Thursday, August 2, 2007

one addition, two sides to changing east county

WHAT'S UP THE PIKE: Comcast threatens to take away your rights: Tell MoCo you won't stand for it!

Mansion - or duplex? This house in Springbrook Village shows two ways single-family neighborhoods in East County are evolving.

Springbrook Village is the kind of place that would be straight out of Leave It To Beaver - were it not for the roar of traffic from The Pike or the twenty-story-high White Oak Tower looming over everything. However, its sylvan streets have recently become a battleground over good taste as additions start to change the face of this quiet, 1960's-era neighborhood.

"It's a total mess," says Mike Carey of Nora Drive. He's talking about the house of his neighbor, Yu Cheung. The Gazette may have already introduced you to Carey's ongoing struggle to appeal Cheung's permit to build an addition.

so much more AFTER THE JUMP . . .

Houses like this one in Springbrook Village are being targeted as tear-downs.

Two stories high and on a rise in the backyard, the addition hovers over the treetops, practically humping the original house. At 1,500 square feet, it would nearly double the size of the residence, according to the Gazette and records from the Department of Permitting Services.

If built as planned, the addition would hold a kitchen, office and family room - "and it's just one hook-up away from a bathroom," says Carey. A four-foot-wide breezeway would be all that connects the addition to the existing house. To Carey, that sounds like a duplex.

"It's really just an eyesore," laments Carey, "but basically it's like 'what can I do?' because it's his property and he can do what he wants."

The battle started over our years ago when Cheung applied to build a giant garage behind his house. Carey protested the garage's size to DPS, who in return said it was within regulation. A year after that, Cheung applied for a small addition of about four hundred square feet, to Carey's further distress. (Both the garage and the original addition can be seen at the end of the driveway.) The current addition, which was approved in March, is still covered under existing zoning - it meets all the lot's setbacks and only covers thirty percent of the property.

"They took a code that DPS created for 'mansionization' that's happening in the Downcounty," Carey says, referring to the spread of oversize homes in older communities like Chevy Chase. "It's really shameful that DPS would give him a permit to do this."

Up and down New Hampshire Avenue, older homes in sought-after neighborhoods are being torn down and replaced with larger "McMansions" as the land is worth more than the house sitting on it. A sprawling, '60's-era ranch house on Milestone Drive in Springbrook Village has hit the market for $1.25 million. The sign at the foot of the driveway screams "LAND!"

Meanwhile, families struggling to keep up with the rising cost of housing have started renting rooms or adding apartments to help pay the mortgage. One woman in Deer Park recently applied to add an accessory apartment in her house despite complaints from neighbors that she already built one and has been renting it out for nearly ten years.

And as East County becomes an increasingly popular destination for immigrant families priced out of more-established enclaves like Langley Park, racism often plays a role in the struggle to keep neighborhoods stable.

"I was accused of being a friggin' racist by this guy on another street because the owner [Cheung] is Chinese," complains Carey.

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