Small Footprints (Orcas Island, WA)

 

We live in an area right now that is sort of an old beach town currently undergoing a resurgence in popularity as the children who grew up playing here in the summers are now of an age to bring their own kids down for the summers to repeat history. Rusty old cabins in various stages of dereliction or upkeep are being reinhabited, torn down, renovated – the works. In this process, we’ve seen 600 square foot beach cabins torn down and replaced by newer, much larger homes as well as vacant lots purchased with modern sized homes (some of which can be very very large in comparison with the old beach cottages) built right next to old places. The resulting juxtaposition of a large, modern home next to a 60’s cabin can be a little curious.

What urges me to mention this is not so much to make a judgment, exactly, of any kind. It’s merely to note that it is not frequently (if ever) mentioned in lot or land covenants, that homes built in the area must not exceed certain square footages. Yet, property values (as well as the character of neighborhoods) are affected when a huge (or even just a large) home is built next to a small home that has been around for a long time, regardless of the home’s condition. The building of large homes can also damage property values, but this fact doesn’t seem to be noted with the same fervor that the opposite does.This past weekend we took a trip to look at some properties for sale in an area that we were considering moving to. The process of trying to imagine where to site a house, orchards, the garden and other things was enjoyable, though none of the land turned out to be suited to our needs or our budgets, quite. One thing that was thought provoking, though, was our examination at the end of the day of some paperwork relating to one of the properties we had looked at. Looking through the covenants relating to the set of acreages (these properties turned out to be “developments” in the loosest sense of the term. They weren’t gated communities and didn’t have matching houses, but the original division of land into acreages had details that went along with them, cc and r’s I guess is how you’d describe these restrictions). Among them was an architectural provision that insisted that all homes built in the area would be no less than 1200 square feet. I voiced some surprise at this limitation and the realtor was quick to point out that the thinking behind that provision was to protect property values in the area. That was fine with me, in particular since we weren’t going to be buying the property anyway (especially after seeing that provision!). But as with many things, the idea stuck in my mind and I’ve been thinking about it ever since the weekend.

A small bungalow turned restaurant. Located on Orcas Island in Eastsound, WA.

A small bungalow turned restaurant. Located on Orcas Island in Eastsound, WA.

I’m only musing in this blog entry, and I should wrap things up, as one person’s musings can become awfully tedious after the second paragraph! Let me just conclude that it has often been noted that the cultures of “the west,” in particular the US, is very individualistic in its focus, outlook, character, etc. But in many ways, we are a very homogenized culture. There is a tendency to only see in one direction, and that direction is generally to follow the way that the herd is going. It would appear that homes beneath 1200 square feet are sometimes regarded as a drag on property value, which is rather interesting since only a short time ago that very size was considered suitably large. Apparently we can’t really imagine a neighborhood of mixed sized homes that would individually suit the needs of the families they are supporting, be they retired couples, young families, multi-family homes, or single people. Perhaps this is a function resulting from the tendency of people to move frequently for their work, rather than to settle into places for the long haul. In any case, it will be interesting to see how the wider effects play out as we continue to follow the trend toward smaller, more human scaled and generally more efficient housing. That trend is here to stay, for certain, and I wonder if someday folks will be wandering a five acre lot somewhere only to find covenants restricting the building of homes over 1200 square feet.