"Why Not Just Tear It Down?" - Page 2

Reckoning with the 'teardown point of view'—as neighborhoods erode and homes are going, going, gone
Why Not Just Tear It Down
Lawn sign announces the fate for the Eichler home directly across the street from Ingle.
Why Not Just Tear It Down
As neighborhoods are threatened, photos like this one, from San Mateo, remind us that the original single-story aesthetic is worth protecting.

"Wonder if this is not the future of South Palo Alto," one online commentator speculated on Palo Alto Online, "the slow dismantling of the Eichlers until they are all gone."

Ken DeLeon, a real estate broker in Silicon Valley with DeLeon Realty who has worked with clients who restore their Eichlers and clients who demolish homes (but not, he says, Eichlers), describes one buyer, a local man, who bought a small ranch home in Old Palo Alto—"the best part of town"—for $3.3 million. He then tore it down, spent $2 million to build a new home, and sold it for more than $8 million.

"That's one of the better outcomes," DeLeon says. "It shows the money that can be made."

Whether or not teardowns eventually eliminate all Eichlers—and of course they will not—they are already having a seriously deleterious effect on communities. That's why people are wondering what's behind this 'epidemic'—and what they can do to put an end to it.

All three sides—the let's-save-the-Eichlers folks, the my-home-is-my-castle free marketeers, and the people who see the controversy as a noisy battle about nothing—should be able to agree on at least one thing—that the battle is already harming communities.

That's because fights over teardowns and overbearing second-story additions often get personal. Neighbors who were friends stop speaking. When people meet on the street, they are hesitant to broach the topic. On online bulletin boards, where many people posting anonymously are willing to be rude, it gets ugly.

So let's concede from the start that people who want big houses and build big houses are neither criminals nor ethically challenged. Even if the homes look like Tuscan cottages suffering from bloat.

Afflicted with bad taste? Well, maybe.

But, as people living in these neighborhoods understand, the teardown syndrome is more than an aesthetic issue.

In many cases, though far from all of them, the people who are tearing down Eichlers and other modest-sized homes are not homeowners who simply want more space. They are developers who are building spec houses for quick sale. They will not live there themselves.

Being neighborly, therefore, is not among their motivations. Nor, in most cases, is a desire to preserve the characteristics of the neighborhood.

As one anonymous Eichler resident noted in an online post, "The very things that made Palo Alto so appealing in the past—quaint neighborhoods, sense of community, block parties, etc.—are slowly going by the wayside in this relentless march towards these gaudy monstrosities. This conspicuous consumption will, in the end, destroy that which made Palo Alto so special."

And sometimes the larger homes that replace single-story Eichlers in Palo Alto are owned by people who don't live in them full time, but use them as investments or part-time dwellings. While their financial investment may be large, these people often have little emotional investment in their community.

And as homes get bigger, the number of people who can afford them plummets.