Kaid Benfield Archive


Size matters: suburban county limits size of mega-mansions in older neighborhoods

Kaid Benfield

Posted December 16, 2008 at 1:25PM

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Austin, TX (by: Melanie Martinez, creative commons license)The Montgomery (MD) County Council has voted 8-1 to scale back the size of new homes that are replacing teardowns in older neighborhoods.  This addresses what has become a growing (pun initially unintended) problem in many communities.  From the National Trust's website:

"Across the nation a teardown epidemic is wiping out historic neighborhoods one house at a time.  As older homes are demolished and replaced with dramatically larger, out-of-scale new structures, the historic character of the existing neighborhood is changed forever.  Neighborhood livability is diminished as trees are removed, backyards are eliminated, and sunlight is blocked by towering new structures built up to the property lines.  Community economic and social diversity is reduced as new mansions replace affordable homes.  House by house, neighborhoods are losing a part of their historic fabric and much of their character."

Austin, TX (courtesy of the National Trust for Historic Preservation)Not everyone is so restrained.  From an eloquent and to-the-point writer on the blog Teardown Post:

"I hate teardowns, as do most preservationists. I hate them because they are shortsighted and wasteful. I hate them because they destroy history and a sense of place. I hate them because they represent the worst aspects of the all-American need for everything to be shiny and modern and huge and up to date. I hate them because the buildings constructed to replace the demolished structures are often not only completely out-of-scale and out-of-style for the neighborhood environment, but of significantly inferior construction. I hate them because they signify another victory and a big cash prize for some vulture developer, giving him the means to begin the process anew on yet another property.

"I hate teardowns (on a deep-personal-bias level) because my childhood home is in a landfill, and one by one, the houses of our neighbors are joining it, recreating the neighborhood in the sense that they are all ending up commingled as useless rubble, detritus of the ridiculously high land values in my hometown . . .

"The end result of this is that when I go home, there is less and less of my past to show my children. Even the much-beloved woods behind our house is gone, because the McMansion they built on our old foundation extends so far back that the back yard disappeared completely. So not only was the house destroyed, but dozens of mature trees too . . ."

The new Montgomery County guidelines do not prohibit teardowns per se, but they do limit the size of the replacements.  In an article written by Ann E. Marimow and Miranda S. Spivac, The Washington Post reports that the guidelines, which will become law on April 28, reduce the size of homes by about 14 percent on small lots and by 20 percent on half-acre lots.  Owners will still be able to build homes as big as 4,500 square feet on lots as large as 6,000 square feet.  In some parts of the county, height limits will drop from 50 feet to 35 or 45 feet, depending on lot size.  (Heights are already limited to about 35 feet in denser, residential neighborhoods.)  Not counted in these calculations would be bay windows, open porches, chimneys and detached garages.

Go here for the full article.