Thursday, April 24, 2008

A reader asks ...

I gather from reading your post that your objection is that the house being built on Landor is a speculative house that will go up for sale. Would you still have a problem if someone removed the house to build a new home for their family?

Would that it was so simple. ...

What we know so far is that families have been buying and renovating homes in these neighborhoods quite happily for the past 20-40 years. We know that construction companies have been doing a good business in town. We know that the renovations are exciting and creative and strengthen the character because they tend to respect the history.

We know that this has been a desirable area with steadily rising property values. We know that people want to live here because of that indefinable character thing. We know that because they say it. Visitors come to the house and say, "I love this neighborhood."

We know that the neighborhood changes are a one-way street, so to speak. Once the mature hardwoods are gone, it will take a lifetime to grow them back. Once the old ambiance is dumped, it will take a lifetime to age back. We know that.

We know that once certain residents have to sell, they will not be able to come back, not matter how long they lived here.

We know it has something to do with being older. We know it has something to do with being settled. We know it has something to do with a sense of passion about living in a place that does not have it all, but has such depth and value in what matters to those who choose to call this home. Why else would people want to live in smaller homes on small lots, and pay more for the privilege?

So we struggle to put a finger on what exactly it is that is ripping the heart out of our older neighborhoods.

They might as well have found oil under our land. A land rush is on and we're sitting on the gold. Some are wondering if they want OUR neighborhood, or do they wish to replace us with THEIR neighborhood. Thoughts like that have never happened here, unless a commercial development was looming near.

What makes a speculative house stand out is usually 3 things -- 1) lot scraping, 2) a financing sign, 3) a house that does not try to blend style, size or price-wise with the street.

A resident-buyer may very well do all 3 of these things for themselves, but a resident will be living in the home as a neighbor and will have the burden of payments, taxes, landscaping, and relationships with the neighborhood. So, as a general (very) rule, folks who buy homes tend to make decisions in a way that speculators do not.

FP has observed some outliers to this theory. Just as she has observed some beautifully thought out speculative homes, she has seen some outlandish private developments. But one thing is really troubling. One teardown seems to bring on another and another. If the new house(s) are way outside the original price-point, the older houses start looking like sitting ducks. And the hunters are not far away.

FP has observed beautifully renovated older homes become sandwiched in by huge structures, each of which represents a completely novel style of architecture for the neighborhood. Someone is not thinking clearly; people in older neighborhoods have rarely made drastic changes that would affect their neighbors without consideration of the impact.

Clearly the "rules" have changed.

So how do you approach a loss of sensitivity and respect, do you resort to using regulations? Wish on stars?

So here is the real irony. The people who are doing the thing to our neighborhoods say they can do this because the regulations allow it. But when the planning department looks into the regulations to see if our ordinances really protect the rights of residents with investments on the ground in existing neighborhoods, the outcry is shrill, and that outcry is very business-related in its perspective.

Regulations may not be such a bad thing if they are measured well and protect equally the rights of each party predictably.

But Fallonia does agree, she would rather live in a world that needs far fewer of them.

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