A group of Chevy Chase residents worried that the town's bungalows will be demolished to make room for larger houses are seeking a one-year moratorium on such construction, creating an issue described by the mayor as a classic battle over property rights.
Last month, a group of residents presented town officials with a petition signed by more than 500 residents endorsing a moratorium. Supporters argue that the affluent town of nearly 3,000 is losing its character to a glut of new, larger homes, often referred to as McMansions.
The boom of new construction in Chevy Chase has produced "very fine examples of new houses, but there are also some monstrosities," Mayor William H. Hudnut said. The Town Council, he said, will vote on whether to move the moratorium issue forward later this month.
Moratorium proponents decry the spread of large homes built closer to lot boundaries, dwarfing neighboring houses and causing problems ranging from poor drainage and flooding to loss of privacy.
"We're not saying that you can't build a house anymore; we just want a year's moratorium so that we can have planned development here," resident Willie Blacklow said.
Since July 2000, there have been 42 demolitions of small homes, 13 during fiscal year 2005, Town Manager Todd Hoffman said. The town, which has a median annual income of $160,000, has 1,032 homes, he said.
Some residents are vehemently opposed to a moratorium, which they say would hurt dozens of homeowners looking to modify their homes and would have a chilling effect on the high-value Chevy Chase real estate market.
"I could have taken either side of this argument, but I cannot ethically, morally, spiritually support a moratorium knowing the damage it does to the innocent," said Joseph Rubin, an associate broker with Long & Foster and a Chevy Chase resident for 25 years.
"I support change, but there's no way I can support a moratorium," he added. "It's just too far-reaching and there's too many unintended consequences."
Susann Haskins, president of the Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors, said the proposal violates property rights and opens the door for similar proposals to pop up in other areas. "I think part of our concerns is, if you get a foothold of a moratorium here, where else?" she said.
The proposal would not target residents who want to make renovations or additions to their houses but focuses on "demolitions or substantial demolitions," said Jon Hiatt, a Chevy Chase resident whose family was one of the first to champion the petition for the moratorium.
The bulldozing of smaller homes to build larger ones has stirred controversy in numerous older county neighborhoods that are close to the District. The County Council is considering a proposal by member Howard A. Denis (R-Potomac-Bethesda) to restrict all single-family homes in residential districts in Southern Montgomery to a height of 30 feet, down from the current 35-foot limit.
"It's not clear whether it would resolve all the issues that the town of Chevy Chase is concerned about," Denis said. "I'm certainly watching very carefully what's going on in Chevy Chase and I know they're watching very carefully what's going in the county."
Hudnut said the Town Council will vote July 26 on whether it supports a moratorium. If council members favor a moratorium, the town staff would draft a proposed ordinance for public review before a final vote.