Pa.
They sleep up the street beside that pretty brick wall.
I bring them flowers about every day,
but I just gotta cry when I think what they'd say.

If they could see how the sun's settin' fast,
And just like they say, nothing good ever lasts.
Well, go on now and kiss it goodbye,
But hold on to your lover,
'Cause your heart's bound to die.
Go on now and say goodbye to our town, to our town.
Can't you see the sun's settin' down on our town, on our town,

Now I sit on the porch and watch the lightning-bugs fly.
But I can't see too good, I got tears in my eyes.
I'm leaving tomorrow but I don't wanna go.
I love you, my town, you'll always live in my soul.

But I can see the sun's settin' fast,
And just like they say, nothing good ever lasts.
Well, go on, I gotta kiss you goodbye,
But I'll hold to my lover,
'Cause my heart's 'bout to die.
Go on now and say goodbye to my town, to my town.
I can see the sun has gone down on my town, on my town,

-- Iris Dement
Album: Infamous Angel

Monday, October 8, 2007

Open Letter to Raleigh City Council

Open Letter to Raleigh City Council
by Sharyn Harris

I attended the Tuesday [September 18] City Council meeting on the downzoning proposal in the Fallon Park area. I support the rezoning. I have friends and family who have lived in the Fallon Park area for 30 plus years and live in nice older homes that have very reasonable square footage. My family member lives on Medway and supports the downzoning of her property. I believe the stance the City Council takes on this issue will affect future infill throughout Raleigh.

However, my concerns are more encompassing of the teardown situation than the zoning issues. Do you know how many of the 588 teardown houses were demolished versus deconstructed? A good PDF about the benefits of deconstruction is available at the following URL: The agency that produced the publication is: PATH (A Public-Private Partnership for Advancing Housing Technology). I believe the benefits of deconstruction outweigh the fast-paced need to demolish a house. Deconstruction could be a true win-win for everyone, including builders. I hope you will consider reviewing the PATH publication. It provides a clear presentation of how deconstruction can benefit a community.

Another concern I have is about asbestos and lead paint. The News and Observer has recently published concerns about the need to protect the health of workers and nearby neighbors when demolitions take place. I am aware permits must be obtained to do demolitions, but is there any oversight of the process by city staff?

How many large trees are really being protected when rebuilding occurs? Unless the protection fences are placed far enough from the trees, death of the trees will occur within a decade of the new construction. In the publication, A North Hills Lifestyle Midtown (page 24), a local arborist affirms that this is a major concern and provides the best practices to promote the health of the trees being saved.

My last concern is for citizens with disabilities. When affordable rental properties and homes are demolished, what does that mean for the residents who have been displaced? This issue is very important to me. In the 1980s I was involved in the founding of a support group for women with disabilities. Many of the women in the group listed safe affordable rentals or homes close to public transportation as being of utmost importance. This was not a convenience issue, but one that could affect their ability to have gainful employment and live independently.

I think Tom Bland, president of Preservation Homes indicates how little concern is being focused on citizens with limited financial resources. In A North Hills Lifestyle Midtown (page 17), he stated,

“We typically buy a property that’s dilapidated and not been managed well, and we’ll work our way down a street and try to basically gentrify the neighborhood. And while the renters may not like that, I think it serves the city and everybody else involved because we’re putting something there that has a higher tax value for the city, and we’re not out building new streets or running new sewer lines or adding more people to the suburbs. We can take some pride in building a new house that maybe wasn’t the greatest place to live before that.”

I have not heard anyone say that the Fallon Park area is not a great place to live. In fact comments have been made that it is a desirable place to live. Builders are speculating on that fact because their demographics indicate it is a desirable place. The theory seems to be if they build big houses the people who “have the money to buy what they want, where they want,” will come. A quote contributed to Cindy Penny, a broker with Penny Realty Group in Midtown (page 18).

Gentrification usually occurs in areas that have crime; poverty and other urban problems. Halifax Court is the best example I can think of where gentrification has benefited people with differing social-economic means. Fallon Park has been a solid middle- to upper-class community that has in the past included affordable housing options. Gentrification for such a vibrant neighborhood is nothing more than builders speculating that their wealthier clientele—many who have no previous financial or personal investment in the community—are more worthy to live Inside-the-Beltline than those who have helped to make Raleigh the desirable place it has become.

