Monday, June 30, 2008

NCOD Vote on Tuesday, July 1

In spring of 2008, an expedited NCOD process was proposed to the City Council by the Planning Department. After an unexpedited trip through committee land, it has arrived on the City Council floor (again) for a vote.

The text removed below was some cumbersome additions from the planning commission. It looks like it did when it left planning department without these cumbers.

Letting the City Council know of your support would be a fine reassurance at this time. Email addresses below. Our city council does not get visible and tangible reminders of the neighborhood support like it does the notes of resistance.

1. TC-4-08 - Neighborhood Conservation Overlay District
The Committee recommends upholding the Planning Commission's recommendation for approval of TC-4-08 as outlined in CR #11209 with the following changes:
a. In paragraph (2)b. on page 5 of the ordinance, removed the underlined language so as to reflect the original proposal as presented at the March 18 public hearing. (To not require immediate notification to all property owners if the Council initiates a neighborhood analysis, at the applicant's expense.)
b. In paragraph (2)f. on page 6 of the ordinance, revise the text to reflect the original proposal as presented at the March 18 public hearing. (To not require the property owners of an existing NCOD to file a new rezoning if the neighborhood built environmental regulations are revised or amended.)
A copy of the revised ordinance is included in the agenda packet.

Friday, June 27, 2008

More from Chicagoland

Village to revamp zoning ordinance

June 26, 2008


Wilmette officials soon will explore ways to encourage renovations instead of teardowns and accommodate new environmental technologies in the first comprehensive revision of the village's zoning ordinance in 18 years.

The village is still casting around for consultants to help with the review, which likely will take more than a year, but officials have laid out goals for the process. Those goals include clarifying rules that have grown thick with hundreds of lines of amendments and streamlining a process that often requires hearings and months of waiting for builders and homeowners.

"Since 1990, there really hasn't been a comprehensive look at the code and that's what we're looking to have started," said John Adler, the village's community development director.

In 1990, the village established limits on the bulk of new homes for the first time, but many amendments have been added since then, Adler said. Most were intended to clarify the rules, but years of piecemeal revision has led to its own confusion, and new issues have emerged over the past two decades.

One concerns environmental building practices. Rules aimed at easing regional flooding limit the use of asphalt and other hard pavement on properties, but ignore the possibilities of newer technology. Examples includes permeable pavers that let water drain, Adler said.

Part of the review will focus on finding better ways to accommodate solar panels, a technology that was a curiosity in 1990 but is likely to become more common with skyrocketing energy prices and growing environmental awareness. Under current code, the panels run into confusing regulations on height and placement.

"It's definitely one of the things we want to sort out," Adler said.

Adler said the review also will look at the broader issue of teardowns to see whether better ways exist to encourage renovation and reuse of existing homes. In some ways the lull in the economy has given the village some breathing space to consider the issue. Demolition permits have dropped from 77 in 2005 to 60 last year and 15 through mid-April of this year.

There may be ways to make renovations more attractive than teardowns, Adler said. The teardowns of the last decade were driven by the profits of selling the larger replacement homes, but also by the fact that builders have a clean slate with new homes. Putting additions on existing homes can be complicated by the need for variations and the fact that many older homes are already considered out of compliance with more modern rules.

"We want to see if there are certain things in our zoning code that encourages people to say, 'You know what? It's easier just to start over,'" Adler said.

© Copyright 2008 Digital Chicago, Inc.


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

What Does Sustainable Really Mean?

Community Conversations II was inspiring. Two great things in one:

Being in the transplanted and restored All Saints Chapel.

Hearing Don Rypkema, of PlaceEconomics speak on sustainable development.

Rypkema was the keynote speaker at the 2008 Heritage Conservation conference in Ontario. PlaceEconomics is a Washington D.C. based consulting firm specializing in the economic revitalization of city centers and the development of historic properties. Rypkema is a self confessed provocateur on a mission -- to spur innovative and creative thought that results in solutions that are sustainable -- in every way.

"If you can't write it on a business card then you don't have a clear idea," he says. He summarizes these points early in the presentation:

  1. Sustainable development is crucial for economic competitiveness.
  2. Sustainable development has more elements than just environmental responsibility.
  3. “Green buildings” and sustainable development are not synonyms.
  4. Historic preservation is, in and of itself, sustainable development.
  5. Development without a historic preservation component is not sustainable.

You can begin your exploration of his talks here.

Rypkema stated that one of the best examples of sustainable development will be Dubuque Iowa. They are adopting the sustainability model of which he spoke, shown above and here.

To quote:
Sustainability is defined by a community’s ability to meet the environmental, economic, and social equity needs of today without reducing the ability of future generations to meet their needs.

Sustainable Dubuque is a holistic approach to making our community sustainable. Our model involves a three-part approach that looks at:

  • Environmental and Ecological Integrity
  • Economic Prosperity
  • Social and Cultural Vibrancy
Each of these pieces is important individually and helps contribute to a sustainable community. Here is how the model works:

When you have policies and programs that address Environmental and Ecological Integrity with Economic Prosperity, you have policies and programs that are viable.

When you have policies and programs that address Environmental and Ecological Integrity with Social/Cultural Vibrancy you have policies and programs that are livable.

When you have policies and programs that address Economic Prosperity with Social/Cultural Vibrancy you have policies and programs that are equitable.

However, when a community creates polices and programs that address all three pieces, such as Sustainable Dubuque, you have a community that is viable, livable and equitable.

It was a welcome message for sore ears.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Where's Waldo

Alert reader submission ... location unknown.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Community Conversations II - 6/23/08 - 7PM

Community Conversations

Please join us for the second event in the Community Conversations series.

