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Huge Homes Give Neighbors Heartburn

The current home construction trend is bigger is better, but how big is too big? Huge homes at four thousand square feet or more are going into some older, suburban communities. To residents of smaller homes, these new arrivals are monstrosities that stick out like a sore thumb in their neighborhoods. Bigger is not always better for homebuyers, either. Where do you draw the line?

Some communities are struggling with that exact question. It's property rights and personal freedom to build what you want to build, versus damaging a neighborhood's appearance. The quandary for communities such as Aspen, Colorado or Arlington, Virginia is how to balance competing views. Aspen has already placed limitations on the size of new houses. In an Arlington test case, residents successfully blocked an "in-fill" house, or house built on a subdivided lot behind another home. A "pipe-stem" home has minimal street frontage. Residents said the house was too large for the lot and inappropriate for the neighborhood. That zoning decision is now before the Virginia state appeals court.

All the controversy wouldn't have happened without a booming economy. Larger houses are now within reach for most middle class homebuyers, and a big house is no longer exclusively reserved for the rich. Plus floor plans are expanding to meet demands for space and changing lifestyles. The kitchen serves as family room, eating area, or office niche. Bathrooms are swelling to accommodate two vanities, a separate toilet compartment, or Jacuzzi. And more people are working out of home offices.

According to the National Association of Home Builders, the average American house has grown from about 1,500 square feet in 1971 to 2,185 square feet today. Experts say the trend toward big is not likely to diminish. America is undergoing a construction boom, and the bigger house is becoming ingrained into our consciousness. A lot has changed since the cookie-cutter style homes of the post World War II generation.

Taken to its extreme, however, the bigger is better philosophy reaches the point of diminishing returns. In terms of warmth, a huge, cavernous home has all the intimacy of a train station. And bigger floor plans put less pressure on designers to use space efficiently. Some overeager homebuyers could end up with too much house.

By Cliff McCreedy

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