Please enact policies in Raleigh that will be just and kind for all its citizens.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Raleigh, We Need to Talk

Would you throw away this house?

This from Bob Geary, Independent Weekly | Election 2007

OCTOBER 3, 2007:
Cary and Raleigh citizens raise voices and votes

Leaving office after eight years on the Cary Town Council, businesswoman Marla Dorrel tells the story of Cary's "old guard" and its discomfort with newcomers who want a say in local decisions. The "guard," Dorrel says, are the movers and shakers who've handpicked Cary's leaders and set its growth strategies for decades. They have established high standards, fostered close ties with developers and gotten exactly what they wanted: an affluent, well-educated and intelligent community. Their closed system worked great when Cary was small and sprawling, she says. But with Cary filling up, it doesn't work anymore.

"They didn't think about how things might change when this affluent, well-educated and highly intelligent populace became engaged in their own government," Dorrel says. "Perhaps they didn't think they'd become engaged at all. One thing is for sure. It is much easier to maintain control when the population is 20,000 than when it exceeds 120,000."

In Local Democracy Under Siege: Activism, Public Interests and Private Politics (New York University Press, 2007), a team of anthropologists looking at five North Carolina communities, including the City of Durham and Chatham County, reports that "market rule" by local elites and business interests is ascendant while citizens typically struggle to be heard. "The large taxpayers and developers are virtually super-citizens," co-author and UNC-Chapel Hill Professor Don Nonini said after a reading last week. "Others, especially low-income residents, are almost sub-citizens."

"Market rule thrives on citizen disengagement from the public sphere," Nonini added.

Now there is a concept that requires attention and action. The "market will work it out" theory is only equitable for others if the market is not already greased for a smooth glidepath. The current climate in Raleigh is born of benign neglect. Our trust of our processes, market forces, and fellow citizens is allowing much to slip away unawares. We have a lot to lose unless we pay attention AND get involved.

In Raleigh, the Oct. 9 municipal elections—and potential run-offs next month—are also engendering headlines about growth and its side effects of traffic congestion, lagging infrastructure and the need for more parks and open space. But behind that debate is the shadow question of whether average citizens can still be heard at City Hall as Raleigh's population hits 360,000.

Groups such as Community SCALE, which is trying to put the brakes on house teardowns and out-of-scale replacements ("McMansions") in older Raleigh neighborhoods, have been raising that question. The neighborhoods have tried for several years to convince the council of the need for infill standards to limit builders' appetites. Frustrated, they petitioned recently for a blanket downzoning of more than 100 properties—a move born out of desperation when the council and the city's planning staff each put them off again this year.

"What has made our neighborhoods so coveted is being destroyed by those seeking to profit from it," says Philip Letsinger, a SCALE member.

The best way to get your voice heard is to VOTE this Tuesday. Neighborhood involvement will let the City Council know who cares about what in our fair city.

Neighborhoods battling developers is an old story in Raleigh, of course. But as in Cary, the nature of those fights is changing as sprawl plays itself out at the city's edges and developers look to the downtown neighborhoods for infill and high-density projects. ...

Good endorsements are found here. Vote like your life depends on it.

Gotta Love Em

I am a little late getting this link to the Powell Toon up.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

No Mo Wobegon?

Minnesota Public Radio
October 5, 2007, | 12:00 p.m.
Garrison Keillor, the host of the public radio program A Prairie Home Companion, gave the keynote address at the National Trust for Historic Preservation conference.

Keillor said historic preservation is important not only for the beautification of our cities, but also for the health of our communities.

You can listen here.

We have a moral duty to preserve the grandeur and beauty and exuberance of the past. ... We are obliged to fight back ... it is our duty. It is our way of proving that we have eyes, we have a brain, and that we live here and we care what it looks like, even if the people making the decisions do not.

Friday, October 5, 2007

September Over The Top Award

The September Award goes to Midtown magazine and their cover story, the Teardown Phenomenon (hmmm, I feel a phrase lift here...).

The entire story can be found here or here.

A how-to guide to turning an older stable neighborhood into a newer upscale development, one house at a time, the players and their specialties are covered here. This will help one find their own personal concierge service for this exciting opportunity, available to the select market.

There are a few warnings, this one on old growth trees, for example.

