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Supersizing the American Dream Home

  • Ted Landphair

A lot of people blanch when they see a home like this rising in an older, established neighborhood with smaller homes and lower rooflines.

A lot of people blanch when they see a home like this rising in an older, established neighborhood with smaller homes and lower rooflines.

Some neighbors find the extra-large homes to be a nightmare

This is a story about something called “McMansions,” the backlash to McMansions, and the backlash to the backlash about McMansions.

McMansions are homes - new and very big homes. The name is borrowed from the “super-sized” drinks and French fries and sandwiches at McDonald’s fast-food restaurants. Build a McMansion, and you’ve super-sized the American Dream of home ownership.

They’re built by people who want all sorts of amenities and can afford them: lots of bedrooms, a spacious lawn, a three- or four-car garage, maybe even a swimming pool. Throw in a library and a mega-kitchen fit for a king’s chef and the result is a home of gargantuan proportions.

That’s fine and dandy if you have a rolling country field on which to erect this monster. But squeeze one onto a modest lot in an older community, and you’ve created, in the eyes of your neighbors, an eyesore that's absurdly out of scale with its surroundings.

For them, a McMansion is not a dream. It’s a nightmare.

A sign like this will likely not be enough to stop someone from constructing a super-sized house.

A sign like this will likely not be enough to stop someone from constructing a super-sized house.

Citizens who are upset by the super-sized houses going up in their neighborhood have four choices: move, win the lottery and build their own McMansion, get used to the monolith next door or, if it’s not too late, get the city council to pass a regulation to limit the size of new houses in their area.

Increasingly, that last solution seems to be working. Communities across the country are passing stricter building restrictions to keep out what some have sneeringly called “starter castles.”

So what’s the backlash to the backlash? In zoning hearings, courtrooms, and online blogs, we’re hearing a lot of sentiments such as this, in response to an MSN Business story online: “It is really no one’s business what I decide to build upon my own land or property if I follow the building codes,” the writer snorted. “This is the United States of America, and if I want to build a large or small home, it is my right.”

Maybe so in his or her town. But not in as many places as before.

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