Friday, October 21, 2005

Upcoming Events

Event Calendar You're invited....
Thanks for coming out to the briefings and demonstrations! We'll keep attending until our elected officials get the message!

Coming October 26th! THE HEARING at City Council
Yes, apparently they will be having a hearing about a Neighborhood Stabilization Overlay...
Wednesday, October 26th, 2pm - whenever
Dallas City Hall, 6th Floor

Even though they are having the hearing, there is a bigger question at stake here than Yes or No. What exactly is this document that they are voting on? Rumor has it the secret overlay is not based on the original version from the Single Family HousingTask Force -- instead, it was presented to Laura Miller and the Council by the Home Builders Association without resident input.

It is critical to have a big turnout in favor of the original Neighborhood Stabilization Overlay at the October 26th meeting. If you were present for the City Plan Commission meeting on August 11 or September 7, you know you need to be patient, but your presence alone makes a big difference when considering options.

Time will be limited, but if you have something focused to say, please come and participate.

FREE PARKING - Free parking is available in the City Hall Garage. Those parking outside of the garage will not be able to enter or exit the building at ground level after 5:00 p.m.

5 Things you can do today!!
1. Post your new yard sign. Wear your t-shirt to the grocery store and/or flash a bumper sticker and talk to interested neighbors.
2. Go visit the McMansions for sale in your neighborhood. Respectfully tell the selling agent that you do not appreciate what they (including their developers) are doing to our neighborhood.
3. WRITE (not just email, but letters and phone calls) your Council member and the Mayor. There is only one thing that trumps commercial interest, and that is NUMBER OF VOTERS. So if you don't show your support, how are they supposed to know we need this Overlay?
4. Show up at Council/Plan commission meetings - number of people in attendance is the primary way they measure how important this issue is!
5. Spread the word to your neighborhood associations, any reporters you know, and please, if you know any sponsors or businesses who want to "chip in" by carrying NoMcMansions gear, send them our way!


At 7/25/2005 11:50 PM, Anonymous Diana and Alex said...

My husband and I are building a "McMansion" (larger home) in Lakewood Heights. We've lived in the neighborhood in a 1944 home for 5 years already and love the area. For that reason, we've chosen to remain here. We are not selling our current home because it is certainly not a "teardown". I understand the concern many residents have, but I feel that the problem boils down to the actual homeowners who are selling their homes to builders. There are homes in this area that are beyond repair and this is of no benefit to our neighborhood. Numerous homes on our block are rental properties with tenants that are unsavory (in fact, at one time a sex offender lived across the street) and the landlords care not to maintain these properties. Other homes belong to families who do not maintain their properties and do not care about the integrity of the area, and want to make quick money selling to a builder. Other residents have beautiful old homes that reflect the character of tudor, craftsman and other charming architectures. In my humble opinion, builders will be builders and those families wanting money will sell their homes. The best way to prevent those homes really worth saving from being torn down is to target the current owners or estates and educate them in person/by phone with a reason NOT to sell that hits their bottom line. If they need money, perhaps the neighbors should pitch in to help them keep their homes? Perhaps we should donate our time and money to maintain their homes? Maybe residents should pool their money to buy out these homes in order to save them from builders. My husband and I are not going to sell our 1944 bungalow. We would be more than interested in saving other homes in our area like ours through some of the above methods and would like to hear from those of you willing to help. The problem lies with current owners who want to get quick money. Resolve this problem and we save our older homes. Target the builders and discriminate against the McMansion owners (which, in essence, is exactly what is being done), and we will never get to a resolution.

Final note: My husband and I love the diversity of people and architecture, proximity to the city, school district, church and activities that surround this area. Unfortunately, we never anticipated so much discriminatory behavior against new home owners. It is a behavior driven out of fear and misunderstanding. Please look at the behavior you are driving- vandalism of new homes, spray paint on builder signs saying "no mcmansions", neighbor against neighbor, ridicule and anger. I may not like the bright pink and purple home on the corner, but that's life. You may not like my new tudor-style home, but you can't get past it to see who I really am and what drives my decisions. Fear is a terrible thing and can drive destructive behavior.

Thanks for listening. Let's take action.