“What we have found with working with multiple builders on teardown projects is that they typically want to save some of the mature trees, especially the big Oak trees that have been there for 100 years or more,” says Jeffrey Parkhurst, certified arborist with JD Tree Pros. “The only problem with that is that most builders know how to build houses. They don’t know much about trees at all. So, they put up a small tree protection zone around the base of the tree. The only problem with that is they usually put it up way too small. The root zone of a tree is at least as far outreaching as the limbs and usually 50 percent beyond that.” Parkhurst says once the root system is damaged, a tree can start dying immediately or anywhere from two to five years later, which often leaves homeowners bewildered as to what happened to their gorgeous tree.

The solution, of course, involves having enough money to try to resolve the problem created by having enough money to create the problem in the first place.

Another timely topic, price:
Although some buyers take it upon themselves to tear down old homes and start from scratch, most of the players are builders. To meet the demand of this demographic, many are shelling out upwards of $250,000 for the lot alone. To make the numbers work, they must build big to recoup their costs. “Typically, the lot is about 20 percent of the total value of the house,” says Tom Bland, president of Preservation Homes, who currently has two homes under construction on Nottingham. “So if you buy a lot for $200,000, you’re probably going to have to put a million-dollar home on there because of the numbers. The lot will dictate the price of the house.” A decade ago, paying several hundred thousand dollars for a lot in Raleigh was largely unimaginable for most builders, but the climate of the real estate industry has changed. ...

Some builders quoted showed sensitivity for the history of the area and in the selection of homes to demolish. Others, however, see dollar signs. Few see the economic burden this shifts to the existing residents, but then again, that is how the property will get to market.
“We have seen periods of above average appreciation on existing homes in the Midtown area over the past three years based on increased demand alone. ... Whether or not this continues will depend on a strong local economy, continued growth, redevelopment and demand in the Midtown area. Based on the location, there should be heightened demand for property in this area and rebuilding should continue for the foreseeable future.”

My secret decoder ring says that Property means Lot, not my historic cared-for home. I dunno about you, but seeing my lifetime neighborhood objectified into a luxury shoppers paradise kinda turned my stomach. Embracing change is one thing, this is something else.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Asbestos and Teardowns

Correspondence with US-EPA about Asbestos in Demolitions:
by Sharyn Harris

Q: I read with interest the October 1 News Release about Asbestos. Should people living in a well-established city neighborhood with smaller lots be concerned when older homes are being demolished for redevelopment?

A: Yes, demolitions in residential neighborhoods can cause public exposure to asbestos. The case described in our News Release took place in a mixed commercial/residential neighborhood.

Q: When the homes are being demolished there appears to be nothing in place concerning asbestos abatement. A lot of times the beginning of the demolition will begin with the falling of large trees on the house. Then when the bulldozer comes in to finish the job, there is no water being used to keep the asbestos out of the air. It does not appear the demolition workers are suited in anyway to provide protection for themselves or their families.

A: The standards require demolition contractors to remove asbestos first, handling the material carefully to prevent dust. Unfortunately, residential properties are exempt from EPA's asbestos regulations under the Clean Air Act. The regulations fall under the National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutant for asbestos (the asbestos NESHAP). But if the property has more than 4 dwelling units, such as an apartment building, then the federal standards apply.

Q: A friend who lives in the neighborhood had to have an asbestos abatement in her home. The precautions taken were at the other extreme of what seems to occur when demolitions are happening.

A: If your friend lives in a individual home or in a condo or apartment with less than 5 units, they would not be required to do the abatement by EPA. However, they may live in an area where the State or local agency has stricter requirements. Nevertheless, I see your point that one situation resulted in very thorough control of asbestos dust and others result in zero control.

Q: Does the wording "threshold amount of asbestos" hold the key to my concern? What is the threshold and how would concerned citizens be able to have it determined if a demolition is putting more asbestos into the air than is healthy?

A: "Threshold" means that at least 160 sq feet or 260 linear feet of asbestos was disturbed from the project. Smaller jobs are not regulated by the asbestos NESHAP. The regulations do not include a "safe" level of asbestos emissions to the air. Rather, they were written to impose work practice requirements to prevent any visible dust from leaving the job site, such as keeping the material wet, sealing it in leak-tight bags and carefully lowering it to the ground. As a citizen, you can ask your local building department if they issued a demolition permit for the project, and then contact your Regional EPA office (look in the blue pages of the phone book for EPA) to ask if they have submitted a notice of demolition to EPA. EPA can then check to see if a notice was sent to us and what details are in the notice such as how much asbestos is in the building, who is removing it, where the waste is going, etc.

