Tampa McMansions block the sun, loom over older ranches

A hot housing market in Tampa has led to a number of teardown McMansions that loom over the older homes of neighbors:

If there’s one trend that has characterized Tampa Bay’s new-home market in recent years, it’s the proliferation of huge new houses replacing or overwhelming smaller ones in established neighborhoods like Davis Islands and St. Petersburg’s Snell Isle. Many Realtors and property owners welcome the new construction, which is boosting sales and driving up value.

But it can be less than wonderful for homeowners who live next to these enormous abodes. They must endure months of banging and pounding, only to face the prospect of diminished privacy and an inevitable change in the look and feel of the neighborhood…

Because of federal flood insurance rules, the new house had to be elevated so much that its first floor was above the level of the Dodges’ 6-foot fence. “Where their feet walk is higher than our fence,” Dodge said. “The fence didn’t give us privacy any more.”…

Levine said she and Lentz aren’t opposed to new homes, only to huge ones that sit a few feet from neighboring property and loom over everything around them. The couple have stopped trimming their large fan palms, but even those aren’t big enough to block the view of their yard from the McMansion’s second floor.

These are common complaints about teardowns: the new homes are significantly larger than the original homes in the neighborhood. The pictures accompanying the story provide the image: mid-twentieth century ranch homes next to hulking McMansions (that also are now following new guidelines to help limit flooding damage). This story doesn’t contain much reference to another common complaint – changing the character of the neighborhood – but it is easy to see why having such big houses suddenly show up next door could draw negative reactions.

The next step in this process would likely involve going to the municipal level and trying to get develop restrictions on teardowns. However, this doesn’t always happen: there likely needs to be a critical mass of teardowns, enough of the existing residents of these neighborhoods may not mind selling their properties for big money, and it can be daunting to try to push forward such regulations.

Neighbors: keep gangster’s house or support replacement McMansion?

Tampa residents are facing a quandary: do they support two possible McMansions to replace the home of a notorious gangster?

The community is rallying around the five-bedroom, 2.5-bath house built in 1952 by Santo Trafficante Jr., a supposed gangster who ran casinos in pre-Castro Cuba as the head of one of the most powerful organized crime syndicates in Florida.

Parkland Estates residents are upset about an application asking the city to split the lot in two at the request of Trafficante’s surviving daughters, Mary Jo Paniello and Sarah Ann Valdez…

“They’ve always been good neighbors and this is kind of a slap in the face,’’ said Anneliese Meier, vice president of the Parkland Estates Civic Club, which vigorously opposes the plan. “No matter what the history is, it’s a gorgeous house and should be preserved.”…

She said splitting the lot might mean the 63-year-old house will be torn down to make way for two larger homes.

“That doesn’t fit the character of this neighborhood,’’ Meier said. “McMansions tear up the community. They are big houses on small lots. Nobody’s happy about it. We’re tired of seeing this happen in our community.”

Both situations could leave the neighbors with some notoriety that they might think could threaten their property values. But, it is interesting that the neighbors quoted in this article think the McMansion is worse than the gangster: the family were good neighbors but a McMansion would pose a more important threat. Perhaps this suggests that neighbors think people are replaceable but the physical structure has a stronger impact. A broader question to ask many Americans would be: would you rather have a bad neighbor in a nice house that enhances the neighborhood or a bad house nearby with lovely neighbors?

More on “showhome managers” living in Florida houses

The story of a Tampa area family reveals more about “showhome managers” serving as “human props” to help sell homes:

Filling vacant houses with stuff, the firm said, “enhances the focal points, softens age and minimizes flaws.” But adding in fake homeowners adds something else entirely, Saavedra said, turning quasi-spiritual: “There’s an energy there. You can feel it. There’s something. There’s life.”…

Showhomes pays moving costs but the Muellers pay the firm about $1,200 in rent, plus all household bills. Showhomes decorators decide where things should go, and managers are responsible for faultless precision, enforced by rigorous, random inspections.

All surfaces must be regularly cleaned; weeds eradicated, car oil spots removed. Clothes in closets are to be organized by color, and contestable items — heavily religious books, personal photos — must be removed or neutralized. Every item has a rule, and everything must be exact: the rotation of pillows, the fold of towels, the positioning of toothbrushes. Even the stacks of novels casually left on the bookshelf are placed and angled with pinpoint detail.

Gatherings of more than 10 people require approval, and managers must always be prepared for surprises. Dareda has raced across town to get the home “show ready”: lights on, soft music playing, Febreze Fluffy Vanilla subtly spritzed. She said, “You just think … by golly, we’re going to just go do what it takes.” A training manual states, “Our motto is ‘A SHOWING IS NEVER REFUSED.’ ”

Serving as the unseen caretakers for a wealthier couple they’ll never meet doesn’t bug Dareda, she said, because “when I live in somebody else’s home it feels like I already know them.” She points to one of the sellers’ last vestiges, the drapes that puddle at the floor, which she calls an old-style display of wealth.

This helps fill in some details I asked for a while back though I still want to know how much added value such managers add. How much does this lived-in energy increase the value of the home?

It will be interesting to see if this catches on more widely. It requires households willing to live scripted, temporary lives in homes as well as homebuyers who want to see a sort of neutral, upscale decor.

When Mediterranean McMansions threaten the local architecture

An article about local Tampa architecture notes McMansions might define the city’s structures:

When one thinks of Florida architecture, if one thinks of Florida architecture, Disney World might come to mind. Or the ubiquitous Mediterranean McMansion in a gated golf-course community. Or the art deco hotels of Miami Beach.

Tampa architecture? Not so much. But there is more to the Cigar City than the iconic University of Tampa, the Museum of Science and Industry and some glass bank towers.

Tampa architecture, says John Howey, FAIA, himself one of the city’s architectural grand guard, is like Cuban bread, the kind served at the city’s landmark Columbia restaurant…

To summarize his city’s architecture, Howey returned to the Spanish/Cuban food analogy.

“It is so like paella,” said Howey. “When you put it all together, it is very tasty. Taken separately, you would think they would clash.”

My take on reading this article is that Tampa doesn’t have much of a unifying architecture style outside of some modernist structures. Perhaps this is because it is a relatively recent big city; it’s biggest growth period was from 1950 to 1960 when the population increased from 124,861 to 274,970.

Two thoughts:

1. What would it take to give a city like Tampa its own style? Could it be done through constructing key buildings, like civic institutions, in a particular style? Would it require a number of architects banding together? Styles don’t just come out of nowhere.

2. New Urbanists often argue that their developments should be based on local styles. Would they adopt a more generic Southern style in Tampa or perhaps a beach house type of design?