Raleigh McMansion Battle Royale

January, 07, 2008, by Chad

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McMansion Garage Mahal

There is one statement from a local Raleigh developer that sums up the campaign of the infill-standards opposition group:

“Your retirement nest egg will definitely be adversely affected.”

Those who are planning for a future return on their ‘nest-egg home’ have no personal investment in their community. How can one contribute to his community when their strategy is big profit? This demonstratively egotistical attitude creates no benefit in the long-term development of Raleigh’s neighborhoods.

The infill-standards opposition group, a.k.a. Raleigh developers and nest-eggers, claim that the “effort by Councilmen Thomas Crowder and Russ Stephenson is part of an overall anti-growth message.” These council members and others who support them are not “anti-growth,” they are PROPER-growth. They are RESPECTFUL-growth. And they are QUALITY-growth. These are the people that understand that something must be done to control the entities that are trivializing and de-valuing the established history and foundations of Raleigh’s unique character.

This infill debate is only necessary because there is a consistent disregard for Raleigh’s communities, environment, and citizens.

Whatever values or perceptions that are trying to be achieved by building these circus-tent houses is way off the mark—it’s not classy, it doesn’t earn respect, and I’d argue that it doesn’t benefit quality of life. If it benefits one thing it would be candy dreams of a big return on an eventual home sale—and that egotistical attitude on development needs to cease.

Many say that the debate has no basis because it is a conflict of individual personal taste, but this is not the case. For a systematic view on how to determine the ‘successfulness’ of development please see New Raleigh’s Rubric for Redevelopment

Being classy is not how much you care for your needs, but how much you care for others.


The public hearing on residential R-4 infill standards will be


today at 1 p.m. at Raleigh City Council chambers at 222 West Hargett St., second floor. Thomas Crowder and Russ
Stephenson plan to initiate the 25% building/add-on restriction at this meeting.

You can expect a fierce debate as members from both sides will undoubtedly be passionate about the issue. I wonder if the ridiculous ‘socialist’ label will get thrown around.

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Politics, Other posts by Chad.




  • Sclemons
    01/07 11:03 PM

    Got a link for your quotes? It might be easier for everyone if they could read the source themselves.

    One minor point on the issue of socialism: The central tenant of socialism is the creation of a system in which personal property is subject to control by the community for the purpose of social equality and cooperation.

    That’s pretty much what you just argued in favor of. If that’s what you’re proposing, why do you find the label so distasteful?


    On the other hand, we’ve got Adam Smith (from Wealth of Nations):

    “Every individual necessarily labors to render the annual revenue of the society as great as he can. He generally indeed neither intends to promote the public interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it. He intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good.”

    Two sides of a coin? Perhaps.

  • HelenTart
    01/08 12:30 AM

    I agree with Chad that a home is more than a bank account that you live in. I chose my home for the character of the neighborhood (and the fact that I could afford it).

    I think that basic misunderstanding is behind a lot of the conflict.

    One group is talking about having their world transformed with out their permission. The other is just trying to protect what they consider the God-given right to make a killing on real estate.

  • georgia
    01/08 12:49 AM

    There is so much to learn here about adapting to new realities.

    I appreciate your post.

  • erg
    01/08 12:34 PM

    this is exactly what makes me so angry at NR sometimes (also what keeps me coming back, i like that this is being discussed)

    you lay out this argument and make it so polarizing and you use one of the most extreme examples in all of raleigh to represent the crazy horrible growth people.

    i think that house is horrid too.  and that it has an adverse effect on its surroundings.  but come on!  be realistic!  why should anyone be cast down bc they view one of the biggest purchases in their lifetime as an opportunity to make money???  the adam smith quote is very appropriate here.  i’m no crazy libertarian but i believe you are allowed some amount of property rights in your life. 

    all this bickering makes durham seem so niiiiice.  ;)

  • David
    01/08 02:09 PM

    As if Durham was free of bickering- now that’s a joke. 

