Maryland Towns Outlaw McMansions
Several towns in Maryland D.C. suburbs have won authority from the state legislature to limit the size of homes, pending the signature of Governor Ehrlich.
A dozen municipalities in Montgomery County would be given authority to regulate the size of houses under a bill approved by the General Assembly in the final days of this year’s session. The legislation, unanimously approved by the House of Delegates and Senate, allows incorporated towns in southern Montgomery to set standards for how tall, wide or bulky a single-family house should be. If the bill is signed by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), the municipalities — Garrett Park, Glen Echo, Kensington, Somerset, Takoma Park, Martin’s Additions, North Chevy Chase, the town of Chevy Chase, Chevy Chase Village, Chevy Chase Section Three, Chevy Chase Section Five and Chevy Chase View — will have expanded powers to limit so-called McMansions. Ehrlich has yet to take a position on the bill.
“This gives these small towns the ability to experiment with different ways to address the issue,” said Del. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Montgomery), one of the architects of the legislation. “Some of the older neighborhoods wanted more restrictive standards.”
“If we wanted to preserve the particular character of our own little community, this gives us a little more opportunity to do that,” said Carolyn Shawaker, mayor of Garrett Park.
Across the region, residents in older neighborhoods near the Capital Beltway have been wrestling over how to keep traditional houses from being torn down and replaced with larger structures that some say are out of character with surrounding structures. The debate often pits neighbor against neighbor, with one person’s dream house being another’s eyesore.
While I support the authority of localities to create zoning regulations, the antipathy toward so-called mini-mansions baffles me. While I understand the desire to preserve the historic character of truly old neighborhoods, as well as the interest of homeowners in not having multi-family or much lower value properties built in their neighborhood, I can’t see why anyone would be opposed to nicer homes.
My wife and I live in a subdivision that was once part of George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate. The homes were built in the early and mid-1960s and have what for this area are considered large yards. Slowly, the older, smaller, less attractive homes are being bought by developers and replaced by much nicer, more expensive new homes. We’re delighted, as it not only improves the aesthetic quality of the area but increases our own property value. It also encourages others, including those like us who plan to stay put, to invest money in renovating their own homes since the fear that they will not be able to recoup the investment on resale because of the value of other homes in the community is diminished. This strikes me as a win all the way around.
Then again, I have never quite grasped the argument against “gentrification,” whereby blighted slums are torn down and replaced by decent housing. I understand, and sympathize with, the desire to ensure that the working poor can afford a place to live. But the antipathy toward gentrification and mini-mansions has always struck me as visceral–a reaction against an upper middle class lifestyle–than about concern for the poor.
Update: Pace commenter Mac‘s horror that I would think it good that the area “where George Washington lived,” I should issue a clarification. Washington was an incredibly wealthy man who owned hundreds of acres of land. While my house is less than five miles from the Mount Vernon mansion, it was just farmland when Washington owned it. My neighborhood was developed in the 1960s in almost exactly the manner described by Charles Hill: “at least around my part of the world, suburban homes built in the early 1960s tend to be something less than distinctive unless they’re seriously high-buck; this was an era of cookie-cutter architecture.” Indeed, in my neighborhood there were apparently three basic models to chose from and they were repeated for several blocks. The new houses being built are, to my tastes, simply much more attractive.
As to the point Mac makes at his blog, I’m enough of an old style conservative to sometimes prefer the old ways. I’ve sufficiently Southern to have a respect for tradition and culture. I’m enough of a libertarian, however, to think that those who want to preserve the old ways ought to pay for it with their own money rather than someone else’s. Edmund Burke, whom Mac would presumably admit as an Authentic Conservative, observed that, “Property was not made by government, but government by and for it. The one is primary and self-existent; the other is secondary and derivative.”