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Thread: Residents turn on "mansionization" in Chevy Chase

  1. #1
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    Residents turn on "mansionization" in Chevy Chase

    CNN Money has an article discussing residents that are turning against the gigantic houses. The article has some good stats comparing the increase in average house size with the decrease in average household size.

    Link to article

    Residents are bringing up some classic arguements that date back to some of the original reasons for zoning such as inadequate light. Apparently these huge houses are going into inner-ring areas that have small lots, but the houses are being built as tall/wide as possible, often dwarfing the older houses in the area. There's also complaints about privacy loss since these new giants are able to peer down on their neighbors. Other concerns involve increased impervious cover and its affect on stormwater runoff.

    My first thoughts on this were why doesn't the city have more restrictive maximum heights in the residential areas and why don't they have maximum impervious lot coverage requirements? I thought these had been a staple of zoning ordinances for decades...

    However, someone from APA actually came down from the ivory tower of planning utopia to chime in on the subject.

    Michael Davidson of the American Planning Association said, "Every community is different. Higher density can sometimes serve a neighborhood." Packing more homes on smaller amounts of land can free other acreage for recreation. And mass transit, a darling of urbanists, works most efficiently when there's a large population living along its corridor.

    I'm trying to figure out how he took a discussion about houses being too large for the lots they are on into a discussion about density and mass transit. It's still going on the same size lot, so the only influence on density is how many people live in the house. I believe the complaint was about the aesthetics of these large houses in relation to the neighborhood--why don't you try addressing the actual complaint!! There is more to life than promoting high density APA!!!

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

  2. #2
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Off-topic:
    Quote Originally posted by Suburb Repairman
    I'm trying to figure out how he took a discussion about houses being too large for the lots they are on into a discussion about density and mass transit. It's still going on the same size lot, so the only influence on density is how many people live in the house. I believe the complaint was about the aesthetics of these large houses in relation to the neighborhood--why don't you try addressing the actual complaint!! There is more to life than promoting high density APA!!!
    I'm also trying to figure out how you took a discussion about the impacts of "mansionization" and turned it into a rant against APA.


    On topic:
    We have been dealing with the effects of widespread teardowns here, and in 2003 new changes to the zoning code helped to mitigate some impacts - reworked FAR (sliding scale), addition of impervious surface maximums. Also, we have a Design Commission that reviews all commercial, multi-family projects and all single family teardowns and large additions.

    Yet we still get people complaining about loss of sunlight and such, but the minimum buildable lot here is 50 feet wide & 6,250 sqft - not exactly small, all things being equal.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Let's not be didactic in this profession, because that is a path to disillusion and irrelevancy.

    Six seasons and a movie!

  3. #3
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by mendelman
    Off-topic:

    I'm also trying to figure out how you took a discussion about the impacts of "mansionization" and turned it into a rant against APA.

    I've got skills! I had actually read most of the article and decided to post it, but then I caught the last paragraph of the article and was like, what does that have to do with anything here? It was like it was part of a totally different interview. Sorry about that.

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

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    Cyburbian thinknik's avatar
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    Look, around here they get "density" all twisted up too.

    People density is not the same as density of structures.

    I have been monitoring this issue and the article posted and the many others like it across the country are mostly complaining about loss of privacy, trees, light, architectural and neighborhood character.

    No one is really complaining about more people coming because more people are not actually coming. The most complaints are about "pop tops," scrape offs" and "teardowns" -- or replacement structures in older, well-established and traditional neighborhoods -- already at build out. The article even says it, "you're getting bigger houses on smaller lots with fewer people living in them."

    Is Michael Davidson is up to speed on this issue?

    The argument of more densely packed houses, with less people in them, making room for more recreation space in already established neighborhoods is folly. More recreation space in older and traditional neighborhoods will be produced only when cities buy up land for them.