Monday, June 23, 2008
7:00-9:00 PM

Donovan Rypkema, Place Economics

Historic Preservation and Sustainable Development
Sustainable development is crucial to our future economic competitiveness, but it isn't just about green gadgets or carbon footprints. True sustainability is economic and cultural, as well as environmental. Don connects the dots between sustainable development, historic preservation, and economic feasibility.

All Saints Chapel
110 S. East Street, Raleigh

Continue the conversation with your friends and neighbors over coffee and dessert after the lecture.


Sponsored by the Raleigh Historic Districts Commission,
in partnership with
Preservation North Carolina and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Raleigh: Just 3000 SF Off the Curve

MONEY MAGAZINE Real estate survival guide
The incredible shrinking house
Soaring fuel costs, environmental concerns and aging baby boomers mean the American dream home is a lot smaller than it used to be.

By Stephen Gandel, Money Magazine senior writer
Last Updated: May 14, 2008: 4:21 AM EDT

The post-McMansion McCottage

(Money Magazine) -- Out on the range is the last place you would expect America's long-running obsession with big houses to be laid to rest.

But four years ago Rachel Odom, an Oklahoma City home builder, began constructing an exclusive development where houses average just 1,800 square feet. That's far smaller than the homes of up to 6,000 square feet that her company had been building until then - and nearly 500 square feet smaller than the national average for new construction.

"Our concept was that people would pay up for smaller homes with more architectural character," says Odom. "But since nearly everyone seems to dream of owning a large home, we were taking a huge risk."

That risk may not have been as big as she thought. In Odom's Talavera development, where houses cost as much as $275,000 (or about double the median local home price), she sold 115 homes in the first 18 months and expects to sell as many as 600 in total. These days small houses are, you know, big.

Up until now: Over the years, many a seer has predicted the mass downsizing of the American home. Instead, the average size of newly built houses has continued to rise from just over 1,600 square feet in the late 1970s to nearly 2,300 now.

But a number of trends suggest that this time Americans really might be willing to swap their McMansions for McCottages. For starters, baby boomers, whose eldest members turned 62 this year, are increasingly becoming empty-nesters; with children gone, they need less space.

Families themselves have changed dramatically. Between 1970 and 2000, the percentage of nuclear families - married couples with kids - declined from 40% of households to 24%, according to the Census Bureau. And childless families are expected to increase. For them, the supersize house may no longer be the ideal.

Then too, Generations X and Y seem more intrigued with life downtown where they can enjoy easy access to restaurants and entertainment, a minimal commute and smaller, easier-to-care-for living spaces.

"Ask anyone how many rooms in their house they don't regularly go into and most will admit that they actually live in a small percentage of their home," says Marianne Cusato, an architect who used to design 3,000-square-foot-plus homes but now specializes in cottages.

In a February survey of potential home buyers by the National Association of Home Builders, 60% said they would rather have a smaller house with more amenities than the other way around.

"In the past, people would say 'Give me space and I'll add the features later,' " says Gopal Ahluwalia, the NAHB's vice president of research.

The next evolution: How will Americans cope with shrinking space? Cusato believes that newly built houses will have layouts that can "live bigger" than their square footage would suggest. Rooms can do double duty. For example, a den can be dressed up as a formal living room when needed (which Cusato contends is not that often).

Also slated for possible demolition: the formal dining room. Families can satisfy all their dining and entertaining needs by slightly expanding the breakfast nook. The great room could also become a relic. "Open spaces are great, but people don't know how to use undefined rooms," says Cusato. "So they don't."

Sarah Susanka, author of The Not So Big House, agrees. "The majority of your guests want to be in rooms you live in, not have their socks knocked off by a three-story foyer." She says storage can swallow a lot of a small house as well. So she designs homes with as much built-in storage as possible.

If the trend toward smaller homes does take root, it could trigger a seismic shift in home values. A recent study by online house-pricing service found that less expensive houses appreciate more than costlier and presumably larger homes. If that continues, the ubiquitous McMansion may turn out to be the real estate bubble's biggest booby prize.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Expedited NCOD Vote on Tuesday, 1 PM


. . .



4. TC-4-08 - Neighborhood Conservation Overlay District
This text change proposes to amend the Zoning Code and Subdivision Regulations by revising the process for individual neighborhoods proposing to establish zoning and lot size regulations specific to their neighborhood. The ordinance proposes to eliminate the lengthy Comprehensive Plan element (creation and adoption of a Neighborhood Plan) from the process and replace this with a neighborhood built environmental characteristics analysis. Additionally, the ordinance proposes to include within the Zoning Code the previously adopted and future built environmental regulations specific to the individual neighborhoods.
CR-11209 from the Planning Commission recommends that this text change be approved, as revised.

We have come a long way baby, but the pushback has begun.

In an effort to avoid what many perceive as a slippery slope, the heat is on to increase the slipperiness of the entrance ramp to this process.

According to those who covered the negotiations in the Planning Commission, Text Change Committee of the Planning Commission, and Committee of the Whole of the Planning Commission (moi included), there was a high degree of misunderstanding of the NCOD process; some did not understand that this was city policy before the increase in re-development activity (that was matched by a hold on this tool for the neighborhoods). This belief is supported by the idea that the town will-dry up if we allow pesky residents any tools, and some felt that allowing this would be a sweeping change.  

Somewhere - sometime - somehow - the following issues became a major concern: number of notifications (beyond the original one inviting the neighbors to a public meeting to disuss), who pays for the notifications (beyond what the fee already was required to cover), what is a majority (beyond how we define a majority currently), how to count landowners (more if by land or once if by person).

The COW voted to recommend adoption of TC-4-08 with the following changes:
  • Notification of all property owners when NCOD application is approved by City Council for study by the Planning Department.
  • Require property owner list with initial NCOD application. This is similar to requirement for a rezoning petition.
  • Require NCOD applicant to pay for/process additional initial mailing. It was not clear if the COW was recommending that the applicant also be responsible for the notification of the neighborhood meeting. 

