Bill Torpy at Large: Got a beef with the McMansion next door?


It is absolutely impossible to drive up the 900 block of Indian Hills Parkway and not crane your neck when passing the new home under construction.

By comparison, the surrounding homes look like tool sheds, as one neighbor put it.

That neighbor, Violeta Toma, who lives three doors down, is still incredulous at the scope and magnitude of her future neighbor’s abode.

“People stop and take pictures because it’s such a monstrosity,” she said. “It just doesn’t fit the gist of the neighborhood.”

In fact, the scale and scope of the rebuilds going up in her east Cobb County neighborhood is not lost on her children. “My kids now think we’re poor,” she said.

Such is the newest round of infill housing that continues in neighborhoods across metro Atlanta.

The term McMansion has been used to denigrate the huge homes built by those who are said to have more money than taste. But one person’s monstrosity is someone else’s dream home, and that’s how Brett Flury sees it.

Flury is a pleasant 30-something guy with an engineering degree from Georgia Tech. A fellow who by education, foresight and work ethic has done well enough to buy a relatively expensive home, scrap it and then replace it with another edifice that will be worth well north of $1 million. It’s what the American dream is all about.

To him it’s simple. He wants to lay down roots where he grew up.

“I’ve lived in this area all my life; we want to get along with the neighbors,” he said a bit nervously when I phoned him out of the blue. “My wife and I are trying to live in the home we’ll live in for the next 40 or 50 years.”

And they’re banking on being comfortable there.

When I asked him the size, Flury demurred, saying, “We just call it big.”

According to drawings filed with the county, the structure will occupy 5,600 square feet (including patio) of impervious surface. It will be three stories. He got a variance to move his home 5 feet closer to the street than code allows, although it sits probably 40 feet closer than the other houses.

But there’s a problem. According to civic association members, county inspectors stopped construction on the home because it is built on a grade too high and the structure is too tall — 7 feet too tall, said Bob Collins, the association’s architectural standards chief.

Flury said that contention is in dispute and his lawyer is speaking with Cobb officials to get the matter resolved. Flury is an extremely interested party. One would hate to have to shave 7 feet off the top of a dream home.

That chateaus are popping up where small ranches once stood is not new.

Fifty years ago, Americans routinely squeezed into 1,400-square-foot homes (the first homes in Levittown averaged 983 square feet), according to census figures. Now, they’re around 2,600 square feet. But that’s fitting. At one time, we could quench our thirst with a can of Coke. Now it takes a Big Gulp to do the job.

Supersizing occurs all over, from the north ‘burbs to the tony streets of Buckhead to once dicey intown neighborhoods where pseudo-Craftsmans on steroids share the landscape with sagging bungalows with burglar bars.

Collins, the civic association guy, said the infills happening in Indian Hills, a 1,650-home community that was at one time the largest subdivision south of Washington D.C., is just a natural progression. The Atlanta Country Club area, which is near the Chattahoochee River and just to the south of Indian Hills, is a place “where you’d tear down a $1 million home and then you had to build a $3 million home. So the builders came over here.”

Not everyone can manage a $3 million home. Some people must squeeze into the $1 million variety.

Collins has lived in Indian Hills for 45 years, a time when most of the homes were getting built. Many are of the 2,500-square-foot variety, making them the McMansions of the Seventies. Now they’ll bring $400,000 to be run over by a bulldozer.

Many of the homes, Collins said, were designed to be understated: “We had an architect so you’d hardly notice the homes. They were designed to blend into the woods.”

Now they shout, “Yo! Look at me!”

Collins believes the up-sizing is a natural progression: “They want something bigger than their parents’. It’s immediate gratification.”

Residents of Indian Hills largely realize they live in teardowns just waiting to happen, whether it’s next year or in 2030. I heard that sentiment expressed four or five times.

Mark Beadle has lived in the neighborhood 34 years and said, “My feeling is this is great. I’m happy to see people adding to their homes and updating. It bodes well for the neighborhood.”

A decade ago the same street was used in an AJC story to demonstrate the issue of infill development.

A reporter talked to resident Frank Coyne, who worried his split-level 1970s ranch was being overshadowed by the massive structure built on the corner lot next to him.

Coyne has since died, and I spoke with his widow, Deborah, this week. Like many residents, she’s sort of split on this issue. Or resigned to it.

“At first, it was the initial shock of seeing it. We thought the house would tower over us; that we’d live in its shadow,” she said. “But it kind of grows on you.”

She said the landscaping has matured to help make the home look less intrusive. And, she added, the residents there are “great neighbors.”

“It’ll be a long time before all those old ranches are torn down,” she said. “Until then, there has to be a congruency.”

Still, she added, “I’d sell my house tomorrow if a builder gave me enough money.”


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