    Previously we have presented the extremes and more nuanced views- but at this point the people who are actually fighting over this represent two polar extremes. No one is saying that you shouldn’t make a handsome profit on the ownership of your home. But to accuse those that want to maintain the integrity of their neighborhood as being socialist is ridiculous. And for Sclemons to say that the other side is free market is as big of a joke.  These mega homes drop a huge cost on their neighbors and other Raleigh citizens as they inequitably contribute to environmental problems, consume subsidized services at a rapid rate, and simultaneously destroy the character of the neighborhoods that they are constructed in.  I would assume home buyers want to live ITBL because of the charming landscape, but these swollen homes change it in such a way that it looks no different than the field based subdivisions north of the city.

  • erg
    01/08 02:56 PM

    don’t you think the only way the issue will be resolved is if the two sides accept some compromise and come together?  somebody’s got to give.

  • JZ
    01/08 03:46 PM

    Got a chance to see a rebroadcast of one of the lectures from the “Designing the 21st Century City” Series the City has been putting on.

    Bill Spikowski spoke about conventional versus form-based codes.  I think this discussion equally applies to residential districts as it does commercial districts.  Form based codes offer a means to emphasize relationships to the buildings surroundings (buildings, the sidewalk, the street).  Conventional codes typically do not address relationships but simply stipulate constraints on a structure/parcel which generally does not require the designer to look at context as a means to determine an appropriate solution. 

    You can find the video of this lecture here:  http://raleigh.granicus.com/ViewPublisher.php?view_id=2

    Scroll down to Channel 11 programs, “21st Century Lecture Series: Creating Urban Form”

    I keep seeing this debate (now occupying several posts) as one that loses sight of this issue.  As Chad pointed out, it has more to do with responsible growth—which is relative and contextual—than with restricting growth.

    This is America and the “get off my land” mentality is infused in our culture. That isn’t going to change anytime soon. What we have lost is the means to discuss what responsibilities we have to each other in our contract to live together as a society.

  • fallonia
    01/09 01:05 AM

    JZ, thank you for this.

  • sandbox
    01/09 01:06 AM

    I always enjoy reading this debate but fear both sides ignore the direction the city council and planning commission will most likely take.  I went to the meeting today and heard the Mayor pushing for, and simplifying the Neighborhood Conservation Overlay Districts(NCOD).  The planning commission all but endorsed this approach, and many on the council agree.  How come i do not hear about this in your debate.  Does everyone know what this is or do we not care to know.
    Lets face it, the property rights side doesn’t have the votes on the council to make this completely go away, and some are just as repulsed by a few of these homes as you are. 
    The other side has no chance of implementing a moratorium or getting Crowder’s “new homes and additions can’t be larger than 25% rule” passed.  Those ideas will involve public comment and i think the property right camp has more people on their side. I doubt to many politicians are willing to alienate such a large base for a minority opinion. Why don’t we discuss improving the NCOD process and let individual neighborhoods make there own decisions, or is yelling at one another more fun.


  • Christopher Triplett
    01/10 08:33 PM

    Governmental control may be a start to curbing this cancer on the landscape/cityscape. 

    However, as intelligent citizens all components of a problem should be addressed.

    I agree that profit motivated development can breed poor design.  But development is an industry that supports our economy.

    The McMansions and shotguns we see are purchasable simply because that is what we are used to.  (As I imagine controlled ballistic implosions.)

    Are we not more mature here in Raleigh?  Hey everyone, get your head out of this box!

    In lieu of holistic control, we can simply find/recall the value of efficient space, the beauty of our history and landscape, and good design.  Good design is hard to come by around here, even with our finest at the helm. 

    ‘Next time you see something ugly, speak up!

  • JZ
    01/10 09:47 PM

    “we can simply find/recall the value of efficient space, the beauty of our history and landscape, and good design.”

    Yessir.  But I think it would take getting the dazed citizenry out from in front of their TVs/computers, out of their hermetic climate-controlled environments and into the WORLD to pay attention to their surroundings.  I mean REALLY pay attention.  There are four (and a debatable five) other senses that I extremely underutilized.

    (All said with a great sense of irony as I sit in front of my computer in my climate controlled environment…..)

  • Christopher Triplett
    01/11 12:50 AM

    I concur.

    Stay connected, explore, enjoy, criticize, and feed our environment.

    If anyone is interested in making the change, I’ll meet you outside.

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