Friday, September 16, 2005

NoMcMansions in Lakewood People! 9/16

How about that? You know, I didn't really know Lakewood People was a forum for the actual people living here... based on the articles I have seen before. But I sent in a letter, and heard back, then, they wrote this story. Once again I feel that journalism isn't lost.

You see, here is why you write letters to the editor. And why you write your council and mayor. Private comments are not enough. If you don't say something, THEY DON'T KNOW how you feel about the issue.
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Group says 'No' to Supersized Lakewood Homes
Grass-roots effort underway to protect teardown tool

by Kristina Chestnutt
Special Contributor

A group of Lakewood residents have joined together in an effort to educate the community about how homes in Dallas do not need to be "supersized" like a fast food meal.

Residents are using a website -- NoMcMansions.org -- as a tool in their awareness campaign to bring new development in line with prevailing standards in Lakewood.

"Like fast food, it's quick, it's cheap, and it's not something that's good for you in the long term," Jason English, the founder of the site, said of the growing trend to build oversize.

One way the groupbelieves will limit the "McMansions" is the approval of the proposed Neighborhood Stabilization Overlay, which would allow neighborhoods to create building standards for new homes in their area.

"We have great neighborhood character and real value invested in our homes, and the teardown phenomenon has just started to disrupt that process. Give it a couple more years unchecked and you will have a different type of neighborhood," he said.

The City Plan Commission forwarded a revised version of the overlay tool to the city council, but some of the strongest restrictions have been removed. As part of the overlay plan, a neighborhood must gather signatures from a majority of residents, who then decide what building features to limit.

Mr. English said that residents are in favor of the overlay proposal, but only in its original format. In particular, his group takes issue with the increase in the number of homeowners required to sign the overlay's zoning change petition from 50 percent to 75 percent.

"As residents, we all want some ability to define the destiny of the neighborhood," he said. "The idea of getting 75 percent of people to sign something is not achievable."*

[*Editor's note: Consider that the last mayoral election represented a 20% total response... with renter-owned houses, people absent and the sheer time it takes to find at home and talk to every single person, more than 50% actually signing is a huge majority for private citizens to achieve in an area. 50%+ has been the zoning/conservation standard for 100 years in Dallas. It is unprecedented, but they're trying to change that.]

Mr. English, who has been a Lakewood homeowner for five years, said the website went online in June as a place where he could rant about this problem.

The group has about 50 people registered for updates, roughly a quarter of whom are actively participating in the campaign, he said. People involved in the awareness campaign hold informal meetings about every two weeks, mostly to share announcements about meetings in the city.

"It's been pretty grass-roots," Sperry Road [ed. Street!] resident Danielle Arvanitis said. "I think the impact we're having is connecting people who already felt the same way we do."

The website contains information about the overlay, updates on city meetings, and all of the city council members' names and conteact information, including sample letters people can use to write to council members.

Lakewood resident Wendy Segrest, who also lives on Sperry Street, said she got involved in the initiative after she had a "McMansion" built next to her 1,460-square-foot home. The new building was more than triple the size of her house.

Ms. Segrest, whose father is a developer, says she's not against new homes, but she is opposed to homes that stick out in the neighborhood.

"I do want new construction to continue," she said. "What I'm against are the homes that so blatantly don't fit in."

Ms. Arvanitis is also concerned about the aesthetics of a neighborhood, but she is more concerned about the direct effects of overly large homes, such as blocked sunlight, drainage problems, and the removal of trees.

"When I moved into the area, there were not any teardowns in the vicinity," she said. "I started getting concerned. From what I can tell, without any limits there's nothing stopping the trend from continuing."

As part ofthe awareness campaign, the Dallas Citizens for Responsible Development launched a line of bumper stickers, yard signs and T-shirts printed with the slogans "Don't Supersize Dallas" and "Stop Levelin' It."

Mr. English said about 200 signs and 100 T-shirts have been sold so far.

If the Dallas City Council passes the overlay proposal as it currently stands, Mr. English said the awareness campaign will keep moving forward undil something more satisfactory is established.

"The issue won't just go away if we end up with something that doesn't give us some ability to control the [destiny of] neighborhood," he said.

2 Comments:

At 9/16/2005 1:22 AM, Blogger jason said...

Here's an email we got from a reader, the return address bounced back, so I'll put the response here.

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Sir,
In the Lakewood People newspaper and on your website you articulate your
indignantion about the unjust "invasion" of our neighborhood by developers
buiding large new homes that don't meet your taste. I hope that your
concern about unfair change to an existing population isn't simply limited
to protecting your own selfish interests. Perhaps you can use your
energies to join the effort of those who wish to return the land that
Lakewood occupies to the native people who were "Mcansioned" by our
ancestors. This would be the ultimate act of conservation.

Regards
Stephen
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Response:
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Stephen, I agree with your main point more than you can possibly know!

But barring that correct philosophical argument of the land that belonged to the original inhabitants, or Mexico, I am simply stating an opinion that since we are now established as a city with zoning, people who live here now should have some sovereignty over what happens in their own neighborhood. If mansionization takes root, then we see land/tax prices go up, but the value of investing in your own home goes down. It's not about stopping new construction altogether, or making bigger houses, adding on, or even about being unfriendly to people who buy the new houses.

It's not even a question of my "taste," in fact I liked the overlay option specifically because it doesn't impose any particular style, material or format restrictions, it just inhibits the quick-turn profit of speculative, extremely oversized development. It's funny that they actually ran this article, because it was a Lakewood People article that got me PO'd enough to do something about it in the first place... something about the "gentrification" of our neighborhood and how "the regular guy's not living here anymore."

I can't blame certain builders and realtors who oppose any restrictions -- to them it is just their business, so if there are no limits allowed, and you can build it with more square feet, you can sell it for more money. I'm in business too, and you simply must do what is in the best interest of the investors.

I'm not a professional who makes money off this particular process, I'm just another resident, like many others I've heard from, who wants a reasonable answer to this practice. What happens if I wake up tomorrow and there is a giant brick wall next to me? Maybe that is selfish to you? Even though it would impact the value of my renovations, true, it's not about the money. I want to live in some semblance of the neighborhood I inhabit and intend to settle down in. It's just zoning, and a very limited kind that we can all choose, or not choose. I hope that's ok.

Feel free to email me if you have any questions about this stuff.
Jason

 
At 9/17/2005 4:23 PM, Blogger olivia said...

I just became aware of this growing problem in Lakewood. My parents were married in the downstairs of the home on the corner of Llano and Abrams. My grandparents home was at 6338 LLano for all my life. As the granddaughters , daughters and then caretakers of the property for over 50 yrs. my heart has always been in Lakewood. The memories and joy are overwhelming. To see these classic homes replaced with large and tasteless opulence is a very sad thing indeed. The charm all gone. I recall, even as a child, daydreaming about how I could transform the 2 bedroom/1 bath into a larger family home. I would hate to see this neighborhood go the way it seems to be going. Lakewood is a classic and I would prefer to see it maintain it's charm as these older homes transform into a neighborhood like Mistletoe Heights in Fort Worth. I found the KXAS story sad indeed.

 

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