Fitting a new home into an older neighborhood

Teardowns are an issue in communities across the United States. In older neighborhoods, particularly in wealthier suburbs, new homes are contentious: their style and size may change the character of a neighborhood as well as impact property values. In this report from the Chicago Tribune, Chicago area architects talk about how they try to alter the design and appearance of these new homes in order to fit in with the existing neighborhood:

Anyone who’s driven around the city or its surrounding suburbs likely has seen plenty of examples of homes that just don’t fit. The modern masterpiece in a subdivision full of stately Colonials. The 7,000-square-foot behemoth casting its shadow over a block of tiny post-war ranches.

Size is often one of the most challenging elements of a new-construction project in an established neighborhood, Lindsay said. Those who build typically want to max out on square footage, requiring a variety of design tricks to make structures appear smaller their more modestly sized, older neighbors, such as placing much of the square footage to the home’s exterior…

Some municipalities aren’t willing to gamble that new construction will be in good taste. In Park Ridge, for example, a five-member appearance commission considers architectural style, size, site plans, as well as renderings of roofs, windows and doorways to judge whether a proposed residence will enhance an existing neighborhood. Though most construction projects get the thumbs-up, the commission helps preserve the community’s character by setting some basic guidelines, said City Planner Jon Branham.

But fitting in needn’t mean choosing cookie-cutter designs or doggedly preserving every existing structure on a block. “Some neighborhoods are outdated,” Lindsay said. “You’re not going to build a shabby house next to an existing shabby house just so it will fit it. You want to capture the best features of a neighborhood and not the worst.”

This is often a tricky situation – one architect suggests in the story that a new home is a sort of “public project.”The idea that private homeowners should inform all their neighbors about an upcoming teardown or major renovation seems to be a popular way to attempt to change perceptions.

Although homeowners have some choice over their own property, communities often have some regulations and nearby neighbors can also make their opinions heard. The community’s thoughts on this issue can make a big difference. Some communities are more conservative politically and economically¬† and this leads to more leeway for property owners. Others are more open to the thoughts of the neighborhood as opposed to the individual homeowners and have more restrictive regulations. All of this can come through a number of methods, including historic districts or preservation areas, but any of these measures often prompt public debate.

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