From The Charlotte Observer | Opinion | December 30, 2007
Reining in teardowns
Charlotte loses more than bungalows when neighborhoods flip
Here's an item of interest: Raleigh's City Council will start the new year by examining ways to rein in a troubling trend: teardowns that replace homes in established neighborhoods with behemoths that are out of scale and out of keeping .
Funny, we aren't hearing anything about that from Charlotte's City Council. We ought to be. It's rampant in valuable, close-in neighborhoods. Unchecked, the practice will undermine one of Charlotte's primary assets -- thriving older neighborhoods, mostly near the city center -- by changing the character, history and mix of incomes that make them appealing.
Take a drive through almost any of Charlotte's older neighborhoods -- Myers Park, Freedom Park, Plaza-Midwood, Sedgefield -- and you'll see the issue. Huge houses that sometimes dwarf neighboring residences are supplanting the sturdy bungalows and brick post-war homes that define those areas.
Teardowns aren't necessarily bad. But when you cram a three-story 6,000-square-foot home on a narrow urban lot designed to hold a story-and-a-half, 1,500-square-footer, you wind up with something that towers over existing homes and changes the streetscape. Do it enough and you also alter the diversity of those neighborhoods, which thrive, in part, because they offer housing affordable to a wide mix of income levels.
In Charlotte, there's not much to keep that from happening. The exception: In local historic districts new construction has to maintain the scale, proportion and context of the existing neighborhood. But such districts are small, and getting a neighborhood designated isn't easy.
In Raleigh the City Council is looking for other solutions. A year-long in-depth study will be completed this spring. Next month the council will consider requiring Planning Commission approval for additions or new construction 25 percent bigger than the original structure.
That's an idea with merit. It won't keep anybody from developing their property or adding on to their house. But it will provide oversight until more permanent measures are in place.
Charlotte's City Council should be seeking solutions, too -- now. The pace of change is astounding.
Why should cities care if big, new houses are altering the character of urban neighborhoods? Because those neighborhoods' value is tied to their character, their mix of people and the quality of life they sustain. Lose that, and you've lost more than bungalows and streetscapes.
Yep, so why is this a public policy issue and not a "no-brainer" about property rights? Repeating, "Why should cities care if big, new houses are altering the character of urban neighborhoods? Because those neighborhoods' value is tied to their character, their mix of people and the quality of life they sustain. Lose that, and you've lost more than bungalows and streetscapes." Fallonia would add, you lose the heart of the city itself.