Creve Coeur, Missouri, is a well-kept suburb located about 14 miles west of the city of St. Louis. It consists of a large areas devoted to residential neighborhoods; commercial development is concentrated along Olive Street close to the city's northern boundary with Maryland Heights.
The predominant residential housing is ranch-style, with many homes built in the 1970s and 80s. This lends a certain "feel" to much of the town ... but it also has become an issue.
Over breakfast I heard why. As planning commissioner Carl Moskowitz explained, in some parts of Creve Coeur ranch homes are being torn down and replaced with McMansions. These huge houses "don't fit into individual neighborhoods." Yet they're being built in increasing numbers on residential streets with modestly sized homes.
Gene Rovak, also on the planning commission, added that these immense houses when inserted on a street of ranch homes are "almost an affront to eveyone." What happens, Gene continued, "is kind of like Las Vegas, where each McMansion has to be bigger and grander than the next."
As Planning Director Paul Langdon, who just started in Creve Coeur nine months ago, explained to me, "the market has left the existing Creve Coeur housing stock behind." Simply put, there's a strong demand for much larger houses.
While the city is trying to develop some design guidelines, the ranch homes are not historic -- they're just what developed during a certain time period (which is what gives the neighborhoods their visual consistency). The city, noted Paul, needs to balance any design guidelines against the investment value people have in their property.
The trustees of the subdivision where Carl lives have to approve any modification to the exterior of a house. They're also adding standards for tear downs, using a floor-area ratio technique. But it's still difficult to deal with this through small homeowners associations --especially if they need to contemplate going into court to enforce any private controls.
Tear downs and McMansions are a problem -- at least to the Creve Coeur planning commissioners I met with -- but there's no clear solution yet.
[note from Wayne, some of you might find of interest a short article we recently published, McMansions & the Geometry of Zoning, on how a small Connecticut town has dealt with this issue]