At 7/26/2005 12:59 AM, Anonymous jason said...

First of all, I think you sound like a realtor. What type of "action" do you want? The most ineffectual, fragmented kind? We have a very short period of time to stop new oversized development.

So if we don't support teardown McMansions, we're encouraging vandalism and sex offenders? If that's not promoting fear what is?

And instead of going after the builders who are speculatively destroying our neighborhoods, devaluing our houses and inflating the land value because our zoning has expired, we should "pool together our money" and maintain or BUY a neighbor's house? Uhh, yeah, ok.

Clearly you hope we focus instead on talking to individuals, like normal working people have all day to monitor who's moving out this week (like you developers and realtors do every day as part of your job).

If developers had just shown the tiniest bit of taste, moderation, standards or consideration in slapping up their new castles, none of this would be happening.

We're clearly not promoting fear, saying that we should do anything illegal or hateful here. The point is to not be afraid of getting together and speaking out against something most of us find unacceptable. We're taking a positive step by actually standing our ground against this process. It's our right.

We think big mish-mash houses on tiny lots are ugly. I guess you don't. It's your property and I can't hold that against you. But we can and will use the power of free speech and public pressure to try and stop this from happening to our own neighborhoods.

At 7/26/2005 10:25 AM, Blogger danielle said...

I disagree with 'diana': There is no way to persuade people not to sell their older homes and "cash out." According to financial columnist Scott Burns, for 90% of Americans their house is their most valuable asset. We simply can't expect owners, especially older people on a fixed income, not to take advantage of rising property values. Most people, presented with a quick way to make a lot of money, do not have the luxury of basing their decision on principle.

What those of us in older neighborhoods *should* do is educate builders about the value of creating homes that fit with the existing neighborhoods, both in style and in size. Most of this new outsized construction has no discernible architectural style and does not look anything like the rest of the houses. Front and back yards are nearly non-existent. I could go on, but you get the point: the style and the size make the houses stick out like sore thumbs, which makes them offensive to many existing residents.

An architect named Sarah Susanka has written a series of books called "The Not So Big House" (available at most bookstores). In these books she describes the value of having less space but more features, of building houses that are not large characterless "storage containers for people" but somewhat smaller houses with the kind of interesting, welcoming details that older houses had. If more area builders were open to the idea of building smaller, higher-quality (and thus equally expensive) houses in a conforming architectural style, the current problems would be lessened.

The other side of the coin is convincing consumers that they do not need 6000 square feet of living space, especially if it is all cheap-quality construction with sheetrocked corners and foam crown moulding. Most consumers don't look beyond what they are offered; it is up to us to help them see all of their options, including buying a somewhat smaller but better-built and architecturally consistent house or renovating an existing older home.

At 7/26/2005 3:44 PM, Anonymous Diana said...

Jason, you are not very objective. I'm actually a stay home mom shuffling kids to and from daycare, taking care of my two cats, and mingling with our neighbors. I'm not a realtor. My husband is not a realtor, he's in technical computer support. You misjudge us just like you do everyone else who is not exactly like you. As for my comment about certain neighbors who do not keep their houses up or rent to some people who should be viewed cautiously, well... do you have kids? Toddlers? Babies? Yes, construction is loud but so are the renters down the road having college parties, leaving bottles in our yard, and the landlord with 30 properties he won't maintain. Families moving in is actually nice for the area. However, no one is driving you out.

Danielle, I think educating builders is important and I'd love to work with you to do that. I've actually emailed a few builders myself on their websites with comments. I'm just saying if we can help those on fixed incomes or those elderly with little money, I'd like to. If we can keep them in their houses, help them fix them up, try to dissuade them from selling, that's what I think could help. If we can get to their bottom line, which may be money, then we can talk to them about having second thoughts about selling and instead letting neighbors help neighbors.

At 7/27/2005 4:04 AM, Anonymous jason said...

You don't get it. It's fine if already have one, or you have a reasonable lot. We don't want to move however, and we'd like to just bring this practice within reason.

It's very inconsiderate to build over the top, in front of, and in back of your neighbor, and this is only possible because a reasonable ordinance has expired. It's also not nice to stand and talk on your phone in a movie theater.

