McMansions, Garage Mahals, and Starter Castles

In last night’s Charlottesville City Council meeting, Council member David Brown suggested a McMansion Task Force be created to consider how the city can best regulate the housing market to control/eliminate the construction of homes that do not fit the City defined context of the neighborhood.   

Using a term such as McMansion Task Force, provides a great laugh line in Council Chambers but becomes more difficult to define in the real world.  Is it a McMansion if it is a certain number of square feet?  Is it a McMansion if it has an elevator to allow an elderly resident access to their second floor? 

It is difficult to believe but the City of Austin actually has a McMansion Amendment (pdf) [yes, that is how it is referenced on the City website].  Interestingly, the Austin Contrarian blog has a great photo example of what the market response has been to this inappropriate government regulation.

The City of Boulder Colorado has also instituted a McMansion Ordinance.  According to David Fromkin (Liberal and Loving it Blog) suggests Boulder Colorado’s definition of McMansion as “any house bigger than their own”

This concept of neighbor class envy clearly enters into this discussion.  Americans tend to live in income stratified communities that rise and fall along with their residents fortunes.   When an infill property is redeveloped in a neighborhood, the change is more abrupt than the traditional rise and fall. 

The concept of infill development, popular with new urbanists (while McMansions are not), is to better utilize urban land where government services can be more efficiently be delivered.   In addition, we are starting to see a trend of empty nesters and others returning vitality to the city centers. 

How then should we address the desires of these potential new taxpayers to improve intercity property without upsetting the delicate balance of the neighborhood? 

The Free Enterprise Forum believes less government intervention into this market is better.  My review of the current real estate market sees more properties looking at small footprints (physical and environmental).  Perhaps the market is adequately addressing this issue.

I doubt the Task Force will see their way clear any solution without regulation.


One response

  1. Hi FEF-
    I’m as liberal as the day is long, and I have to say that I’m agreeing completely with your posting above. How do you define a “McMansion?” And when did it become the government’s business to regulate how large or small anyone’s house is? Someone with a large family needs a bigger house, and if someone wants to live alone in a huge mansion pining for their “Rosebud” that’s their business. I feel very strongly about pulling back on the reins when it comes to rapid, poorly-considered growth, but we should be able to address these so-called “McMansion” concerns with tools already in place – setbacks, height ordinances, BAR review where applicable.

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