The COW also included in its motion that the following be considered separately from the current NCOD TC.  Only changes in the existing NCOD TC can be considered at this time. 
  • Consider future Text Change to increase majority for NCOD rezoning - 60%. 66.7%, 75%, etc.- to protect "property rights."
  • Consider future Text Change to increase number of signatures (beyond the 3 now proposed) required for submittal of NCOD application. 
  • Consider future Text Change to make the requirement for NCOD zoning petition to be majority of owners of property (area) not parcels.
  • Consider future Text Change to remove requirement that building permits on property with a pending zoning change meet both the existing and proposed zone requirements.
It does not take a NASA engineer to see what is going on here. 

Please let the City Council know what you think. Links are provided below. Anyone who comes to the City Council meeting will get a warm fuzzy feeling from being an advocate for preserving the past for the enjoyment of future generations. 

Best Quote of the Month:
Because we're growing,we can truly be selective about what development we allow. We ask, does this project really have the long-term potential to enhance the quality of life? 
--Debra Campbell, Planning Director for the City of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County

How about it Raleigh? Can we do this the right way, where everyone's rights are protected?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Telling it like it is

An excellent analysis of the proposed Fairview at Five Points can be found on the site of our friends at New Raleigh. In the discussion that follows, comes a real treat:

06/14 11:51 AM
Five Points is a super example of an area that could really benefit from having a good form-based plan with form-based zoning applied to implement it.

That way, the stakeholders could get an understanding of what acceptable change looks like and acts like; then development could proceed without a long, drawn-out rezoning fight every time a change is proposed.

Instead, Raleigh continues to apply an outdated rezoning & site-plan approval approach, where the developer submits [more than he wants] in expectation of getting [something less], and the neighbors have to commit themselves to god only knows how many months of protest at public hearings. In this process, the final decision hinges not on the quality of the development as an addition to the neighborhood, but on how many Council votes can be gamed by insiders and their attorneys, whether for or against.

The entire process is convulsive, overly politicized, and unpredictable. It results in no assurances of quality urban design. It only sporadically produces a successful addition to an existing good place. It tends to promote the maxing-out of one landholder’s interest to the expense or detriment of the rest of the neighborhood. Everyone is interested in How Much They Can Get and the answer depends only on a Council vote.

This makes pitched rezoning battles the primary means of adding to our city’s built environment. This is no way to create great places.

Instead, using a form-based approach would satisfy the first question on everyone’s mind: “What is change going to look like?” It sets an agreed-upon pattern as the scenario. It would give developers predictability, as by-right zoning can be put in place after a satisfactory neighborhood plan is agreed on. And it would ensure that new development takes the entire area’s benefit into account, maximizing value for all property owners together, rather than this parcel-by-parcel “let me cash in first” approach.

Form-based planning also puts the important decisions about change into a more neutral forum where a wide base of stakeholders can consider the options BEFORE a particular rezoning proposal is submitted. So it’s less of a thumbs-up/thumbs-down choice and more of an integrated process of deciding on good and acceptable change in a whole and considered way.

Of course, form-based planning and form-based zoning have their downsides. They would eliminate (1) high-paying opportunities for connected insiders and developers attorneys, who profit from their ability to game the back rooms in representing developers, and (2) opportunities for politicians to game their votes and influence in hopes of generating campaign contributions and other gimmes.

Betsy Kane
Former member, Raleigh Planning Commission 2004-2007

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Where We Are Going in Land Use

This essay may a bit over the top for some tastes, but the essence of it rings true. It accurately describes the market forces at work in our little central neighborhoods.

This Land Is Their Land

June 11, 2008

This essay is adapted from Barbara Ehrenreich's latest book, This Land Is Their Land: Notes from a Divided Nation (Metropolitan).

I took a little vacation recently--nine hours in Sun Valley, Idaho, before an evening speaking engagement. The sky was deep blue, the air crystalline, the hills green and not yet on fire. Strolling out of the Sun Valley Lodge, I found a tiny tourist village, complete with Swiss-style bakery, multistar restaurant and "opera house." What luck--the boutiques were displaying outdoor racks of summer clothing on sale! Nature and commerce were conspiring to make this the perfect micro-vacation.

But as I approached the stores things started to get a little sinister--maybe I had wandered into a movie set or Paris Hilton's closet?--because even at a 60 percent discount, I couldn't find a sleeveless cotton shirt for less than $100. These items shouldn't have been outdoors; they should have been in locked glass cases.

Then I remembered the general rule, which has been in effect since sometime in the 1990s: if a place is truly beautiful, you can't afford to be there. All right, I'm sure there are still exceptions--a few scenic spots not yet eaten up by mansions. But they're going fast.

About ten years ago, for example, a friend and I rented a snug, inexpensive one-bedroom house in Driggs, Idaho, just over the Teton Range from wealthy Jackson Hole, Wyoming. At that time, Driggs was where the workers lived, driving over the Teton Pass every day to wait tables and make beds on the stylish side of the mountains. The point is, we low-rent folks got to wake up to the same scenery the rich people enjoyed and hike along the same pine-shadowed trails.

But the money was already starting to pour into Driggs--Paul Allen of Microsoft, August Busch III of Anheuser-Busch, Harrison Ford--transforming family potato farms into vast dynastic estates. I haven't been back, but I understand Driggs has become another unaffordable Jackson Hole. Where the wait staff and bed-makers live today I do not know.

