August 18, 2005

Fighting the McMansions

This CNN article about various efforts to halt or slow the growth of Starter Castles nicely nails the real problem with them:

It's not necessarily the size that matters -- location is a big part of it. Few people oppose McMansions in new suburbs with uniformly large homes, or to single monsters set apart on ample acreage. What raises hackles is Gulliver-sized homes on lilliputian lots.

Many older, closed-in suburbs that are in demand for their easy commutes are already built out. Builders put in large homes on whatever shoebox-sized lots remain or knock down smaller houses and replace them with palaces. They fill in nearly to the lot line and build as high as regulations allow, dwarfing neighboring homes.

Indeed. My drive into the West Falls Church Metro every morning takes me down a street where half a dozen older houses on eighth of an acre lots have been razed to the ground, to be replaced by these behemoths. Give it a few years and this street will be practically unrecognizable.

The other problem in my neck of the woods is that all of the decent lots were built up a long time ago. Builders now are putting McMansions in all sorts of improbable places - at the bottom of gulleys, on steep hillsides and, in the case of the group of houses near me known around the neighborhood as "Chevron Estates", right on top of gas stations. I confidently await the day one of these beasts topples over in a mudslide or gets swamped by a hundred year flood. And I shall snicker heartlessly when that day comes.

YIPS from Steve: Wasn't "Fighting the McMansions" one of Elvis Costello's early B sides?

Posted by Robert at August 18, 2005 03:54 PM | TrackBack

Here in Oregon, we have regulations in place that were meant to help slow growth, but have actually made this problem worse (big surprise there, huh?) -- at least inside our urban areas.

We have urban growth boundaries around our cities. Outside these boundaries, There are limits to the size and number of houses that can be built on any given area of land. But within those boundaries, no such limits exist. That means as the cities grow and get closer and closer to those boundaries, the developments JUST INSIDE those boundaries are built denser and denser the closer to those boundaries we get.

Posted by: Brian B at August 18, 2005 04:22 PM

We're seeing that in our neighborhood. One builder especially is building up the empty lots or tearing down the former drug houses. I applaud his efforts for the most part and he is building houses that more or less fit historically in the period of the neighborhood, but he is making them taller and larger (around 2500-3000) square feet) than the typical houses which are more in the 1000-1800 sq. ft. range. It looks very funny to see the odd short old house between giants, but I guess to get rid of the problem neighbors, I can live with funny looking.

Posted by: Jordana at August 18, 2005 05:41 PM

We actually know some people who built a house that was so big for the lot that they suddenly discovered there wasn't enough room to turn into the garage when they tried to move in.

Posted by: Robbo the LB at August 18, 2005 05:47 PM

Very true in Arlington. But don't laugh too loud when the neighboring McMansion slides into the gully. It will suddenly become a CIVIC problem, rather than the builder's stupidity, and they will tap your tax dollars to pay for the fix up.

I saw this in a suburb of Buffalo. A lot of large expensive homes were built on the flood plain of Ellicott Creek. The builder cashed in and left town. A couple of years later, all the houses were flooded, and all the taxpayers of the town were soaked to pay for a levee.

Posted by: American Daughter at August 18, 2005 09:03 PM
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