24 Comments

I absolutely hate that new style. It looks cheap and garish, despite costing a fortune. You can just tell they're going to age terribly

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Apr 6, 2023Liked by Addison Del Mastro

There's a lot of this in the Boston area too- Concord, Needham, Newton. I agree that par of the problem is lack of density closer to the city to absorb some of the demand. In some of these places, there has also been some interesting subdividing, where an existing home on a large lot will build a new home on an old back or side yard, allowing for slightly more density while still being single family homes. We don't have the space here for massive subdivisions of new homes, so that demand is often captured in little additions to older lots.

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Apr 6, 2023Liked by Addison Del Mastro

Don't overlook the schools component. The frenzy of teardowns in Fairfax is linked to certain school pyramids.

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This is particularly interesting to me. I've been in this area for about ten years, and spent close to half of that time in Fairfax County. I noticed this as soon as I moved to the area, but thought nothing of it - I grew up in Central Florida where this has been commonplace at least since the 1980s. This article exactly describes the neighborhood I grew up in, hence why it was an afterthought to me coming up here. Interesting that this sort of wave in the housing market that may have started in a place like Florida has finally made its way up here (for better or worse).

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As a resident of one of these many 1960s Fairfax County neighborhoods, I often find myself in the odd position of WISHING I had an HOA to help keep these teardowns under control (and otherwise help preserve the character of the neighborhood).

Perhaps that just makes me part of an unremarkable NIMBY majority (the HOA certainly wouldn’t help the push for multi-family units), but there is a lot of history and sense of place and community being bulldozed in service of unlocking the value of the land. We need better advocates in local government (or HOA pseudo local government) to support that.

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"A lot of people look at this and think, this is what happens when we let developers run wild, and conclude that the answer is to throttle developers. I am much closer to thinking that we should, in fact, permit developers to run wild, and not force them to build only one type of building."

Framing the problem as "zoning" is a conceit pushed by developers, who always and everywhere just want to build the largest structure possible. The problem in the USA (IMO) isn't the size of buildings, or multi vs. single-family, but that everything is scaled and engineered around the car rather than people. Street widths, setbacks ("green space" is dead space), ponderously oversized lots, and minimum parking rules all contribute.

Giving architects and developers freedom is great, but whatever they produce needs to be right-scaled and appropriately integrated into the surroundings - and this is what zoning rules and building codes should enforce.

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With regard to market forces in the absence of zoning restrictions, I think "more units" would happen when investors (at any scale) are the operators. But if individuals (who will live there) are the operators I think there will be "more size". I believe there is a huge demand for suburban/exurban style housing in first ring suburbs because it's the best of both worlds where you can still drive with relative ease, but also not drive with relative ease. This is what people, especially older and affluent who have spent time in autocentric places and realized the downsides, desire. As you pointed out, with current zoning the later is what happens. This is what is happening in Annapolis despite efforts by a minority of the City Council (and some residents of all stripes - but not enough to change the majority's minds) to allow denser and multi family housing everywhere.

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Zoning is in itself not a terrible concept. Most of my fellow Arlington citizens felt really put off by being told that if we supported zoning we must be "classist and racist" or "just old".

The messaging has to get better to avoid alienating people.

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