An argument for historic districts: repel McMansions!

A common argument for historic districts is that they limit the destruction of older homes and the construction of McMansions. Here is an example of this argument in Fort Lauderdale:

However, if communities wait around for that history to age, new development might wipe it out before it has a chance to be saved.

That fear has residents of Fort Lauderdale’s Colee Hammock neighborhood thinking about seeking historic district designation for their community.

“We’re constantly inundated with development issues, people wanting to come in and build too much, too high, too big,” said Jackie Scott, president of Colee Hammock’s neighborhood association. “It gets to a point where you’re sick and tired of always having to come out and fight for your neighborhood. It’s not an enjoyable way to live.”…

“We have some beautiful homes that have been built and are new construction. They fit perfectly with the neighborhood,” Scott said. [A historic district] prevents people that want to come into an area like this to start ripping things down and creating McMansions.”

While McMansions are often tied to sprawl and new subdivisions, teardowns are also a common scene for debates over the merits of McMansions. In this particular example, a McMansion is contrasted with new homes that “fit perfectly with the neighborhood.” Many American communities have created some guidelines so that teardowns can’t be anything a homeowner might desire but there is a spectrum between more permissive and less permissive communities. The advantage of declaring a historic district is that the community has more control over what can be demolished and built within the district. At the same time, some consider historic districts to be quite restrictive.

I would be interested to hear what resources those pushing for the historic district have utilized from outside groups. For example, the National Trust for Historic Preservation even has a page titled “Teardowns and McMansions.” Here is the lead paragraph:

Across the nation a teardown epidemic is wiping out historic neighborhoods one house at a time. As older homes are demolished and replaced with dramatically larger, out-of-scale new structures, the historic character of the existing neighborhood is changed forever. Neighborhood livability is diminished as trees are removed, backyards are eliminated, and sunlight is blocked by towering new structures built up to the property lines. Community economic and social diversity is reduced as new mansions replace affordable homes. House by house, neighborhoods are losing a part of their historic fabric and much of their character.

With such resources available, I wonder if local groups are now more effective in adopting historic districts.

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  1. […] draws from a definition from the National Trust for Historic Preservation and it seems that the teardown dimension is big here: these houses are bigger than the surrounding […]

  2. […] Historic districts in order to keep McMansions away? A common strategy. Cemeteries? Interesting. I wonder if there are every NIMBY concerns about cemeteries. And if the diocese could have sold the land to developers who might then build McMansions, why can’t the land be sold and developed in such a way that local governments could get new tax revenues? […]

  3. […] declaring neighborhoods historic districts (which are often the strictest option – see an example here), guidelines can help opponents and proponents of teardowns work with a common set of expectations […]

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