I witnessed this kind of deterioration up close in Key West, Florida, where I first went in 1986, attracted not only by the turquoise waters and frangipani-scented nights but by the fluid, egalitarian social scene. At a typical party you might find literary stars like Alison Lurie, Annie Dillard and Robert Stone, along with commercial fishermen, waitresses and men who risked their lives diving for treasure (once a major blue-collar occupation). Then, at some point in the '90s, the rich started pouring in. You'd see them on the small planes coming down from Miami--taut-skinned, linen-clad and impatient. They drove house prices into the seven-figure range. They encouraged restaurants to charge upward of $30 for an entree. They tore down working-class tiki bars to make room for their waterfront "condotels."

Of all the crimes of the rich, the aesthetic deprivation of the rest of us may seem to be the merest misdemeanor. Many of them owe their wealth to the usual tricks: squeezing their employees, overcharging their customers and polluting any land they're not going to need for their third or fourth homes. Once they've made (or inherited) their fortunes, the rich can bid up the price of goods that ordinary people also need--housing, for example. Gentrification is dispersing the urban poor into overcrowded suburban ranch houses, while billionaires' horse farms displace rural Americans into trailer homes. Similarly, the rich can easily fork over annual tuitions of $50,000 and up, which has helped make college education a privilege of the upper classes.

There are other ways, too, that the rich are robbing the rest of us of beauty and pleasure. As the bleachers in stadiums and arenas are cleared to make way for skybox "suites" costing more than $100,000 for a season, going out to a ballgame has become prohibitively expensive for the average family. At the other end of the cultural spectrum, superrich collectors have driven up the price of artworks, leading museums to charge ever rising prices for admission.

It shouldn't be a surprise that the Pew Research Center finds happiness to be unequally distributed, with 50 percent of people earning more than $150,000 a year describing themselves as "very happy," compared with only 23 percent of those earning less than $20,000. When nations are compared, inequality itself seems to reduce well-being, with some of the most equal nations--Iceland and Norway--ranking highest, according to the UN's Human Development Index. We are used to thinking that poverty is a "social problem" and wealth is only something to celebrate, but extreme wealth is also a social problem, and the superrich have become a burden on everyone else.

If Edward O. Wilson is right about "biophilia"--an innate human need to interact with nature--there may even be serious mental health consequences to letting the rich hog all the good scenery. I know that if I don't get to see vast expanses of water, 360-degree horizons and mountains piercing the sky for at least a week or two of the year, chronic, cumulative claustrophobia sets in. According to evolutionary psychologist Nancy Etcoff, the need for scenery is hard-wired into us. "People like to be on a hill, where they can see a landscape. And they like somewhere to go where they can not be seen themselves," she told Harvard Magazine last year. "That's a place desirable to a predator who wants to avoid becoming prey." We also like to be able to see water (for drinking), low-canopy trees (for shade) and animals (whose presence signals that a place is habitable).

Ultimately, the plutocratic takeover of rural America has a downside for the wealthy too. The more expensive a resort town gets, the farther its workers have to commute to keep it functioning. And if your heart doesn't bleed for the dishwasher or landscaper who commutes two to four hours a day, at least shed a tear for the wealthy vacationer who gets stuck in the ensuing traffic. It's bumper to bumper westbound out of Telluride, Colorado, every day at 5, or eastbound on Route 1 out of Key West, for the Lexuses as well as the beat-up old pickup trucks.

Or a place may simply run out of workers. Monroe County, which includes Key West, has seen more than 2,000 workers leave since the 2000 Census, a loss the Los Angeles Times calls "a body blow to the service-oriented economy of a county with only 75,000 residents and 2.25 million overnight visitors a year." Among those driven out by rents of more than $1,600 for a one-bedroom apartment are many of Key West's wait staff, hotel housekeepers, gardeners, plumbers and handymen. No matter how much money you have, everything takes longer--from getting a toilet fixed to getting a fish sandwich at Pepe's.

Then there's the elusive element of charm, which quickly drains away in a uniform population of multimillionaires. The Hamptons had their fishermen. Key West still advertises its "characters"--sun-bleached, weather-beaten misfits who drifted down for the weather or to escape some difficult situation on the mainland. But the fishermen are long gone from the Hamptons and disappearing from Cape Cod. As for Key West's characters--with the traditional little conch houses once favored by shrimpers flipped into million-dollar second homes, these human sources of local color have to be prepared to sleep with the scorpions under the highway overpass.

In Telluride even a local developer is complaining about the lack of affordable housing. "To have a real town," he told the Financial Times, "Telluride needs some locals hanging out"--in old-fashioned diners, for example, where you don't have to speak Italian to order a cup of coffee.

When I was a child, I sang "America the Beautiful" and meant it. I was born in the Rocky Mountains and raised, at various times, on the coasts. The Big Sky, the rolling surf, the jagged, snowcapped mountains--all this seemed to be my birthright. But now I flinch when I hear Woody Guthrie's line "This land was made for you and me." Somehow, I don't think it was meant to be sung by a chorus of hedge-fund operators.

This article appeared in the June 30, 2008 edition of The Nation.

Now, thinking of why a person would feel harmed by a new imposing structure next door, let's look at this again:
According to evolutionary psychologist Nancy Etcoff, the need for scenery is hard-wired into us. "People like to be on a hill, where they can see a landscape. And they like somewhere to go where they can not be seen themselves," she told Harvard Magazine last year. "That's a place desirable to a predator who wants to avoid becoming prey." We also like to be able to see water (for drinking), low-canopy trees (for shade) and animals (whose presence signals that a place is habitable).

FP does not plan to get used this as the new normal for a home and land she has sustained for all her adult life. It's against nature.

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Remaking of Stable Neighborhood - I

Not so long ago in a neighborhood not so far away, things like this never happened.

After all, this is the sort of area where people move back into their childhood homes when they retire.

Or they stay here all their lives.

So, by what logic did it become ground-zero for renewal. Aren't renewals reserved for areas that are declining in property values?