Q: Are there EPA requirements that must be met in all communities, or do state and local laws tend to supersede the federal mandates?

A: EPA sets the minimum standard, in place since the 1970's and updated most recently in 1990. State and local agencies can impose stricter requirements.

Please see our earlier entry about the problem.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007


This is by Richard Moe of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, published in the Star Tribune of Minneapolis-St. Paul.

Richard Moe: Save some space for history

The Twin Cities area has had many preservation successes. But a simple look around demonstrates that the task is never complete.

Published: October 03, 2007

Almost 2,000 preservationists from all parts of the country have come to the Twin Cities this week for the National Preservation Conference. As a native Minnesotan who lived in this area for many years, I'm pleased and proud that conference attendees -- plenty of whom, no doubt, are first-time visitors -- will have a chance to see many of the historic structures, landscapes and neighborhoods that make this such a special place, from the mansions of Summit Avenue in St. Paul to the spectacular Stone Arch Bridge and Mill City Museum in Minneapolis.

But while visitors may not notice it, something else is happening here, and it's not good. Residents who care about this place have every right to pat themselves on the back for their preservation achievements in recent years -- but they must see that big, important chunks of their heritage are still in danger of being spoiled or lost altogether.

Take the riverfront, for example. The rediscovery and ongoing revitalization of this attractive and history-rich area is one of the best things that's happened in this city in my lifetime. But now there's a very real possibility that the rebirth of this long-ignored enclave could destroy the very qualities that make it appealing. Almost every week brings an announcement of a splashy new construction project, and too many of them are too big, threaten to block views of the river, consume precious open space, and otherwise overwhelm the scale and character of the area. The riverfront's popularity shouldn't be allowed to strangle it just as it's coming to life. It may be a truism, but it's worth remembering: You can't revitalize a neighborhood by destroying it.

That same statement has a special resonance in neighborhoods that are experiencing tear-downs. This practice of demolishing an existing house and replacing it with a bigger one is the most serious threat faced by older neighborhoods since the heyday of Urban Renewal, and it has hit the Twin Cities hard. Recent Star Tribune articles describe a "citizen revolt" in embattled neighborhoods in southwest Minneapolis, Edina and Minnetonka -- and no wonder: Mini-mansions get awkwardly shoehorned into established communities where they just don't fit. As bulky new structures get built right up to the property lines, trees disappear and yards shrink, and neighbors find their sunlight and views blocked. Economic and social diversity are reduced as rising property taxes drive out moderate-income or fixed-income residents and affordable "starter homes" disappear. Historic character gets smashed to rubble and hauled off to the landfill.

No one says that older homes or communities should be frozen in time like museum exhibits. A neighborhood is a living thing, and change is both inevitable and desirable. The goal should be not to stop it, but to manage it. New ordinances and zoning laws could help stem the spread of so-called "monster houses" in Minneapolis, but many older communities have no protective mechanisms in place and therefore are still at risk. Similarly, a comprehensive development plan for the riverfront, perhaps coupled with a construction moratorium, could help preserve the character of the riverfront by identifying sites where development will not compromise historic or scenic resources and establishing strict guidelines to help ensure compatibility in the design and siting of new structures.

These issues, plus others such as the need for new preservation strategies for the dilapidated buildings at Fort Snelling's Upper Post, the controversy over the proposed stadium on Nicollet Island and the importance of securing state tax credits to encourage reinvestment in older areas, remind us that being thoughtful, vigilant stewards of the places that matter is hard, unending work. For every victory we win -- and there have been many great ones in recent years, both here in Minnesota and elsewhere across the country -- there's always another challenge to be met, another opportunity to be embraced.

The job of preservation is never done -- but it's a job worth doing, because we're not just hanging on to yesterday; we're building tomorrow. That's the message that National Preservation Conference attendees will hear again and again over the next few days -- and it's a message that Twin Cities residents should take to heart as well.

Richard Moe is president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.