Those tall houses

My wife and I scrounged up a down payment and bought a building lot. It was 24,000 square feet in size and cost $2,000. The soil was fertile sandy-loam and it sloped gently from the road to a lovely grove of cedars bordering our creek.

  • Thursday, August 28, 2008 4:38pm
  • Opinion

Bob Graef

My wife and I scrounged up a down payment and bought a building lot. It was 24,000 square feet in size and cost $2,000. The soil was fertile sandy-loam and it sloped gently from the road to a lovely grove of cedars bordering our creek.
As you might have guessed, this didnt happen yesterday. At that time, Grove Street dead-ended at the south end of Cedarcrest Golf Course. The old driving range, soon to become an elementary school, was a cornfield. The hill that Grove Street now climbs was 100% forest, populated only by deer, coyotes and the occasional bear. That was only 45 years ago.
You can still find a building lot in Marysville but its size and price wont be the same. Low-density lots measure 8,000 square feet and up. Medium density lots begin at 7,200 square feet and high-density lots can be as small as 5,000 square feet. And if Multiple Listing prices are to be believed, my choice $2,000 lot would fetch $250,000 in todays market.
One small development on Whiskey Ridge is listed at almost $400,000 per acre. Of course, that includes streets, power, water and sewer, but no matter how many bells and whistles are added, my $2,000 half-acre seems an outrageous bargain though $2,000 was actually the going price for a nice lot at the time.
Buyers of those 1960s lots wanted space because space was an integral part of the American Dream. The patches of land they grew up on had space enough for a family cow, a chicken house and a vegetable garden. Though their now aging offspring tired of shoveling cow poop and tending chickens, they still wanted space. Hence the 24,000 square foot building lot of the 1960s. About a half-acre.
As residents of Marysvilles jumbo lots matured toward retirement, the thrill of tending huge expanses of lawn paled. And as they traded the vigor of youth for arthritis and stiff muscles, the lure of wintering in southern deserts caused many to plant income-producing duplexes in their spacious back yards. City planners call that infilling.
With back yards filling with duplexes and new developments spreading up and down hillsides to the east, people keep streaming in. So many, that the next census will show Marysville to be the second largest city in Snohomish County. Where to put them? The few remaining patches of buildable land have become so expensive that builders have to do whatever it takes to milk profit from less and less land.
With low-density lots now pared down to 8,000 square feet, suburban sprawl has become somewhat constrained since the days of 24,000 square foot lots. The squeeze on living space is tighter for medium and high-density lots, especially since zoning ordinances specify that a good bit of any lots area must be left undeveloped. Putting family-sized homes on high-density lots becomes particularly difficult because the zoning rule requires that at least 45 percent of that 5,000 square foot lot has to be free of structures and paved areas. You can forget about a rambler or any single-level home.
An answer in the extreme can be seen East of Les Schwab on 84th Street where towering single family homes are packed snugly onto little lots. The floor plan puts tandem parking, heat and storage at ground level, kitchen, dining and living space on the second floor and three bedrooms and laundry on the third floor. Youd need good legs. The view all around is of other tall houses in close proximity as with air-condos.
Yet one has to give high marks to the tall-house designer who managed to squeeze real family-sized living space onto postage-stamp plots. But like many minimum size developments, the slivers of space between houses do little more than separate them. A better alternative would have been to do away with intervening spaces altogether and build townhouses separated by soundproof common walls. Rows of townhouses, each with a front and rear but no side exposures. Maybe were not ready for that yet.
Think of the tall, three-floor high-density homes as townhouse wannabes. Like shy boys and girls at their first sock-hop they stand clustered but unable to link up. The reason? Here in our bedroom community, were still caught up in the suburban myth that demands a separate building for each separate family. A notion as impractical as one commuter for each car. Yesteryears fading American Dream called for a rambler on a ranchette. Room for the dog to run, room to keep neighbors at bay and it was nice as long as it lasted. But now that were caught between yesterdays suburban dream and tomorrows urban reality, society is being forced to accept new patterns of habitation.
Ask a hundred householders why they want space and the most common response will be fear or distrust of neighbors. Thats why we have fences. City-dwellers get over that. They have to. When city neighbors live as close as the doors across a corridor, people either wall themselves in or set social phobias aside. Not that they get over them, they learn to dance around social friction. Meanwhile, here in suburbia we kid ourselves into believing that we enjoy the social intolerance and fences that keep us separate from one another.
So now that Im into my golden years Im wishing Id situated our home so that a lane could slip alongside to serve the income-generating duplex I wont be able to build in my big back yard. Ah, well. Maybe thats as it should be, because I lack tolerance for
thundering Harleys and marathon barking of soprano lap-dogs and unruly teenagers music and domestic squabbling, any of which might otherwise emanate from my imaginary duplex.

Comments may be addressed to rgraef@verizon.net.

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