This practice does drive people out, in addition to making the neighborhood lose its original character (if it has one) and making it distasteful to stay. It artifically inflates the land value while making the homes we've invested in worthless if it keeps going on. That's why builders want us to delay, to talk about it some more, etc.

At the same time this speculative frenzy is setting up neighborhoods for an economic hangover when rates change, the value bubble bursts and new homeowners get stuck with the note or a hastily-constructed money pit. You're not in that position exactly, as you have the property and are choosing your own builder.

You say I'm judging everybody else? No, I just disagree with you. Sounds like you are judging anybody else who rents their house or drinks a beer. And I don't think you would be seeking and posting here if you didn't have some other reason.

So you have kids? Toddlers? Babies? Great. What does that have to do with my ability to speak out against something I find distasteful and rude? I hope your kids someday learn that bigger is not always better, and to respect people no matter how much money they make.

You feel your kids and cats are safer with random construction crews, nails, dust, toxic chemicals and equipment outside? I don't.

At 7/27/2005 10:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm actually chuckling right now. Funny that you can speak out but anyone who has a slightly different view is unable to without being ridiculed on your site. You also blow comments out of proportion. It's ok, I've worked with and been around people like you a lot and know that there is no way to have a good, constructive conversation with you. Have fun, good luck in your cause and wish you were a bit less critical and sarcastic. I have better things to do with my time and other Lakewood residents to talk to about this in other arenas than a website.
C'ya! : )

At 7/27/2005 10:14 AM, Anonymous Diana said...

oops, meant to sign my name, not just "anonymous".

At 7/27/2005 11:30 AM, Blogger tim said...

Dear diana & alex,
It's difficult to have it stated "My husband and I love the diversity of people and architecture, proximity to the city, school district, church and activities that surround this area." As Jason tries so hard to point out, when the smaller homes and their diverse owners are forced out of the neighborhoods and the current architecture is lost, that leaves you with proximity to downtown and your church and schools. Maybe that's enough for you and alex.
I have lived in Dallas all my life and bought my home in the Bob-O-Links addition 2 years ago after looking for several years. I moved to this area because of the diversity of the people who live here...I moved from far North Dallas and was raised in University Park...not very diverse areas - largely upper middle-class white families with 2.6 kids. I am now 65, widowed and wanted a smaller home in a pretty area where I could feel welcome as a neighbor. Most of the homes on my block are 1500-1700 square feet, and many have been remodeled and a few have had extra bedrooms and baths added on the back. We're about equally divided between families and singles folks(smaller homes work well for us), and about half of us are over 50. Removing 60-70% of the homes on our block and replacing them with 4000+ square foot McMansions and their inevitable inhabitants and I'm back in North Dallas, but closer to downtown.
One of the biggest concerns among my neighbors with children is the influx of construction workers building the McMansions springing up around us...we don't have any idea how many of these faceless workers who are in our neighborhoods for months at a time are "sex offenders" or worse - many are undocumented and certainly are not background screened before being hired. Did you and alex reqire that the builder of your McMansion background check all the workers that he used? Did you require that he lock up all hazardous materials everyday? I'll bet your new neighbors wished that you had! Parking large trucks and equipment on our quiet streets creates hazards for children riding bikes, and constructions sites bring trash and hazardous materials into our yards and streets are certainly a danger to small children.
In closing, please be aware, there are lots of us who also love "the diversity of people and architecture of our area" but we want very much to keep it that way!
Enjoy yor new "McMansion" and I hope your neighbors also learn to love it someday.

At 7/27/2005 2:47 PM, Anonymous jason said...

Diana, allowing unregulated construction to continue is not a "slightly different point of view." That is exactly and specifically what this site opposes.

You knew what this site is about when you posted, so don't expect all smiles when you say "lets work together" but really mean "I want to prevent you from passing the overlay and stopping unreasonable speculative development like this in the future."

It's the houses that are blown out of proportion, not the comments. They could be built a lot more responsibly. We're not advocating fear, spreading lies or going after new residents, but we are very serious about preserving our neighborhoods. So don't think anyone else here will be misled by your suggestions.

At 8/21/2005 9:24 PM, Blogger Christen said...

