Kudos for fitting in

Developers looking to build homes that stand out from the rest, especially in size, need not apply for Fulton’s annual design award.

In response to recent zoning changes designed to curb the construction of oversized homes — frequently called McMansions or Monster houses — the Fulton Neighborhood Association (FNA) created an award program that recognizes developers whose houses blend into the neighborhood.   

Last year, City Council Member Betsy Hodges (13th Ward) authored an ordinance creating zoning codes to prevent the building of oversized houses. Since then, the FNA zoning subcommittee has had to review several variance applications, which are required to be submitted to the subcommittee if the proposed new home or a remodeling project makes a home bigger, wider or taller than zoning allows.

“We’ve been seeing several (variance applications) in addition to common knowledge in the community of this sort of backlash against homes that were built either not to scale or proportions or the materials were not in keeping with the neighborhood,” said Phil Rader, an architect working on the Fulton Neighborhood Association’s Zoning committee. “The city has zoning regulations, of course, for housing or property, but there were no local design guidelines for the Fulton neighborhood, so the city decided to prepare design guidelines.”

Rader said the guidelines are nonbinding and are simply to describe what the subcommittee saw as a “good, neighborly” design. Members of the subcommittee decided to create some additional encouragement to get community members and developers to build their homes to the new zoning code.

“We also thought it was important to have a carrot, or an incentive, to follow those design guidelines,” Rader said. “So we came up with the idea of doing a competition, and the competition would be to basically reward or acknowledge a design that was done in the way that was amiable to the neighbors.”

The competition, now in its second year, calls for three judges to weigh in on how new houses and additions or remodels to existing houses relate to the existing neighborhood. Rader said the idea is to have the houses all blend in together.

“We decided to call (the competition) BLEND, because often times we’ve heard that phrase ‘blend; this house doesn’t blend in,’” Rader said. “And BLEND has that acronym: Buildings and Landscapes Enhancing the Neighborhood through Design. So it has a duel meaning; its own name, which implies that it is a good thing to blend in, and then the acronym applies to a terminology describing what we would like to see.

“So having a house really small next to it, and you have a house that is really big, that would be the first thing that sticks out,” Rader said. “Conversely, if you have a new house that looks very similar to the adjacent home, that would be a good thing and what we’re looking for.”
The Fulton neighborhood runs an award program that encourages developers to build homes that blend with the community

Last year, there were four submitted homes for the competition, but Rader anticipated 10 submissions this year. Also, the submitted houses were judged by photos last year, but Rader said since the photos were cropped very tightly, cutting off the neighboring houses and making it hard to judge, the judges this year will be given addresses to the submitted houses so they can really see how they compare to the rest of the neighborhood.

FNA Vice President John Finlayson called the BLEND award “a nice way to encourage a particular kind of development.”

Rader said two of the submitted houses last year were near his own home, giving him the opportunity to see the work done on them.

“One (house) had had the roof torn off and replaced with a second story to the existing house, and then making a connection, a breezeway, between the garage and the house,” Rader said.

Winners of this year’s BLEND award will be announced at the Sept. 10 FNA meeting. For more information on the program, visit www.fultonneighborhood.org.