So, why, pray tell, is this stable community full of sitting ducks, empty lots, sore-thumbs, and now these?

If it hasn't happened where you live, and if your zipcode is in central Raleigh, pay attention. Your property taxes are not the only thing that have gone crazy.

The house next door got its makeover in February.

Raleigh is #2

No. 2: Raleigh, N.C.
By Bob Frick, Senior Editor, Kiplinger's Personal Finance
July 2008

Population: 995,662
Population Growth Since 2000: 19.9%
Percentage of Workforce in Creative Class: 36.1%
Cost-of-Living Index: 99 (100 being national average)
Median Household Income: $56,150
Income Growth Since 2000: 10.3%

Real estate developer Greg Hatem worked in Beijing during the boom years of the 1990s, and he senses that same Wild West capitalism in Raleigh right now. That the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill Research Triangle is living up to its reputation as a high-tech hotbed isn't news. But anyone familiar with the Raleigh angle will be happy to hear the tired city is on the road to a renaissance. "Three years ago, this was a ghost town," says Hatem.

His Raleigh Times Bar represents the unofficial cultural epicenter of the new Raleigh; it sits on a corner of Fayetteville Street, which is the keystone of Raleigh's Livable Streets project, a plan to bring urban living to a city that languished as its suburbs and exurbs flourished. The bar, which offers 50 Belgian beers, attracts the young and old, hipsters and preppies, plus folks from the University of North Carolina, North Carolina State University and Duke University.

Those three research schools fuel a smart workforce, the main reason companies relocate to the area. Many work at nearby Research Triangle Park, where top employers IBM and GlaxoSmithKline reflect the area's strong employment in computers and pharmaceuticals. The city of Raleigh has its own technopolis in the Centennial Campus, which is part of North Carolina State. This amalgam of university, government and business enterprises employs more than 3,000.

Raleigh is a work in progress, but 2008 should be the turning point. The city's new convention center will open this year, as will an adjoining Marriott hotel and the city's tallest building, RBC Plaza. The Royal Bank of Canada's U.S. headquarters is the kind of real estate Raleigh mayor Charles Meeker wants more of: a mix of office, condos and retail. "Our big challenge is more urban-style growth," he says.

But there's enough of an urban taste today for Rob Currey, 27, who recently moved to Raleigh after stints in big East Coast cities. Currey works for Cherokee, a private-equity firm that specializes in cleaning up contaminated sites and developing them for its real estate funds. He and his wife, Joy, bought a home in the historic Oakwood district, where he has a "ten-minute walk to work -- and a two-minute commute if I drive." The location gives them access to such downtown amenities as theater and music performances at the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts.

If urban isn't your style, and you want the ultimate in suburbia, nearby Cary is your spot. The streets are wide, and pristine business parks are surrounded by pristine residential neighborhoods. The town, like Raleigh, still has reasonably priced housing. You can buy an older, four-bedroom colonial for less than $300,000, and a spanking-new 2,500-square-foot home for $400,000.

Interesting point here, 36% are in the creative class, and the article pointed to Not One housing price number in Raleigh. Ahha, the price of living in Absurdia is unspeakable.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Up the eastern shore

Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Builders, residents to testify at hearings
Legislation on homebuilding will set new standards
by Audrey Dutton | Staff Writer
Business Gazette - Gaithersburg,MD,USA

Montgomery County homeowners looking to build additions or new homes and neighbors looking to thwart McMansions will be able to make their cases in the next week as county planners and the County Council hold public hearings on legislation that sets new standards for homebuilding.

The legislation sponsored by County Councilman Roger Berliner (D-Dist. 1) of Potomac reflects recommendations from an ‘‘infill development” task force of builders, architects, residents and county planning staff that Berliner convened last year in response to residential teardowns and rebuilds in Montgomery County.

The legislation is set to go before the council’s Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee July 21.
The zoning text amendment that Berliner introduced in April and that residents can comment now on, limits house size and height based on its lot size instead of based on the zone in which it is built. The ordinance also uses increments of square footage to set guidelines for how much of a lot can be covered by a house, reduces the height limit in most single-family residential lots of 20,000 or more square feet and changes the way house setback limits are established. It also excludes certain architectural elements, such as porches and bay windows from lot coverage measurements.

The proposal requires a clear, codified method of calculating sloping lots. It mandates neighbor notification of home demolition and rebuild projects, and requires builders to review neighborhood construction guidelines. The regulations would be effective 20 days after council adoption.

‘‘I want to make sure everyone understands what the bill says. It’s somewhat confusing to people because it’s written in a way that doesn’t really bring to light the true unintended consequences,” said Larry Cafritz, a Bethesda-based builder. ‘‘When I testify, it’s basically to bring the facts to light so that people, especially the council members, understand what they’re voting for.”

Homeowners who may want to put additions on their houses ‘‘might not be able to do that after this passes,” he argued.
Cafritz said he is ‘‘not strictly opposed to this bill; I think there are some good points to it.”
Excluding porches from lot coverage was ‘‘an excellent part to this bill,” he said.

‘‘The thing I wish they would allow would be one-story additions being exempt from the bill, because one-story additions are not mansions, you know?” he said.

Cafritz offered an example to illustrate the facts as he intends to lay them out during his testimony. A homeowner with a 9,000-square-foot lot, he said, would be allowed 26 percent lot coverage according to the legislation. With a 500-square-foot garage on the property, a homeowner could live in a house with a 1,840-square-foot footprint.

‘‘That’s a pretty small footprint for an updated home,” he said.

Task force member Len Simon, of the Edgemoor neighborhood, said he will testify before the council in support of the legislation.

When asked if he would like to see the legislation amended in any way, he said, ‘‘No.”