The resolution to this problem is forcing builders to follow certain guidelines and restrictions. Just on my street alone, I have watched builders tear down four homes, including numerous trees; in order to build 4500 sq.ft homes on lots measuring 75x75 and smaller.

Not only are the builders changing the character of Lakewood through zero lot line homes, but also by cutting down the beautiful trees that make Lakewood so beautiful. I have two McMansions across the alley which look right into my back yard and the main reason is because three trees were cut down, in order to build zero lot line McMansions.

The evidence that builders are irresponsible and greedy is overwhelming. Builders need to be regulated; otherwise, expect to see more trees being cut down inorder to make room for more McMansions.

I would like to obtain a yellow yard sign. If someone could pass that information on to me, I would really appreciate it. I am ready to fight for my neighborhood.

At 8/21/2005 10:41 PM, Blogger jason said...

Hi Christen, and anyone else wondering about the yard signs (and T-shirts/bumper stickers) ... email webmaster@noMcMansions.Org with your address/phone/email and we'll let you know where you can pick them up. we need your contact info to deliver a sign (we won't misuse it!).

Retail outlets, etc. coming soon but that's the only way we can do it for now.

At 8/22/2005 7:30 PM, Blogger BillyBlogBob said...

This is a very interesting website. My partner and I moved to Lakewood in the vicinity of Lake Circle Dr. and Abrams a year ago to fulfill a 15 month contract with my job. We knew that we didn't want to move to Plano or one of the other northern suburbs and were told by a friend in Chicago that Lakewood was the place to live. I dare say that we have been completely BLOWN AWAY by what is going on in the neighborhood. Since taking up residence here, our wish to not move to Plano was destroyed because Plano has moved in to Dallas! Check out Vanderbilt and Sonya over by Lakewood Elementary school. The "Teardown Tool" has already been rendered completely impotent there. The fools that move into these poorly constructed monstrosities will most likely be sorry in oh, say 20 years. The trees are all gone. There are currently two going up at the same time across the street and we cannot even drive to our own driveway. There are nails and trash everywhere and the noise never ends. They aren't supposed to work before seven or after eight six days a week, but they are out there at six pretty much every, single day. Calls to the city have gone unheeded. We always knew that Dallas and the state of Texas are totally slanted in favor of corporations and those who donate to the right wing, but we never expected to find anything like this. We are anxious to return to Chicago, and may you all enjoy the insanity that you have allowed to happen.

At 8/28/2005 9:40 PM, Blogger Nice Neighbor said...

In response to orignal post, our sign was taken from our yard (not the curb, but the yard), a week ago. While walking in front of the newest mcmansion on Winton I see a yellow sign in the large trash pile in the front yard. I picked it up and proudly placed it back in my yard.

I proudly display it in support. My family agrees that they do not fit the neighborhood.

At 8/29/2005 9:20 AM, Blogger Next 2 McMansion said...

To nice neighbor - sign stealing. Interesting that the sign was stolen (like ours) out of your yard (we reported to the police and encourage you to do the same - class c misdemeanor) and in the pile of new construction of the same builder that stole ours.
Good news is that they see the power in these signs, so watch them carefully and consider pulling them in at night...that's when he's taken 2 of our 3 signs. Fortunately, we caught him on the 3rd and it's now in the hands of the police:)

At 8/29/2005 6:59 PM, Blogger Catte said...

How do I get a sign? A T-shirt?

Unfortunately the suggestion of showing up at the hearings and meetings is not easily accomplished by those of us who are not employed in realty or development positions.

At 8/29/2005 7:16 PM, Blogger jason said...

Hi Catte, and anyone else wondering about the yard signs (and T-shirts/bumper stickers) ... email webmaster@noMcMansions.Org with your address/phone/email and we'll let you know where you can pick them up. We need your contact info to provide a sign (we won't misuse it!).

If you have neighbors who want them, pick up a few for them and support the cause. They are $5 each.

Retail outlets, etc. coming soon but that's the only way we can do it for now. Know a retailer that would love a ton of appreciative residents?

At 9/03/2005 5:40 PM, Blogger Stanley said...

