Local News

Officials Concerned as 'McMansions' Flourish

Posted September 14, 2007
Updated September 15, 2007

— Almost 600 homes have been knocked down in Raleigh in the last five years to make way for larger residences, according to a city report released Friday.

The majority of the activity was concentrated inside the Interstate 440 Beltline north of Wade Avenue and west of Wake Forest Road, the report said. Nearly half of the replacement homes were at least 4,000 square feet.

"People want to be closer to downtown. They see older, one-story buildings, (built in the) 1950s, 1960s, and they're ripe for redevelopment. You do see the market shifting to those sites," Raleigh Planning Director Mitchell Silver said.

The development practice, called infill, begins to happen in cities once the price of land gets high enough to justify the demolition costs.

But the report, which was compiled by interns hired by the city's planning department and Preservation North Carolina, shows the tear-down trend isn't as widespread in Raleigh as city officials previously thought, Silver said.

"What surprised us is that 40 percent of all the infill projects are under 3,000 square feet," he said.

Still, he said, city zoning codes might need to be adjusted because the new homes, often referred to as "McMansions," are next to older, much smaller homes.

Silver said the biggest complaint he hears from residents is that new homes are built too big. Existing codes allow single-family homes up to 40 feet in height, and he said that limit might be dropped to 32 or 35 feet.

"The next step is to look site by site (at) the size of the home relative to the neighborhood character, do some research and recommend a series of alternatives," he said.

Public hearings on the issue are planned for the coming months before recommendations are presented to the Planning Commission and the City Council next spring.

Fallon Park resident Rachel Wooten said she looks forward to tighter rules on McMansions. She said her neighborhood is losing its character as people replace older homes.

"I really get sad sometimes. It kind of breaks my heart," Wooten said. "If I had to move to this neighborhood now, I could not afford it."


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  • Foster W Sikes Sep 16, 2007

    Can someone tell me how much of the landfill was used for tearing down the convention center that was 30 years old?

    FYI.. You have different landfills for construction and trash. Even recycle drops for brick and concrete.

  • Foster W Sikes Sep 16, 2007

    Interesting comments: Why don't we deal with a few facts instead of conjecture?
    1. Legislating compatibility is legislating taste.
    2. McMansions don't have vinyl (accept in the soffits or window sills to prevent wood rot)
    3. Not all houses ITB can be million dollar houses there aren't enough people who could afford them, despite popular belief.
    4. HOA's could be implemented in any of these areas. The problem is most people don't want one.
    5. People continually blog about how poor houses are constructed today yet they know nothing about construction. Galvanized pipe rusts PEX doesn't.
    6. True environmentalist support tear downs as accepting reality and promoting using existing land to help with growth which keeps most of us employed. 7. A 4000 sq. ft house built today can easily have electric bills less than the average 50 year old 2000 sq foot home. Sorry to disappoint those people who think they know all but facts are facts. Jealousy and Control are your issues.

  • jhnewman Sep 16, 2007

    Desmond Tutu:

    "You can never win a war against terror as long as there are conditions in the world that make people desperate -- poverty, disease, ignorance, et cetera," the Nobel laureate said.

    Tutu is in Hong Kong, where he is due to give a lecture on conflict resolution, reconciliation and forgiveness.

    He said the disparity between the rich and poor in parts of the world causes instability and insecurity, but added that he was hopeful the relationship between the two was becoming clear.

    "I think people are beginning to realize that you can't have pockets of prosperity in one part of the world and huge deserts of poverty and deprivation and think that you can have a stable and secure world," he said.

  • jhnewman Sep 16, 2007

    News Flash from 2027:

    According to the Hispanic News Network, nearly all large homes in Raleigh-Durham-Cary, have been destroyed in the race riots which started last year.

    As an adjunct to this story, there are employment opportunities which have been advertised but which have gone unfilled. For example: White History Coordinator, advertised for six months with no applicants.

