Redux: From Starter Home to Mini McMansion

My October 22 U.S. 1 Newspaper article on the Harrison Street teardown (a modest ranch was turned into an imposing duplex) provoked a healthy number of responses. Then a real estate reporter for the November 9 New York Times, Antoinette Martin, claimed that teardowns are slowing down in New Jersey. No longer are we the Number One Teardown State.

Then I had a note from a neighbor, who also happens to be a land planner, as below:

As someone who lives in a larger home and gladly pays for the privilege with increased real estate taxes — I have no problem with the housing style. For that matter, I have no problem with smaller cape cods either.

As a lapsed planner I think that one of the attributes that make a neighborhood interesting is an eclectic mix of different styles especially as a neighborhood matures. It seems a little like government over-kill to me to unreasonably limit house size or to dictate style or taste. We are not about to order the demolition of the large graceful older homes on Princeton Avenue or Nassau Street to accommodate the “small is better” preference, are we?

And it seems that government has enough to do without attempting to set artificial limits on house size in service to a mistaken notion of affordability. Six hundred thousand dollar “tear downs” have nothing to do with affordibility.

The problem, if there is a problem, with the new duplex on Harrison Street is not with its discordant size and roadway proximity. The problem is that a single-family home where empty nesters lived was replaced with two units which will accommodate younger families each likely to have school-aged children. If you quickly do the math, the increased local property tax yield is buried by the increased educational expense which then has to be spread across the tax base. I am certainly not complaining — that’s just the way it is.

There is an old Pete Seeger song about the downside of a neighborhood where all the homes look alike — whether they are capes, ranches or oversized homes on small lots. Slavish consistency is the hobgoblin of stunted planning — diversity rules.

On the other side of the fence, so to speak, is another neighbor, also a land planner, who vehemently objects to supersizing houses on her block. I repeated the question that the zoning officer asks, when people object to what is legal, “Where were you when the zoning hearings were held?”


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