Restricting McMansions, aka “White Whales”

This story of trying to change zoning regulations to avoid teardown McMansions is fairly standard – but it also includes a new name for McMansions: “white whales.”

Residents in East Rockville are considering creating what’s known as a neighborhood conservation district in an effort to curb mansionization—the proliferation of large homes that seem like mismatches among the smaller ones that surround them, including an East Rockville residence derisively referred to as “The White Whale.”…

East Rockville is mostly comprised of single-family homes built in the early 1940s and during the World War II housing boom. But despite the city’s revised zoning code in 2009, developers have still been able to build massive residences—many of them functioning as rentals for multiple families—that just seem out of character in East Rockville, neighbors complain.

East Rockville residents have publicly voiced their concerns over preserving the integrity of their neighborhood, having testified at Rockville City Council meetings and writing letters to city officials…

Meanwhile, the city council has been discussing the problem, but can’t seem to agree on how to go about fixing it—preserving property owner’s rights, attempting to legislate taste, and other unintended consequences are only a few of the issues complicating things.

I have not heard this term for McMansions before. The photo accompanying the story portrays one of these “white whales” and it is indeed large. But, there are a couple of issues here:

1. Size is one issue. Lots of teardown controversies involve this. From this one photo, it looks like this is a large house and it also is large compared to nearby homes.

2. A second issue is the actual look of the house. When using white to describe the home, I presume critics are referring to the rather bland front dominated by white siding. Building guidelines can suggest certain styles and design elements. Interestingly, one critique of McMansions is that they their exteriors are too odd, perhaps mixing architectural styles, perhaps utilizing features and materials not found in the region, perhaps having ill-proportioned features. Neighborhoods likely want to set an “appropriate” design that isn’t too outlandish but isn’t that bland.

If you won’t want your neighbors to build a “white whale,” what color plus animal name would you prefer they build? We need a catchy alternative…

Another note: the Urban Dictionary has several definitions for “white whale.” The first doesn’t necessarily cast the McMansion opponents in the most positive light: “Something you obsess over to the point that it nearly or completely destroys you. An obsession that becomes your ultimate goal in life; one that your life now completely encircles and defines you.” The second might be more to McMansion opponents’ liking: “Term used to describe an opponent/nemesis who is extremely difficult to defeat. The term can also apply to miscellaneous games or events which are difficult to master.”



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