  • Mrs. Yankee-Southern Blend Sep 16, 2007

    Someone said that the homes that were being torn down were outdated. Bungalows were outdated too when I was a kid. Everyone thought they were ugly. In the past 10 years they have become popular. People will now pay a fortune for an original. Victorian homes were considered "ugly" at some point too, although by the time I was a kid they were highly desirable. Sadly, many of both types of homes were torn down before they had their second chance. Unfortunately, Raleigh doesn't have many historic or old homes compared to other places I have lived. Maybe that is why when I first moved here the few older neighborhoods stood out to me so much. The 50's neighborhoods appeared to me to be the next up & coming beautiful Leave It To Beaver neighborhoods. Now they look odd with awkward new homes among them. In just another 5-10 years the new homes of today will already be outdated. Those who still own the 50's homes will be the lucky last few owning the old charm of Raleigh.

  • lolly Sep 16, 2007

    Nice posts by Steve Crisp. Interesting.
    I do not want my property taxes to go up because ITB is not allowed to achieve highest and best use. If they want to rewrite the zoning laws to knock 5 feet off the max height, I think that is a reasonable concession. Rezoning someone's property against their will is wrong. Let the ITB crowd buy the land if they do not want it developed as it is currently zoned.

  • Steve Crisp Sep 16, 2007

    So when you see a bunch of northerers packed into a subdivision of condos, remember that they are in heaven. The walk into their own front door from street level. They are not living on the 34th floor with an elevator that hangs a lot. They actually have some grass to mow and are more than willing to let their condo association do it for them while they enjoy it. The ones who want to have their own free-standing home don't mind being 20 feet away from the next house because they are accustomed to being wall to wall to floor to ceiling with four neighbors and window to window with two others.

    And notherners find it very odd that apartments here are for the unsettled, the transient, and those who are not, shall we say, considered the most desirable people on the planet. Apartments in NYC, NJ, DC, and Boston are often luxury places where the well off live. The poorer folks live in small, ratty houses in the exburbs.

    It's the complete reverse from what southerners are used to.

  • Steve Crisp Sep 16, 2007

    It's really all a matter of what one is accustomed to. for instance, look at New York City and much of northern New Jersey. Living is vertical. Apartments, condos, five story walkups. Lofts in converted industrial areas. And these things are not trivially priced either. We're talking a million or two or much more for a nice condo on the upper west side. Single family homes are generally ten to fifteen feet apart and have minimal yards. One hundred precent of all the land has been developed for many decades and the only way you get a house is to buy an existing one (or tear one down and rebuild on the same property.)

    But look at that mindset. That is the way of life. So when someone comes here from that environment, they are not really changing anything about the way they are used to living. It may seem strange to oldtimers in Raleigh, but it's not for them.

    One other difference. In NC, living in an apartment is considered a personal negative. It is normal for a New Yorker.

  • Steve Crisp Sep 16, 2007

    To Hammerhead:

    There is a fundamental difference in how two groups of people think about this issue. There are the ones who like open land, trees, space for kids to play, and an almost rural ambience to their suburban living. They do not want to give up on that dream.

    Then there are the ones who are urban to begin with. Those whose idea of "land" is a small front yard and a decent park within five or so miles (or the area around the local school.) They are used to living vertically in apartments and densepack neighborhoods.

    But we are in a free market where money really decides what the expression of ones personal likes may be. And these old neighborhoods just have not been able to maintain their value to the extent that THEY are too expensive to move into. They are actually cheap, even in comparision to similar locals in the area, let alone northeast equity money coming in.

    And they are relatively cheap because we have a ton of land around here. No shortage, no price pressure.

  • jenmaris Sep 16, 2007

    By the way, the Five Points CAC had a vote on this downzone last Wednesday and this effort was VOTED DOWN by the Five Points residents. Ms. Wooten and her crowd were telling people that if they were downzoned, their property values would increase? Even the City Zoning Staff thought this was a joke. Now she doesn't want property values to increase? These people change their "problems" based on their audience. I think they need to be professional politicians. They certainly DON'T speak for the majority in the Fallon Parks neighborhood. They are a plain nuisance to most of us who are quietly living our lives.