I think Diana had some, repeat some, good comments. I dont like the extreme sized homes being built, but I think Jason & others are not willing to compromise in any shape or form. From the replies to Diana and Alex it appears that there is no use for discussions that may lead to compromises.

Sadly, this may lead neither side wanting to budge off of their position and may drive middle of the roaders to take the side of individual property rights over neighborhood concerns. I'm a 'middle roader' who wants to maintain the right of a current property owner to [1]add a second story on his/her house or [2]building a new two story, meanwhile stopping developers from building the overly massive homes.

Why cant we just stop developers from spec teardowns/rebuilding massive McMansions? And grandfather us residents who love our area but want to live in a bigger house, one that goes with the area, but may be considered by some to be a mini-McMansion?

For example, in my neighborhood of 2000 S.F. homes, why couldn't I build a 3000-3500sf two story home while stopping any 5000sf or 6000sf builder's speculative McMansions from being built?

Without some compromise, I may be forced to join the side against an ordinance. Ugh! Can't we all just get along? Jason, is not there any room to compromise like grandfathering current residents?

At 9/03/2005 6:59 PM, Blogger jason said...

This is a perfect comment, Stanley, and here's why. In fact an overlay is very much a compromise that gives residents sovereignty, as the idea is to choose or not choose tolerant maximums for a neighborhood.

How is it you can say we aren't willing to compromise? We are only asking for the ability to select a tool that was researched and created by the Housing Committee and Forward Dallas - which was a group of homeowners, developers and city planners.

It doesn't automatically prohibit building a bigger house or a second story. Quite the opposite - the zoning you would get (if a majority of the existing residents want it) would probably only kick in when you get the extreme spec builders. You can choose for instance a somewhat tolerant standard that would allow the 3000 sq.ft. house, but not the 5000 sq.ft. one, even if that is only accomplished by a slightly higher setback requirement.

The overlay ordinance isn't some radical restrictive thing, as much as certain builders are making it out to be. It is a very minimal form of neighborhood self-determination, FAR far less restrictive on size, style and the like than other measures like Conservation Districts.

I personally like the idea of an overlay because it only is meant for extreme cases, and a conservation/ historic district may be overly restrictive for my diverse area. But if we can't get this Overlay ordinance to pass in a form that will actually have the ability to give residents the right to limit those extreme cases, it won't be worth much.

Without an overlay, realize you will see a very serious backlash from residents who are watching our valuable, established neighborhoods ripped right out from under us. So not only would that allow more speculation in the near term, long-range we will all have only Conservation Districts available to us for protection, and that would certainly put a damper on your modest development plans.

At 9/06/2005 8:14 PM, Blogger michaelilikemyhouse said...

Jason, good comments...thanks for explaining. Stanley, I also see where you are coming from. Jason, would you explain how the Overlay works, though. What if residents on my street want really strict standards and stop allowing 2 story houses? Then, I will not be able to add a second story to my house. How is it less restrictive if people on your street can vote for very strict measures (i.e., no second stories)?

At 9/06/2005 9:55 PM, Blogger jason said...

Don't believe the builders' fear tactics - they are trying to spread the idea that adding a second story will be prohibited. In fact, if your area isn't mansionized, you have the incentive to actually make that improvement and realize its future value.

Most older neighborhoods have a mix of house styles, and a second story isn't as much of a problem as the "massing" of a house to an impressive height and block facing.

That would have to be a super-agressive neighborhood to recommend something that strict. This is Dallas. A consensus would probably start at about 30+ feet and be higher if there are similar structures around. You're not planning to build a wizard tower, right?

Now, if you live in an area where style STRONGLY defines the neighborhood, for instance the Hollywood area bungalows, then you will see a Conservation District or Historic District pushed for... then you certainly won't be building a second story. That is a tool that is already in place and is much more restrictive than an Overlay.

Dallas paid for and recruited extensive building/zoning expertise and residential input to make the Overlay proposal. This study and proposal was made because of massive public outcry. You know why it is needed, not because of people like you who want to add on, but because of extremely oversized speculative development that is overshadowing and destroying stable neighborhoods.

You agree we need to be able to choose, or not choose some sort of zoning controls, don't you?


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