He said task force members understood that Berliner’s intention was to develop legislation that would likely scale down ‘‘certain very large houses in smaller lots in older neighborhoods.”

Neighborhood association representatives were very pleased with the end result, he said. But he acknowledged that the building community wants changes made to the legislation as the council considers it.

They are ‘‘certainly open to improvements, suggestions and new ideas, particularly if any of those enhancements can bring about greater support for neighborhood compatibility,” he said.

Mimi Brodsky Kress of Sandy Spring Builders and chair of a builders’ group called Renewing Montgomery said the 20-day period between council adoption and effective date was her top concern, contrasted with Simon’s opinion that there would be ‘‘sufficient transition time.”

‘‘Someone who’s put in six months designing a project needs enough time to reverse course if their property is affected,” she said.

Brodsky Kress said it felt like another setback during a time when the housing market is crunched.

Berliner’s district, which includes Bethesda, Chevy Chase, Garrett Park, Glen Echo, Friendship Heights, North Bethesda, Potomac and Somerset, easily claims the majority of home building projects.

‘‘This is not some little bill here. This is going to be affecting an enormous number of people in enormous ways, and the public needs to understand the facts of this bill,” Cafritz said. ‘‘It’s important that they know this is a sweeping zoning change that we haven’t seen maybe in the history of this county.”

Legislation, memos on the proposal and related information on infill development is posted at⁄RogerBerliner.

To speak out on infill laws
Planning Board hearing on the infill legislation will begin around 1 p.m. Thursday at 8787 Georgia Ave. in Silver Spring. To sign up in advance to testify, call 301-495-4600 or visit⁄agenda. Planning Board comments will be transmitted to the County Council.

County Council hearing on the infill legislation starts at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Stella B. Werner Building, 100 Maryland Ave. in Rockville. Speakers must sign up in advance by calling the Council Office at 240-777-7931. Comments can be sent to the council via e-mail at before the hearing.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Glen Lennox wants meeting

Up the road a piece, an NCOD in process while a development is in planning stage.

Glen Lennox wants meeting
Chapel Hill News - Chapel Hill,NC,USA
CHAPEL HILL - A majority of Glen Lennox property owners have asked the town to hold a meeting so they can learn more about creating special zoning rules to protect their neighborhood.
The request for a Neighborhood Conservation District information meeting will go to the Town Council June 25. From there, it will go to the Planning Board, which could hold the meeting late this summer.

Sixty-one percent of property owners asked for the information session. Another majority would have to submit a second petition to actually start the NCD planning process.

Grubb Properties has proposed replacing the 440 apartment units and shopping center in the Glen Lennox community between N.C. 54 and U.S. 15-501 with a multi-story mix of housing and commercial space.

The developers will take their concept plan, an informal first step in the town's review process, to the town's Community Design Commission in August. Submitting a concept plan gives the town an early opportunity to provide feedback. ...

This will be about a 2 year process on both tracks. Seeing where the tracks lead is going to be anyone's guess. According to the story, "this is the first time residents are asking about an NCD at the same time a developer is proposing such a big change to such a big portion of a specific neighborhood. 'What we don't have is anything with any certainty,' planner Rae Buckley said Tuesday."

I hope they have a big room at City Hall.

NCD: At a Glance
Chapel Hill's land use management ordinance adopted by the Town Council in 2003 has a provision for creating Neighborhood Conservation Districts. The purpose of an NCD is to protect distinctive, older neighborhoods or commercial districts that contribute significantly to the town's overall character.

Did you see that: The purpose of an NCD is to protect distinctive, older neighborhoods or commercial districts that contribute significantly to the town's overall character.

Raleigh can't quite get that into their heads. We ALL go up or down by how we do this Land Use Dance.

More discussion at:

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

There must be a playbook ...

Last week a group of residents from central ... neighborhoods ... met ... to discuss methods for stemming certain kinds of infill development. They focused on stopping the spread of new over-large homes in older neighborhoods, which some people feel erode the charm of older communities. But others say the current fight is really a debate over taste and approach.

No, this is not from Raleigh.

[The couple] moved out of [the neighborhood] three years ago. At the time, they wanted more space.

But they missed their old neighborhood. When their old home hit the market, they scooped it up. The only problem was the 980-square-foot home no longer matched their needs. The couple wanted to start a family and the house was way too small.

They decided to tear down the old house and build a new one. Tear-downs have become increasingly popular in the area. Last year in Mecklenburg County, 794 single-family houses were demolished. That's up from 697 in 2006.

They said their home, which will be finished in a few months, fits well into their neighborhood. And they said it would increase the value of other homes in the area.

It is a complicated issue, with heated feelings on both sides. If city officials wade into the debate, they likely will find themselves balancing desire for neighborhood aesthetics with concerns about property owners' rights.

Yup, they will.

The entire story can be found here:
A building debate on tear-down projects
Central Charlotte neighborhoods form a group to stop the spread of ‘McMansions.'

Fallonia is observing that a larger home that fits in is 4000% better than a house that does not try to fit in (affectionately known as a sore-thumb house). It is clearly not all about size. FP still believes the key word here is Respect.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Greensboro NCOD in Action

Westridge revels in conservation plan

Westridge revels in conservation plan
The neighborhood’s plan to preserve its rural appeal unanimously passes the City Council.
Jun 9, 2008 | Greensboro News Record
By Emily Stephenson
Staff Writer

Good news: Democracy is alive in Greensboro.

At least, some residents of Westridge Neighborhood say their recent, successful attempt to restrict future neighborhood development is proof that the democratic process works.

The Greensboro City Council unanimously voted last week to support the Westridge Neighborhood Conservation Overlay, a plan that some residents say will preserve the neighborhood's countryside appeal.

