Friday, September 30, 2005

Teardown Terrors!

Julia Lawlor, of the New York Times had a great story this week to go with the marvelous photo above (which was taken by Norman Y. Lono for The New York Times). The photo alone tells half the tale of California's coastal towns as well as New York's and New Jersey's. If you live in those states you've seen this a lot in the past few years. It starts with the telltale sign of the giant trash dumpster and ends with a zero lot line and a house that looks like a Best Buy. This is part of the bubble and the cheap money that it has made available for teardowns, some of which are creating spiteful battles between neighbors. Here's an excerpt from Lawlor's story:
Today, with the real estate boom turning coastal resorts from New Jersey to California into construction zones, a backlash is gaining strength. Longtime residents who don't want change are fighting back, and a particular focus of their wrath is the teardown. Homeowners fear oversize mansions squeezed onto tiny lots, blocked views, clogged streets and a loss of affordability for the middle class. In some places citizens rally to try to save grand Victorian houses; in many, they defend aging bungalows.

On the other side of the battle are developers who want to get the most for their square footage, public officials interested in new tax revenue and newcomers in search of their own piece of the beach. "When you pay $1 million for a property," said John Loeper, chairman of the Ocean City Historic Preservation Commission, "it's hard to look at a 60-year-old building with inferior wiring and windows, no insulation, bad framing, and say, 'Let's save it.' "

Some owners who bring in the backhoes are even old neighbors themselves, replacing outdated houses.

Anti-teardown forces often learn about demolition plans before the wrecking crew arrives. They picket, circulate petitions and hire lawyers.

"We're hearing about teardowns from more and more communities," said Adrian Scott Fine, director of the northeast field office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. "Once it starts happening, it's really hard to slow down. Some local governments view it as progress; it's an increase in the tax base. But it's changing the character of the community." In some places, he said, "the starter house no longer exists."
Read the entire story at this link.

— The Boy in the Big Housing Bubble