McMansions Turn 'McApartments,' Stirring Ire

In several Prince George's communities, McMansions such as these have replaced smaller homes.
In several Prince George's communities, McMansions such as these have replaced smaller homes. (Photos By Marvin Joseph -- The Washington Post)
By Ovetta Wiggins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The new house on Allison Street in North Brentwood is two stories higher than the older homes that surround it. It doesn't have a porch, shutters or any of the other distinguishing features found on the century-old bungalows on the block.

"It's out of character for the town," said Mayor Petrella A. Robinson, who lives across the street, with a dog on her front porch.

"It's humongous," another neighbor said of the house, as yet unoccupied. "It just doesn't fit in."

The complaints sound the same as those in Chevy Chase and Arlington County: Builders are constructing large houses on small lots, knocking down trees, obstructing sunlight and destroying the character of the town.

But in North Brentwood and other small municipalities in northern Prince George's County, mansionization comes with a twist: Some of the new homes, neighbors and town leaders say, are being used as boardinghouses for several families or unrelated people. Some are college students from the University of Maryland. Others appear to be immigrants.

"Our concern with these McMansions is they are not single-family homes," LaVerne Williams of Lewisdale told a group of county planners and elected officials in Riverdale. "You are turning our communities into rooming communities."

Williams, 81, is leading a campaign to protect her neighborhood and beyond. She walked into the recent meeting with a cane in one hand and a fistful of pictures of oversize houses in the other.

"I'm a law-abiding citizen," she said. "You have to do something about this."

Prince George's planners have launched a study of mansionization, spurred not just by neighborhood complaints but also by pressure from state lawmakers.

Last year, state delegates proposed legislation that would have given 11 Prince George's towns and small cities control over zoning, a power now reserved for the county -- except in the city of Laurel.

The bill died in committee, but not for lack of local support. Del. Barbara A. Frush, a Beltsville Democrat, said she understands the plight of neighbors, feeling helpless while their community is altered.

"They make these things into not a McMansion but a McApartment building," Frush said.

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