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    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
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    In terms of new development, here in Florida the homebuilding boom has meant tons of developments with densities no less than 4 units per acre, but with no open space. Developers get away with squeezing in as many homes as they can. S.R. is right: the APA treats high-density as a universally good thing. The reality is that down here the only thing that's gonna protect the environment are lower residential densities since local governments are unwilling to acquire land.

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    Cyburbian The One's avatar
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    Hmmm....

    I think Chevy Chase has the most highly educated people of any City in the Country....and one of the most expensive places to live in the USA.... A very good friend of my family lives there, I will have to ask him about the recent development trends and backlash.....
    Skilled Adoxographer

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    Cyburbian
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    So what do we think about why this trend is occurring? People are wanting to live in these close-in established, probably moderate density neighborhoods, (in many Chevy Chase/Bethesda neighborhoods you can walk to commercial districts) and are building the house they want there, in a walkable community. Those that are willing to build the house are willing to live in a more (building) dense environment, so long as it provides the amenities of shorter commutes, etc.This is instead of buying the same house out in a greenfields subdivision. Seems like a good thing...but then where do the families that would have bought the smaller house go--back out in the developing outer suburbs...

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    Cyburbian michaelskis's avatar
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    We have something like this issue a lot here. Many of the lots on our 3 lakes are very small, and had weekend / summer cottages on them. Over the past 30 or so years, these cottage lots have been bought up and massive homes that go right up to the maximum allowable area have been built. Many of these lots have either a 5 or 8-foot side setback maximum and we allow up to 25% lot coverage. (Anything with a roof is taken into consideration) Many of these residents will use the riparian access area for rear yard (40-foot) setback and extra property for lot coverage issue.

    I personally think that it makes the neighborhood look more attractive because the little cottages are often below minimum building square-footage and in need of significant repair. Most of them where not built for permit habitation. It also cleans up the property and increase the property values of the surrounding properties.

    The downfall of it is that these people are all whinny because they will have 2 children but still find a need to own 6 cars, 2 boats, 2 jet skis, and a lawn gnome. (All other than the gnome are in violation if on the lawn) Some have vacant properties on the opposite side of the street that they try to use as extra space, and many are rather unhappy when we inform them that we do not permit accessory structures or uses on lots that do not have the primary use (dwelling unit).
    "I learned many great lessons from my father, not the least of which, was that you can fail at what you don't want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love." - Jim Carrey

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    Quote Originally posted by michaelskis
    I personally think that it makes the neighborhood look more attractive because the little cottages are often below minimum building square-footage and in need of significant repair. Most of them where not built for permit habitation. It also cleans up the property and increase the property values of the surrounding properties.
    unit).
    I don't think this is the case in most of these suburbs, which are modest, but affluent neighborhoods with good locations. We are talking about a 1950s, 1500 square foot colonial-perfectly habitable and in tune with the scale of the neighborhood and the lot size-being replaced with a 4,5000 square foot "Mediterranean style" mansion. Given the lousy materials, awful detailing, poor proportions, and sheer silliness of much custom homebuilding today, these new houses are rarely an improvement to anything but the profit potential of the owner-speculator.

    Will these homes go the way of the Victorian mansion (equally over-the-top in many respects)? i.e., chopped up into small apartments as their former owners downsize into more manageable spaces?

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    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by BKM
    Will these homes go the way of the Victorian mansion (equally over-the-top in many respects)? i.e., chopped up into small apartments as their former owners downsize into more manageable spaces?
    Not if the politicians prevent the zoning from changing.

    Otherwise, they may either become either single household (but high number of occupants) slums or be continually recycled for the upper income brackets (but this is dependent on location - houses on hillside with fantastic view, etc.)
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Let's not be didactic in this profession, because that is a path to disillusion and irrelevancy.

    Six seasons and a movie!

  11. #11
    Cyburbian thinknik's avatar
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    One things for sure, if you scrape them off and cart them off to the landfill the neighborhoods will never get the chance to be historic...

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