Fighting over McMansions in Mission Hills

In the wealth Kansas City suburb of Mission Hills (named earlier this year one of “America’s Most Affluent Neighborhoods“), residents have been fighting over whether McMansions should be allowed:

“There’s a group that wants to build whatever the hell they want,” says lawyer Ann Alexander, a Mission Hills resident who in 2009 sued a neighbor over lot setbacks, “and there’s a group that wants renovation and vibrancy, but who want to do that in the context of the community.”

Think of it as the property-rights set versus the Mission Hills traditionalists…

But what is Mission Hills? After failing to define that with regulations and zoning laws, the city last spring hired a Los Angeles planning consultant named David Sargent to define it.

The hope is that Sargent could help end the squabbling by coming up with a set of design guidelines that would allow for housing upgrades — both teardowns and add-ons — but preserve, as he puts it, “the pastoral, garden character of the community.”

Sargent’s first draft came out this month, and now some are waiting to see whether the recommendations, when they’re in final form next year, will bring peace and understanding in the extraordinary city.

Sounds like a typical standoff: residents who want to protect the historical character of the community versus those who want to live in a well-known location but in a new big house with all the modern amenities.

This planning consultant has his work cut out for him. However, many other communities have adopted guidelines or planbooks that at least offer some guidance to what new houses might look like. Without 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 as they try to decide what their neighborhood should look like in the future.

Thinking further about this, I wonder if anyone has done research on what suburban residents expect their neighborhood to be like in the future. I don’t think I’d be alone in expecting that many residents would want the neighborhood to stay about the same as when they moved in. I recently heard someone cite Mark Twain saying, “Everyone likes progress, but no one likes change.” Are things that could be changed in a neighborhood that a majority of residents would see as positive?

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