"One of the things about Greensboro is there's always been a charge that developers determine what happens with developments," said Rob Luisana of 1208 Westridge Road, who organized the neighborhood's effort to direct construction. "It was democracy at work."

Westridge's overlay — the city's first such plan, possible because of a 2007 city ordinance — requires larger setbacks from the street and neighboring homes than are mandated by city rules.

The plan also ensures tree protection by requiring that developers preserve at least 60 percent of existing trees when houses are built or expanded.

"Essentially it's a tool that helps residents recognize and preserve distinctive elements in their neighborhoods," said Mary Sertell, an urban designer with the city's planning department.

Sertell helped guide the Westridge residents through the conservation overlay process, which began last spring.

The process involved several months of neighborhood hearings, an application and approval from property owners making up more than 51 percent of the land area.

Sertell said Lindley Park Neighborhood soon will begin working on an overlay.

Although Westridge is the first Greensboro neighborhood to create a conservation overlay, it is not the first to try to control growth.

In February 2007, the Kirkwood neighborhood convinced the planning department to change nearby zoning rules to keep out a Walgreens.

And the Westridge Neighborhood Association last year lobbied the city to pre vent rezoning that would allow townhouses in the area.

Beverly Willingham, who has lived at 1201 Westridge Road since 1965, said she moved to the neighborhood because the trees made her feel as if she lived in the countryside, though her home is less than 3 miles from Friendly Center.

She said most Westridge residents want to preserve the neighborhood character, especially in the face of new development in the area, so they are pleased with the results of the yearlong process.

"Developers tend to go in and clearcut because it's simple," Willingham said, joking that she has nicknamed nearby subdivision Westridge Forest "Westridge Deforest" because of its cut trees.

Fred Robertson, whose mailing address is 1112 Westminster Road but who helped create the neighborhood's overlay plan, said Westridge has Greensboro's first ordinance to protect trees from residential construction.

"That is something that we hope the City Council will endorse," he said. " There's a lot of attention and press about global warming. Not enough attention is put on the clearcutting of trees."

Not all Westridge property owners like the plan — some argue that it allows too many exceptions, others think restrictions might hinder current owners from making expansions to their homes — but more than 90 percent signed the plan's final draft.

The City Council approved the plan with an 8-0 vote at Tuesday's meeting. Councilman Zach Matheny was absent.

"Sometimes you think, 'Is it worth going through all this?'" Luisana said. "It made me feel good about the City Council."

Contact Emily Stephenson at 373-7080 or

Note to Raleigh deciders: Greensboro went the majority of the land area route:
The process involved several months of neighborhood hearings, an application and approval from property owners making up more than 51 percent of the land area.

This is a current concern in the Planning Commission: what constitutes a vote and how many is a majority.

While the land area formula is strikingly similar to the land baron system, it would be a good idea to look deeper into the statute in Greensboro to see how those votes took place.

Fallonia leans toward one person one vote, and a majority is 51%. That is the American way. In land use, deciding what is a property owner is getting harder and harder. For example, up on Anderson Drive, one man is behind 2 re-developments, but he has different business names, and multiple partnerships. So he would get two votes, 6 votes, 50 votes? And a single property owner would get 1 and their neighbors with joint ownership get 2? It is a tricky question and may require constitutional scholars to figure it out.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

In the News

There is plenty of news from different areas about teardowns.

Fallonia is swooning from the heat, so she will defer to you to click the little links in your air conditioned comfort.

Vinings home sales hot in frigid market
Atlanta Journal Constitution - GA, USA
With acreage so valuable, tear-downs are occurring all over Vinings. The pace of development is "a huge, big deal in Vinings," Bolt said. ...

West U property values near $4 billion
Deer Park Progress - Houston,TX,USA
In the last decade, only a few small bungalows — known in real estate parlance as “tear-downs” — remain. New homes being built in West U are in the $1 ...

Home for sale in Lawn Meadow - 479K - Totally redone
By Naperville Real Estate - Ann deVane - CNC,...(Naperville Real Estate - Ann deVane - CNC,...)
This beauty sits nestled between to completed teardowns so you don't have to worry about construction next door. Wonderful open floor plan. Real hardwood floors, new stainless steel appliances, granite, maple soft close cabinetry, ...

The Density God Reappears
Nuther clip-n-save quote from QC officialdom on our land-use goals. The topic is tear-downs and “McMansion” infill development in close-in neighborhoods like Plaza Midwood and...

Tear Down Watch at 6666 Drexel Avenue
By B+S
It is on a block of Drexel that has not yet had any tear downs. This house is one block east of these two listings:. and previously discussed much liked and still ...

Friday, June 6, 2008

WSJ on Builders of Hope

June 6, 2008

Keeping the Wrecking Ball at Bay
A Nonprofit Moves and Renovates Unwanted Houses;
Tax Deduction for the Donors

June 6, 2008; Page W8
Raleigh, N.C.

It might be the most politically correct housing development on the planet.

In Raleigh, where hundreds of old houses have been torn down to make way for bigger, fancier new ones, one neighborhood stands out. Called Barrington Village, it comprises 24 homes that were saved from demolition by a nonprofit group and moved to the wooded, six-acre property. The houses, dating from the 1940s to 1960s, were placed on new foundations and fitted with identical front porches.

Reusing the houses kept construction debris out of dumps in a city where every new landfill is a battle. The houses, which go for $89,000 to $185,000, are sold to moderate-income people who have been priced out of the Raleigh market. And some of the workers come from a homeless mission, getting on-the-job training that results in letters of reference for future employment; other workers are "at risk" youth from a program that teaches construction skills.

Barrington Village is an extreme example of trying to save old houses rather than tear them down. For homeowners and developers the tactic can be a good move: They often receive a tax deduction, their lots are cleared free of charge and they may avoid criticism from neighbors and preservationists concerned about saving old structures. The National Trust for Historic Preservation recently identified over 500 communities in 40 states where homes in historic neighborhoods were being torn down, up from 100 communities in 20 states in 2002.

