March 1, 2013

I read with astonishment “Buy a dreamed-up home” in the Feb. 28 Reliable Source column. My jaw dropped not at the $45 million price tag for the proposed 30,000-square-foot, 10-bedroom, 12.5-bathroom, faux-chateau-style pile to be erected on the bluffs of the Potomac in McLean. Nor at the unholy alliance between a Hong Kong tycoon in league with a local developer to build such a monstrosity. Oversize, overpriced and tasteless homes constructed for “a very specific buyer” with surplus bank balances and aesthetic deficits — such is par for the course for that unfortunate, unprotected bank of the river.

Rather, my astonishment was at that developer’s assumption that, since this massive McMansion will be sited on a six-acre wooded lot facing the water, it would not bother any “VIP” McLean neighbors prone to sue him, and thus he’s “not anticipating a problem with this lot.”

What about us poor neighbors across the river in Maryland? We’re the ones who are forced to look at these institutionally sized edifices in all their pseudo-splendor. Almost invariably, in order to show off the prize view of the river that their very houses blight, these developers and homeowners deforest the hillside down to the river. To add insult to that injury, they even illuminate their clear-cut vistas at night with gigantic floodlights, which shine like a full moon into our Montgomery County bedroom windows.

The Potomac River’s valley from Chain Bridge to Cabin John Bridge and beyond is a beautiful hunk of near-wilderness smack in the middle of an urban environment, and I understand why people would want to have their houses there. But it needs to be properly protected from needless rapaciousness by far stricter conservation easements by federal, state and local governments — not just lawsuits from rich and cranky neighbors.

Dan Wittenberg, Bethesda