Home Size Builds to Crescendo
Thursday, October 27, 2005
The mood was subdued one recent evening when about 100 representatives from Arlington's various neighborhood associations gathered in a hospital auditorium to discuss one of the county's most controversial development proposals in years.
With little debate, the Arlington County Civic Federation voted to oppose the county's latest proposal to limit the size of large-scale homes, or so-called McMansions, cropping up in neighborhoods. The resounding "no" vote from one of Arlington's most powerful civic organizations reflects the dissatisfaction that many residents feel about the proposal to regulate home size, said Martha Moore, an activist who helped to analyze the proposal for the federation, which represents 83 civic groups. Views range from residents who think the county should not further limit home sizes to those who think restrictions should be tighter, Moore said.
Given the wide variety of opinions among residents and the development community, county officials are expecting an intense public debate when the County Board takes up the matter next month after years of study, proposals and counterproposals, board Chairman Jay Fisette (D) said.
"We're doing this in response to citizens' concerns," Fisette said. "They have been petitioning us to address the increase in oversized homes, the loss of trees and the impact [those homes have] on the character of their neighborhoods. This is not unique to Arlington, but the dilemma is real here."
In recent years, the demand for bigger, new homes and the lack of land for building in close-in Arlington has contributed to a boom in "infill" development, where smaller, older houses are razed for new construction.
Some residents in brick or wood bungalows who suddenly have found themselves living next to mega-houses have long complained that the larger structures block their light, create storm runoff problems and reduce property values.
The county even created a slide show of some of the worst offenders. Many of those homes have become known by such nicknames as "the Sycamore Street house" or "the Hacienda house."
News that a 12,500-square-foot house was planned just feet from their bungalow in Lyon Park "turned our lives upside down," said Karen Tober, 47, an Internal Revenue Service employee.
The house, in the 3100 block of Pershing Drive, often is cited by county officials as an example of the kind of structure that the proposed regulations are meant to prevent.
When completed, the five-bedroom, eight-bathroom house will have a basement ballroom with bar, indoor swimming pool, hot tub and library. The house, being built by restaurateur Yogi Dumera, will be more than four times the size of the average house on the block, county planners said.
"The people moving in seem like really nice people, but the house is too big," Fisette said. "It's out of scale for the neighborhood. It doesn't belong here."
But Dumera said that the home is his dream house, the culmination of nine years of planning for "spacious rooms" for himself, his wife and four children. The house is allowable under zoning conditions.