In the game of extra-local housing politics, call the proposed housing renovation you don’t like a McMansion

Cases like these happen frequently: a homeowner wants to enlarge their existing home. (This is a different but related ballgame to cases of teardowns.) If the neighbors don’t like it, there is common tactic they can use: dub it a McMansion.

The commission unanimously voted Oct. 9 to allow the homeowner to keep a permit to build a 2,692-square-foot single-family residence on the property located on Huntridge Lane. The project property is located in a standard zoning district, which permits two-story homes up to 28 feet in height. The project was initially approved by the city’s community development director on Aug. 23.

However, the city received several letters, emails and telephone calls from neighbors voicing concerns about the project, with issues ranging from concerns about privacy to the compatibility of the proposed two-story residence in a predominantly single-story neighborhood, as well as the size, bulk, height and mass of the project.

During the public hearing, one neighbor referred to the home as a “monster house” or “McMansion,” and others suggested reducing the scale of project.

City staff stated that the project is consistent with all aspects of the R1 zoning ordinance and other related city ordinances. In addition, the project was not subject to design review by the city since the proposed second floor is less than 66 percent of the square footage of the first floor and there are 15-foot side yard setbacks on either side of the second floor.

It sounds like the homeowner followed the zoning guidelines in the community and made some adjustments to cut back on the project when asked by the city. But, the McMansion tag used by opponents can be quite effective: it suggests the home is garish and unnecessary. It puts the owners and/or builder in a bad light as it suggests they are not looking out for the interests of others. While 2,692 square foot is not that big since the average new home is the US is around 2,500 square feet, it is larger than the surrounding homes which look to be (on Zillow) around 1,200 square feet without any additions. In the end, calling it a McMansion wasn’t enough in this case in Cupertino, California but the same tactic will be used again elsewhere. It would be interesting to see if the neighbors opposed to the project continue to call the particular home a McMansion in the years to come.

Through the magic of Google Street View, you can check out Huntridge Lane in Cupertino, California. The street is about one block and 13 houses long. It looks like (and Zillow also suggests) the homes were built in the early 1960s as single-story ranches. As the news article notes, several homes in the area already have second story additions. Also, Zillow suggests (and this could be a ways off) the homes on this block are worth around a million dollars. Is this one proposed addition, the so-called McMansion, really a threat? Perhaps this should lead to a new maxim: all housing politics are extra-local (usually within a few minute walk in each direction).

Sociologist discusses when protests over art are likely to break out

Some art stirs up controversy while other works of art do not. A sociologist discusses when protests about art are likely to occur:

STEVEN TEPPER: Right. Typically when we think about arts conflicts, we think there’s two reasons why people might fight over this. One is that enterprising politicians or religious leaders are sort of like birds of prey that are looking around for something smoldering that they can pounce on, inflame passions, mobilize constituents, raise money, win elections…

That’s the narrative of the culture war. And the other one is that as John Ruskin once wrote about James Whistler in the 19th century, Artists just fling pots of paint in the public space. And so if artists are trying to be provocative, then we shouldn’t be surprised to see that people get upset, but more interestingly is the fact that the same piece of art or the same presentation gets a very different response and reaction in different places…

Hundreds of theaters presented the work [Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America”. In Knoxville, Tennessee, no problem. In Charlotte, North Carolina, a few hundred miles away, also a Southern midsized city, a huge controversy. In Charlotte, the city initially threatened to close down the theater on indecency charges. They decided not to pursue that route. The theater went forward with the play. Four council members with leadership in the religious community basically succeeded in defunding the entire arts commission of the county because the theater presented that. What’s fascinating about this story is that the arts community and the business community rallied around the arts and said, What kind of city do we want to have as we move forward in Charlotte? Do we want a city that supports the arts or do we not? They organized a pact, they voted out of office the four aldermen that defunded the arts, and they ended up returning a higher budget to the arts counsel and a stronger arts community as a result of it.

JEFFREY BROWN: What you conclude and then go into in great detail is that it’s always local concerns, local issues that determine this.

It sounds like the culture wars and local concerns are both tied to the character of local communities. Does the work of art fit with the community’s culture, political, and religious views or not? If it does, there is likely little room for protest. If it doesn’t, people feel threatened and respond with protests.

I wonder how much artists are aware of this. On one hand, they are also operating within specific contexts and likely have an idea of who would respond favorably or negatively to their work. On the other hand, many works of art are meant for everyone or for the public and the artists might not be concerned about the tenor of the reactions but are more interested in stimulating discussion.

If art is local, it sounds like there could be a really interesting story to be told about how some work transcends the local and breaks through to larger contexts. Are there patterns to this process?

Suburban mayors look for Mayor Emanuel’s help

There is often a tension between a big city and suburbs: these communities have different goals and access to resources. With a new mayor in Chicago, suburban leaders say they are looking to work with Rahm Emanuel:

But suburban leaders said Wednesday that they expect Chicago Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel to recognize that the city he will soon lead and the surrounding communities are better off working together instead of fighting each other.

“I think, with his extensive government experience, he understands that we’re all in this together,” said Elmwood Park Village President Peter Silvestri, whose town is in Illinois’ 5th Congressional District, a seat once held by Emanuel.

Silvestri was among several leaders who also said they were hopeful that Emanuel, who has a reputation as a bare-knuckled political operative, will follow Mayor Richard Daley’s collaborative lead…

Among them is Elk Grove Village Mayor Craig Johnson, who fought bitterly with Daley over the expansion of O’Hare. He said he hoped Emanuel “will respect the concerns of his neighbor and work regionally.”

Emanuel supports  a Chicago casino, an idea that hasn’t gone over well in Des Plaines, which will soon open a casino of its own…

Naperville Mayor George Pradel was another suburban leader who said he hoped Emanuel would maintain a strong relationship with his suburban counterparts.

The Chicago mayor has influence on several issues that concern Naperville, including ongoing plans to build a western bypass around O’Hare and rates for Lake Michigan water, Pradel said. Naperville is the largest suburban user of water from the lake.

As a congressman, Emanuel supported an airport in south suburban Peotone and he has voiced support for extending the CTA’s Red Line to 130th Street — two important issues in the south suburbs.

Perhaps these suburban leaders do want to work with Emanuel but to me, it sounds like they are more interested in getting Emanuel’s support for their interests and projects. Perhaps Emanuel could ask these suburban leaders: and if I help you, how does your suburb plan to help the City of Chicago or the larger Chicago region?

This may be a cynical interpretation but this is the long-running history of suburban communities: many are not interested in regional or metropolitan issues except when they might threaten the quality of life in their immediate community. Going back to the 1890s and 1900s, suburbs stopped wanting to be annexed into the big city as they could provide their own basic services (water, sewers, electricity, etc.) and didn’t want to associate with cities which were seen as dirty and crime-ridden. Today, suburbs thrive on this idea of local rule: local taxes should go into local services, such as public school districts and basic local services such as police and fire. Local or regional projects are often judged on how particular suburban communities will benefit, particularly as it pertains to their tax base and property values.

In the long run, how many of these suburban communities are willing to help Mayor Emanuel?