Saturday, January 5, 2008

More about infill

(Fall 2003)
Infill--Having It All
by Marita H. Gilliam

Of late, the trend to infill-new residential development within established neighborhoods-is picking up speed. Developers and homeowners are racing to find attractive lots inside city limits throughout North Carolina. Suburbanites' return to city living, according to urbanists, has many motives: tree-lined streets with sidewalks, nearby shops, offices, bus stops, schools, churches, movies, and parks. An established neighborhood has all of its infrastructure intact-sewers, power, police, and fire protection. It also has old houses, front porches, alleys, and friendly, walkable neighborhoods.

So what is good infill? I think of it as building a home on a lot previously vacant or on a lot on which the previous house is an eyesore to the neighborhood. The newly built house complements that neighborhood in a variety of ways: architectural style, setback, height, bulk, and other details that make it blend in with the community. But actual infill, in many cases, falls short of this definition, such that some cities want to legislate standards.

Nowhere is this trend more evident than in Raleigh and Charlotte. In fact, Charlotte has gone so far as to develop guidelines for infill. These were written so that infill users could pattern new construction after the old. Are they in use? John Rogers, administrator for Charlotte's Historic District Commission, explains: "Although these guidelines were drafted, they were never made a formal policy by City Council." In Raleigh, citywide infill subdivision standards have been written but not enacted.

Most citizens oppose the idea of being told what to do with their property. As Raleigh senior planner, Watson Brown explains: "Individual property rights supercede all other rules." Thus, developers and owners may choose any number of architectural styles and scales for their infill houses, no matter what the established character of the neighborhood might be. Often they will tear down existing housing when vacant lots are unavailable. As long as there are statutes on the books that prohibit dictating design, except where protective covenants are in place, infill housing will cause controversy.

Hastings Drive in Charlotte is a prime example. Developed in the 1940s within walking distance to Queens College and close to downtown, Hastings is a side street to Queens Road, Charlotte's signature street, and featured one-story ranches with a driveway or a garage at the back of quarter acre lots. Twelve years ago, an interior designer found a vacant lot on Hastings and asked Bobby McAlpine, noted architect from Montgomery, Alabama, to design a home for her. He did so, and the result was the designer's dream: a stuccoed, two-story French town house with a circular drive. That infill house began a trend that has continued on Hastings. It appears that one half of its homes are now infills, achieved by tearing down existing houses. Although McAlpine's design has been softened over time as moss has stained the stucco and plantings have matured, the home, along with another town house, serve as out-of-place bookends to the ranch in between. More sympathetic design, compatible to neighboring houses, might have made these infill homes more cohesive to the neighborhood. ...

This excellent resource article can be read at Preservation North Carolina.

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