Fighting the “King of McMansions”

Some well-known residents of Southampton Village, New York are opposed to plans for a new big house proposed by the “King of McMansions:”

What do commodities trader John Paulson, real estate tycoon Harrison LeFrak, CNN morning news show co-anchor Christopher Cuomo, and  President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s granddaughter Anne Eisenhower have in common?

They share an opposition to the “Farrelization” of their neighborhood in historic Southampton Village, where Joe Farrell has proposed building a 5,531 square foot house on a 1.2 acre parcel on Hill Street according to an article in Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal.

Dubbed “King of McMansions,” Farrell, who was profiled last summer in The New York Times is described as being “a local version of Donald Trump, without the history of debt, the lush hair or the insults.”

Mr. Paulson, Mr. LeFrak, Mr. Cuomo,  and Ms. Eisenhower are just a few of the 85 names who penned letters to a local village review board. The letter writers variously objected to “the size, scale, scope and ‘visual incompatibility’ of a speculative home” proposed for the vacant lot at 483 Hill Street—a neighborhood where ” nearly a dozen nearby residences are more than a century old and roughly half or a third the size.”

And who is this King of McMansions? A developer of big homes in the Hamptons:

But there is no surer sign that the big-spending ways that characterized the pre-financial crisis era have returned to the Hamptons than the blue “Farrell Building” signs multiplying across the pristine landscape here, along with the multimillion-dollar houses they advertise. It is a process some are calling “Farrellization,” and not necessarily happily.

“We’re as busy as we’ve ever been,” said Joe Farrell, the president of Farrell Building, during a recent interview and tour of his $43 million, 17,000-square-foot home here. The estate, called the Sandcastle, features two bowling lanes, a skate ramp, onyx window frames and, just for fun, an A.T.M. regularly restocked with $20,000 in $10 bills…

With a customer base composed largely of Wall Street financiers, Mr. Farrell has more than 20 new homes under construction, or slated for construction, at a time, making him the biggest builder here by far. He has plans for more, many of them speculative homes built before they have buyers.

Some of the biggest controversies about McMansions seem to take place in areas where residents have plenty of money. It is one thing when a teardown McMansion is constructed in an older neighborhood and less wealthy residents are pushed out as the housing stock becomes newer and more expensive. (At the same time, an influx of new big homes could also raise property values and give some options to cash out.) But, this is an example where everyone is pretty well off and it is more about the character of the neighborhood. Perhaps it is about old money versus new money, that an outsider is coming in with new plans and disturbing an area that others paid big money to buy into.

The “King of McMansions” is going to be a negative term for many people yet it also implies a level of success. I haven’t seen too many individuals tagged with such terms and even companies like Toll Brothers who were well-known for building McMansions didn’t necessarily acquire such monikers.

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