April 25, 2008 at 7:26 pm 1 comment

A reader who goes by the handle Matches Malone wrote to me about a certain house on 63rd Drive that drives him to distraction. It’s the McEyesore he loves to hate. He sent some photos too, below, thinking a blog like Splitting Hairs (and other blogs) might be able to help.

I’ve given this some thought. In fact, I walked over to the see the house, and en route, came upon a bevy of sprouting and existing McMonstronsities in the area that I hadn’t noticed before, including, and especially, two mega-monstronsities on the service road of the Grand Central Parkway. If I hadn’t been an eye witness to how things have been developing in Forest Hills these past two decades, I’d swear those two were assisted-living facilities or catering halls or something similarly institutional, that’s how big they are.

I am at a loss for words because these are unlandmarked areas, so anyone can buy and remodel or tear down and rebuild as long as they stay within the existing zoning codes. That we might decry them for not fitting in with the existing architecture is often the beginning and end of what we can do. It’s really frustrating, isn’t it, but that’s how change works. Those in the preexisting circumstances resent who/what comes after them and feel displaced. In this case, we who have been here for years fear that we might no longer recognize our neighborhood.

Feeling Matches pain, I e-mailed a friend in Forest Hills who has been here for a long time and has been involved in several community-related causes. I figured he might have a better answer, or even any answer. Here’s what I got:

I doubt anything can be done at this point, except to file complaints about minor infractions (as I did about one of the houses by me put in its own sidewalk—still waiting to hear back on that and not counting on it).

The immediately adjoining single-family house neighbors should have formed an effective coalition at the very first McMansion and tried to put a stop to it with rezoning, landmarking, covenants as per the Gardens, camping out on some politician’s doorstep, etc. You can do this more easily if you know your neighbors, and my guess is that fell by the wayside, too. Now people don’t want to see their neighbors, let alone know them. Many of them likely said, “Someone should do something” and no one did.

Another option is not selling to people who seem likely to tear down your house, but often the financial incentive is too great to turn down.

The only saving grace is that the energy cost of many large rooms with high ceilings and all those big windows has got to cost them bundles.

And here is where we might be on solid ground to raise some Cain about zoning laws. How they look and whether the owners participate in the community are subjective calls, but I think we can all agree that such houses are, simply, bad for the world because of their negative environmental impact. You, reader, know this intuitively, but here’s one link that collects a lot of facts in one place:

Big Houses Are Not Green: America’s McMansion Problem

It’s an excellent piece on the subject that captures the helplessness many people feel, as encapsulated in this quote:

A long-time opponent of teardowns, Grant sees the future as unpredictable: “It remains to be seen whether the jumbo loans that support these houses can continue” in light of the current turmoil in the mortgage industry. But, he laments, “There seems to be a certain inevitability about it. The trend started in older, more densely populated parts of the country [like Lexington], but it has spread to most markets. People object to the first teardowns that happen in their neighborhood, but eventually, they seem to get used to it – especially when they see studies showing that teardowns tend to raise all property values in the neighborhood.”

Should we just resign ourselves and pretend it’s not happening as fast and as much as it is? Or should we collect our ideas for how to deal with this and see how far we can get with them? I prefer the latter option.

There’s so much else out there on this subject, for those interested. Just Google “mcmansions and the environment.” And send in your comments and ideas. I’m willing to explore this widely and deeply if you are, but it has to be a group effort to be at all effective.


Entry filed under: Forest Hills.

Songs of Love Newish Blog in Town

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. MM  |  April 29, 2008 at 9:47 am

    Thanks so much for the piece. I know for a fact that the immediate neighbor, the one who’s house lives behind the one featured here, also “supersized” their house weeks later and is very close with the owner of this monstrosity.

    With a two against one style attack, i wasn’t easy for the community to complain.


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