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Chevy Chase Plans Pause in Building To Stave Off March of the Mansions
By Cameron W. Barr
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 3, 2005; Page B05
The Town of Chevy Chase, a wealthy enclave of 1,032 homes in Montgomery County, is preparing to adopt a six-month building moratorium that proponents say will give the town time to craft a response to "mansionization."
The incorporated town's five-member council unanimously agreed last week that a freeze on demolitions, new construction and substantial renovations was necessary. Yesterday, town lawyers released a draft ordinance that might be voted on as early as Aug. 10. Opponents are pondering lawsuits and said the town is infringing on property rights.
Gregory Bitz says his plan to develop the empty lot next to his house in Chevy Chase is in danger because of the proposed building moratorium. He says he opposes "any action that takes away from freedom in this country." (By Andrea Bruce -- The Washington Post)
The town joins other jurisdictions in the Washington region that are considering efforts to address widespread complaints about oversized homes. Montgomery is debating a measure to change the way residential building heights are calculated and to reduce maximum height from 35 to 30 feet in the southern part of the county. Arlington County is looking at legislation that would lessen the extent to which certain residential lots can be covered by buildings, driveways and other structures.
The fight over "McMansions" is a classic struggle between the values of the community and the rights of individual property owners. One side says it is striking a blow for "scale" and "neighborhood character" as the other raises freedom's banner.
Gregory Bitz, a town resident, financial planner and majority owner of what is considered the last open lot in the town, said this week that he opposes the moratorium and "any action that takes away from freedom in this country." He said his plan to sell and develop the $1 million lot is jeopardized by the prospective moratorium.
In urban areas and such built-up suburbs as Chevy Chase, clashes over mansionization are hard to escape and hard to regulate. They are most likely to emerge in expensive communities -- the median household income in the town was $160,000 in 2000 -- where property owners have the means to renovate, add on or rebuild and where developers see great potential profits in doing so.
"There is no opportunity to increase the housing stock in the town. The only opportunity is to upgrade and replace the housing stock," said Joseph Rubin, a town resident and real estate agent who opposes the demolition ban.
But whether a new or renovated house is in keeping with those in the neighborhood is largely a matter of perspective.
"One person's mansionization is another person's revitalization, which is what makes this issue so hard to resolve," said Montgomery County Planning Board Chairman Derick P. Berlage. He said the board has declined to act on several proposals regarding mansionization in recent years.
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