Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Silver Spring Spared McMansionization (For Now?)

Though it was original published back January, I just recently came across a post on the Historian for Hire blog about teardowns in Montgomery County. It focuses on a house in North Four Corners that was recently razed and replaced with a McMansion. It's definitely worth a read.

One thing that I found particularly interesting was a map included in the post. It was originally produced by the Montgomery County Planning department and illustrates the distribution of teardowns across the county. What's striking is the large disparity in the number of teardowns in Silver Spring when compared with Chevy Chase, Bethesda and Potomac. (Granted, the map was created in 2006 and there certainly have been some more teardowns here since that time, though I'm sure there's been just as many or more to the west of us.)

Teardowns in SoMoCo

The Next Trend?
Each dot on the map represents an instance of an existing home being torn down and replaced by a new (presumably much larger) one. I've always thought that with some exceptions, we've been generally spared this unfortunate trend, and this map confirms my suspicions. While whole swaths of southwest Montgomery County appear to have been razed, within equally or more dense Silver Spring, there have only been a handful of teardowns to date.

Why tear down a perfectly good house in favor of a McMansion? Perhaps you need larger gold bar storage rooms or additional quarters for your manservants. Who knows. When they've finished with everything to the west of us, will the bulldozers come for our properly-scaled homes next? Hopefully not, as the Great Recession may have served as the the McMansion's Waterloo, permanently halting their progression before they could establish a foothold in Silver Spring.

To be fair, not every so-called "McMansion" design is grotesque and not all are completely oversized for their lot, but I've seen some terrible examples in MoCo. The problem is particularly pronounced in Chevy Chase, where some houses quite literally block out the sun. There are a certainly a few unfortunate examples of McMansionization in Silver Spring, some of which are referenced in the Historian for Hire post. In many ways worse are the completely over-scaled additions to small homes that have produced Frankenstein houses even more hideous than most McMansions. I can't begrudge someone the right to expand on their home, I just wish people took more of an effort to make their addition blend with the existing house and those surrounding it, rather than just maximizing square footage for the sake of it.


Mim Landry said...

Although that article was interesting, that house at the corner of Dennis and University not a McMansion. Bigger yes, but not mansion-y, and it still fits the neighborhood. In contrast, look at the house on Colesville Drive a block north of University on the right. That house absolutely does not fit in the neighborhood. That's a true McMansion.

Thayer-D said...

Someone's McMansion is another's upgrade. Unfortunatley, it's subjective, and hopefully self correcting if the market does affect the value of "bloated" houses. Furthermore, many architects aren't taught the value of harmony, proportions, and beauty exactly because they are subjective and thought of as oldfashioned/obsolete. The only way to control this phenomena is through stricter zoning ordinances. Good luck with the nimby/libertarians with that one!

Anonymous said...

"The only way to control this phenomena is through stricter zoning ordinances. Good luck with the nimby/libertarians with that one!"

Does not compute. Libertarians will be opposed to stricter zoning, but so-called NIMBY's (one man's NIMBY is another man's concerned neighbor) would likely welcome stricter zoning.

Liz said...

For many years I worked with about the only builder doing really quality work (comparable to what you see in CC and Bethesda) in single family building in close in Silver Spring.

We rarely see teardowns because a investor rarely will see a return on it. The numbers don't work and didn't in even in the height of the market. A single family home is going to be worth more to an end-use buyer as a move-in home unless the home is in terrible condition (fire, structural or neglect) or it's a small home straddling two lots.

For better or worse, as soon as the market supports tear downs, we'll see them, at least for better than averaged-sized lots. Remember a lot of our lots are smaller than in Bethesda and Chevy Chase.

Also, the effort and expense it takes to get permits and built a house in Mont Co is really a deterrent to all but the most serious investors. For the rest, it generally only takes one project before they understand what they are up against.

Liz Brent
Evers & Co

Anonymous said...

I don't understand the problem with this? Someone builds a big house on their own lot. One day, I hope to be able to do the same....is that such a bad thing?

Anonymous said...

It never fails to amaze me the emotional energy that this topic brings. Unfortunately or fortunately tearing down and rebuilding will never ever stop.

Liz pointed out the math of the what drives the process, but at its most simple and basic, we will always tear down and rebuild because the housing stock ages. What was good 80, 60, or sometimes 20 years ago doesn't always translate today. A single closet 2 feet wide isn't feasible for a master bedroom today the way it once was, neither is thermally inefficient construction or resource guzzling building systems. There are so many structures out there that were built before the building code (read much less safe).

Things change and so should our spaces.

Thayer-D said...

I think people feel architects should be more respectful of the neighbors when the infill goes in.
As to why NIMBY's might object to stricter zoning, it affects them in that they're being told what they can and can't do in their own back yard. Eitherway, I agree with Liz that when the market comes back, Silver Spring will get them. Right now, additions are going apace, the step below a tear down.

CP said...

The house at the corner of University & Dennis is now throwing in a car if you buy the joint. If I bought that place, I would just sit in the driveway & rev my new engine to try & drown out all the traffic noise.

David R. said...

The new car is a great idea. Now if they really wanted to turn some heads & create some buzz, they'd throw in a funeral package at the Collins Funeral Home across the street.

Cilla said...

I was a real estate agent based in Bethesda (but selling in 4 counties) for many years. I learned that many builders and developers had standing "bonus" orders for any agent who could find them a potential tear-down on any lot in certain zipcodes (mainly Bethesda and Chevy Chase). What they focused on were parcels where the appraised value of the lot exceeded the value of the structure on a majority of the parcels in the area. I think that I read somewhere that there are relatively few such places in the US, but that Bethesda and Chevy Chase had many such areas. This may explain much of the disparity in the instance of tear downs.

Anonymous said...

for the person who has been asking about the lot behind VPlaza, dcmud has an article about it today:


Mike said...

No way that house is a McMansion, just because it's a teardown. There are far worse examples of houses that don't fit the 'hood along Timberwood, but they were additions, not teardowns.

Of course, HFH completely ignores the fact that the actual historic home just down the street along Dennis, built before the subdivision of that plat, looms over its neighbors. But it's old, so I guess that's okay. He just singled out a design he didn't like. What a jerk.

FWIW, it's my understanding the the home along Colesville/Woodmoor was built by the owner of Santucci's, who for many years lived in the house right next door.

Anonymous said...

Mike said:
"FWIW, it's my understanding the the home along Colesville/Woodmoor was built by the owner of Santucci's, who for many years lived in the house right next door."

Not sure where this rumor came from but it is not true that the owner of Santucci's built this and he did not live next door.

lilkunta said...

@ Mike Mar 9 7:35pest
I know the house of which you speak. When on Univ going towards Wheaton, turn R onto Dennis. The house is on the R. We call it the Big House bc it looks like a slavery era plantation house the way it is set back and up on a hill.

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