People around Aspen, Colo., thought maybe it was a bit much when Prince Bandar of Saudia Arabia built a mountain home about the size of the White House - 55,000 square feet, not including outbuildings.
So four years ago, Pitkin
County, which has authority outside the city, got mildly tough and
set a limit on house size - 15,000 square feet and no more than
4,750 additional square feet in basement and garage. Today the
countryside is erupting with whole developments of houses built
right to the limit.
Such "monster homes' - a new
slang sums up the architecture - have become a fad in the West's
resort communities, where for decades the wealthy have congregated
or flitted through, but not so obviously.
their sheer bulk and often an opulence that is even harder to
ignore, the new monster homes dominate landscape and neighborhoods,
increasing surrounding property values and making it harder for
middle-class locals to buy.
Some communities are
taking extreme measures, saying that when it comes to square feet,
enough is enough.
Over the pass from Aspen, in
the resort town of Crested Butte, monster homes have been rejected.
The Crested Butte Town Council voted last summer to limit
single-family homes to 2,500 square feet in the historical core
district and 2,800 square feet in the rest of the
Crested Butte Planning Director John Hess
says that several massive homes imposed upon the former mining town
helped focus attention on the need to set limits. "People are
worried about the community losing historic scale," says
Gunnison County, which has authority for
the countryside outside Crested Butte, is considering floor-area
limits. "It's one of our primary points of review," says county
planner Steve Westbay.
"We have our fair share of
homes in the range of 10,000 to 12,000 square feet," says Westbay.
"We haven't seen any with 30,000 to 40,000 square feet yet, but I
think it's probably a matter of time."
resort towns have special leverage on monster homes that are
occupied only part of the year, as seasonal or vacation
In and around Park City, Utah, thanks
to a provision in state law, second homes have been put to work for
The Utah constitution offers a
"homestead exemption" on property taxes for primary residences.
Second homes are taxed nearly 50 percent more than primary
residences. As Park City Public Affairs Director Myles Rademan
says, "If you want to play you have to pay."
Despite the property-tax load, the Park City
Board of Realtors reports that sales of new second homes surpassed
last year's record pace. Seventy-one percent of the people who own
property in Park City live elsewhere.
subdivisions average 4,000 square feet (per house) and going up,"
says Rademan. "No one builds less than 4,000 square feet anymore,
and you see homes 6,000 to 10,000 square feet."
Such homes are built as "private family lodges,"
where generations of a family can come together, Rademan
Rademan says local residents get irked by
the monumental homes. "It tweaks the local consciousness that the
middle class is dissolving."
In and around the
resort town of Jackson, Wyo., there has been increasing concern
about new homes as large as 23,000 square feet, and three months
ago Teton County adopted a comprehensive plan that would limit
single-family homes to 8,000 square feet of "habitable space." The
Jackson Town Council is considering a similar
People in the Jackson community felt that
larger homes "were consuming far more resources than single-family
homes should," says Bill Collins, Teton County planning director.
The larger homes were seen as "changing the community's character,"
Collins says, and there was a "bulk and scale, visual-impact
Some towns and cities, such as Aspen,
regulate house size on a sliding scale that depends on the size of
the lot being built upon. Homes inside Aspen city limits top out at
6,000 square feet.
Yet this summer in Aspen,
controversy flared as new houses were built out of scale and sync
with neighborhoods of smaller Victorians and traditional mining
cottages that are in no way cheap themselves. The Aspen City
Council responded with a new ordinance that required a design
review for any house proposed to have 80 percent of the allowable
maximum floor area for each lot.
"We've got to
defang the monster," Aspen Mayor John Bennett told The Aspen Times.
"These homes sit like great, silent tombstones."
When real estate agents griped that giving up
even a couple hundred square feet would cost them hundreds of
thousands of dollars in sales commissions, two weeks ago the City
Council relaxed the new requirements
"We just want people to think about
where and what they're developing," says Leslie Lamont, deputy
director of planning for Aspen. "This isn't Boca Raton, Florida."
* Ray Ring, Alexei