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

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