Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Housing Character of Community

I was reading a Toronto Star Article about a family that bought a home in the beaches that was not designated a heritage home. However, since their neighbours have found out that they plan to build a new home on the lot, they have tried very hard to get a hertitage designation to stop the Teehan's from doing so. Part of the Teehan's reason for wanting to build a home from scratch is to enable them to make it wheel chair accessable for Mrs. Teehan, who woke one morning to find out she had a rare nuerological condition and that she would spend the rest of her life in a wheel chair. The idea was to build a house that would be as accessible as possible to her.

After just reading the article, I found myself mostly siding with the Teehans. Although, I do believe in preserving historic properties, I also recognize that the cost associated with major renovations of an older property are much greater than rebuilding. Furthermore, many older properties have structural deficits and wiring and plumbing issues, and are rarely economical to heat. They may also have mould or building materials that pose health issues. Some special properties are definitely worth saving, but I don't think it is sustainable long term to say that every old house deserves and must be saved. Buildings have life spans. They can be renovated, but that isn't always the best option. There has to be a balance at any rate.

Here the thing though, after looking up Mr. Teehan's blog and taking a look at the house in question on Google live view, although there is an easier to link to picture here, I have to wonder if Mr. Teehan was looking for trouble. Now, they did say this was the only property in the neighbourhood with a wide enough lot and a low enough price, and they did check to see if it was a heritage house first, however, they may have set themselves up for this battle by choosing a house that is cute and then planning to build something that is as different as possible on the lot. The house they are planning to build (see pictures on flickr) does seem a bit monstrous and out of whack with the neighbourhood. The current house is cute in a quaint, pink-trimmed way and while change isn't necessarily bad, and I am not qualified to say whether its a heritage piece. I was surprised to find some sympathy for those opposing a change of that magnitude. I'm not sure that the image does the real thing justice, but I think a peaked roof and some minor changes to the exterior materials would have avoided the neighbours wrath. Its not so much that the old house is wonderful (its cute in a cartoony, possibly tacky sort of way), as it is that the new house is so modern and blocky and inorganic that folks used to looking at a cute little white and pink cottage with a turret might find hard to swallow. Now of course, the opponents are bent on proving its a heritage house and pretty much likely to stay their course. That the battle has become so entrenched is a shame, because the opponents are not likely to be willing to compromise. Even if the Teehan's win their case, they will likely find the animosity takes away from the joy of their new home. Yet, for financial and emotional reasons they have a lot invested in doing what they planned, whether or not it means living with hostile neighbours and more public attention than they would like. Its a lose-lose situation and now that its in the media both sides are likely to stay entrenched. If the neighbours had approached the Teehan's and requested nicely that the new design be a bit less of a change, a bit more quaint and cottage, the Teehan's could have made a few minor changes to the design and everyone's property values would go up and then they could all live together in the community on friendly terms instead of it being a dispute from the very beginning. This battle is seems to be an unfortunate extra burden for the Teehan's who have frankly had more bad luck than any family deserves and could have used a break from their neighbourhood. Even if they win, their victory will have some sourness to it.

I'm impressed by the number of posts by folks on the issue and that many of them are well thought out. I'm used to reading comments on political articles that are usually intentionally offensive to anyone who disagrees. It was nice to see some balanced opinions. I think the best hope for everyone is reconciliation. Right now both sides are backed into a corner and its going to be lose-lose. They are also using the heritage property vs property owner rights argument, even though I suspect that isn't at the root of the problem. A good community counselor would not take sides, but instead act as a mediator to see if a win-win solution could be found. I think the best compromise is that the Teehan's build from scratch, but maybe they could consult with their opponents to find some reasonable measures to make their exterior of their house a bit more appealing to folks used to seeing a cottage-style house on the lot. They could work together, treat each other with respect and then when the Teehan's moved into their dream home, they would enjoy it fully because they would be surrounded by neighbours that they have a positive relationship with, who might even reach out to them and maybe even be kinder than you'd expect in the lonely land of the city. This event could be an opportunity to build real community on this street to the benefit of all. Sadly, I suspect that it'll end up resulting in hardship for a family that could use a break. They'll either be forced to sell the property at a loss or they will build their house, but have to live with neighbours that feel like they lost and so are not only strangers, but angry strangers. I think this situation is typical of so many other situations that people make for themselves when they start out as antagonists believing that there is no chance of finding middle ground or because they feel threatened. Think of all the bad situations at work, home, and in the world as a whole. How many wars are fought because neither side even considered negotiating a compromise before they dug themselves so deeply entrenched in oppostion that they had no way to change their mind without losing face... I guess we all can learn some lesson from this mess and I hope for the sake of the Teehan's they find a way to turn this hurdle into something positive because I think they are due a bit of luck.

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Blogger Wonder Woman! said...

it's funny, i understand the reason to change, build and renovate/develop the land. But the whole neighbourhood seems to be comprised of these little tacky homes, with character, history and personality, that it gives the whole area a unique atmosphere. Then I saw what they were gonna replace it with and it is just so out of the persona of the neighbourhood i actually was kindof protective of the collective in the area.
Now, these people are looking to move into this 'hood, and they're developing this negative relationship with their neighbours, who are in reality some of your best allies. Just very strange situation.
I do hope they come up with a comprimise and maybe find an architect to develop a property that is full of character, unique in its own way that everyone can enjoy.

I saw Forest Hill doing that - putting these very modernist, monstrosities in a neighbourhood that was very old and established and compared it to rosedale (who has imparted some kind of development bylaw or something) and tends to remain in the same design styling... and I like the character homes in Rosedale better.

Interesting debate... I do hope that everyone wins eventually, but I am feeling like a realist tonight and think that it may not end pretty.

10:53 PM  

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