Services that buy house parts from people who are remodeling or razing have proliferated in recent years. These "rebuilding centers," typically nonprofits, resell the old windows, doors and cabinets to the public. But reusing an entire house is more unusual. In Martha's Vineyard, the Affordable Housing Fund has moved and renovated seven houses so far, though they weren't sited in one location. Habitat for Humanity, which builds houses from scratch for low-income people, has moved a few houses that were slated for teardown, including four relocated to one North Carolina development, says Susan Levy, executive director of the nonprofit's Orange County, N.C., affiliate.

Builders of Hope
The nonprofit in Raleigh, Builders of Hope, is one of the only groups moving and renovating houses on a large scale. And there's such a supply of teardowns in the city that Builders of Hope felt confident enough to break ground on a second development last month. Called Green Hope Village, it will have even more of a utopian twist: All the houses will be made super energy-efficient to meet the standards of a local green-building authority that guarantees monthly heating and cooling bills under $40.

Barrington Village, meantime, will soon have a playground donated by a developer who needed to get rid of it, and its traffic circle will be landscaped with a picnic table, apple trees and an herb garden designed free by a local landscaper. One Economy, a nonprofit in Washington, D.C., put in a wireless Internet system and Builders of Hope is working to get residents recycled cars from individuals and dealerships.

There have been some hitches: Moving the houses doesn't solve the problem some neighborhoods have with out-of-scale McMansions going up. Federal tax deductions for people who can afford teardowns don't always sit well in Raleigh, where property taxes have risen 40% on average over the past two years. And the "village," like many new developments, is in an isolated pocket, unconnected to other neighborhoods and lacking stores.

But that doesn't damp enthusiasm among the new homeowners. "Just to be able to own a home is a feeling of jubilation," says Phil Brickle, a 53-year-old minister who was Barrington Village's first resident. Mr. Brickle lived in a nearby trailer for nine years after a stint with his parents and 20 years as a heroin user before that, he says. The 1,500-square-foot house, which he bought for $139,000, is the first he has ever owned; it has an office, a lavishly decorated guest bedroom and a master bedroom with a walk-in closet. The solidly built kitchen cabinets stayed with the house when it was moved, as did the hardwood floors and crown molding.

Mr. Brickle's house was one of five donated by Kane Realty Corp., which needed to make room for an office and retail development. "It was such a great opportunity to do the right thing," says Mike Smith, the company's president. And it made sense financially: Kane saved the cost of bulldozing the houses and likely will get a tax deduction.

Word of Kane Realty's donation traveled to Betty Ann Lennon, a 62-year-old "stay-at-home grandmother" who had just bought a 1950s ranch house because she and her husband fell in love with the lot. They wanted to build something larger but were wary of tearing down the house. Now, the neighbors are thrilled that the old house was rescued and the couple was pleased their lot was cleared free of charge -- "a lot easier than having a bulldozer," she says.

Laura Clark, a 38-year-old stay-at-home mom whose ranch house is being prepped for the move to Builders of Hope's new community, agrees. She and her husband, a surgeon, hired an architect to help design a 4,000-square-foot traditional-style home. When the architect told them that it would be impossible to redo the existing house and that they should just "scrape" the lot, they were dismayed. Then they discovered that by donating the house they could get a federal tax deduction of 80% of the home's $145,000 appraised value -- and save $25,000 by not having to bulldoze. (The amount of deduction varies according to a donor's adjusted gross income.) "It gives you such a great feeling when you know you're not destroying it and you know it will go on to be someone else's house," Mrs. Clark says.

The idea for a recycled housing community took spark four years ago when founder Nancy Murray was putting an addition on her house. Frustrated that her contractor, John Jenkins, was taking much longer than planned because of a shortage of subcontractors, Mrs. Murray, 41, asked the contractor to show her how to help. She loved the construction work so much that when the project was finished, she bought a foreclosed house and subdivided the land for three homes, but she needed to move the existing house. The house mover, Sammy Jackson, told Mrs. Murray that there were dozens of houses slated for teardown that she could move and renovate. One idea led to another, and Builders of Hope was born when Mrs. Murray started moving homes to another property -- one she donated to the nonprofit. Mr. Jenkins, Mr. Jackson and Mrs. Murray now work full time for it (though she says she doesn't yet get paid).

Mrs. Murray has more schemes in mind. She's in talks with Habitat for Humanity about a joint effort in Chapel Hill, N.C., where Habitat has purchased a lot for a 50-house subdivision. A third of the homes in the envisioned project could be relocated ones rehabbed by Builders of Hope, she says. And when a developer offered her a bunch of unwanted duplexes, she started negotiations with another developer that owns 56 vacant lots across the street from Barrington Village that are zoned for multifamily housing. There she envisions a community for elderly people who need affordable housing but don't want a single-family home.

Write to Nancy Keates at

URL for this article:
Copyright 2008 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Visit the WSJ online to see the story with pictures.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Durham Pushback

Developing a Voice
News & Observer
Published: Jun 04, 2008 10:22 AM

It took years for neighborhood groups in Durham to win at least some voice in shaping zoning decisions. Now, however, there is some unwelcome pushback from the development side of the equation.

. . .

By its nature, a rezoning is a departure from what Durham's comprehensive plan says ought to be built in a neighborhood ... Certainly neighbors are in a good position to advise whether a development would fit or would pose problems. ...

There's always a threat of not-in-my-backyard instincts ...

. . .

But neighborhoods, just having gotten a spot on the development dance floor, shouldn't be elbowed off in the bargain.

Must read.

Original Story here at the News &