Last month at the International Builders Show (IBS) in Orlando, Fla., I had an opportunity to walk the site of two homes that will be showcased at next year's convention. One of the side-by-side projects — currently under construction in Orlando's historic downtown — is The New American Home, a regular IBS project that is featured in BUILDER magazine, our sister publication. The second building, dubbed The Renewed American Home, will be featured in our February 2007 issue.

I'm anxious to preview the finished projects, but what got me interested initially were the circumstances leading up to the unique juxtaposition of new and newly remodeled buildings on what is essentially the same site. The homes will sit on a corner parcel formerly occupied by a trailer and a circa 1920s home in an advanced state of disrepair. The owner of the real estate, a local builder, had intended to build two new homes after removing the trailer and razing the existing home. As it happens, however, the existing home was classified as an historic structure and could not be demolished. Moreover, any remodeling of the building, including any addition that might be annexed, must preserve and restore the exterior design and materials.

Forced March True, the compliant solution in this case is somewhat artificial because manufacturers will donate materials and products in return for the marketing value of being associated with the projects. But the builder and remodeler assume all risk, including purchase price for the lot and existing structure, all labor and subcontractor costs, any materials not donated, and any costs associated with resale.

What we do have, though, is a remodeling project that was essentially forced into being by local government. That's the same local government I hear so many people moaning and groaning about every time a similar scenario plays out in cities where sprawl and “controlled growth” have become issues. And these days, that's just about everywhere.

Whether it's restrictions on building height or set-backs or issues surrounding design review, the reaction of the local construction community is typically one of protest against over-regulation and rhetoric about property rights. Don't get me wrong, some of these gripes are legitimate. For one thing, most building departments are organized in such a way that actions applied to new construction automatically affect remodeling, whether the issues are related or not. An argument can also be made that piling on requirements and restrictions without increasing manpower to process permits and variance applications is “anti-business.”

Fair enough. But in many cases, these knee-jerk reactions of builders and remodelers are rapidly becoming outmoded. You only have to look to the code changes in jurisdictions along the Gulf Coast to see that the construction landscape is no longer ruled by a frontier mentality. Somehow it's easier to justify regulation when lack of it costs money, but the issues are the same whether it's impact-resistant glass requirements or design review. These days it's clearer than ever that the actions of one affect many, and that both new construction and remodeling need to respect each other as well as the natural and built environments.

Forward Thinking These are not new ideas. Among my favorite thinkers on this subject is prominent conservationist Aldo Leopold, who wrote the following:

“If in a city we had six vacant lots available to the youngsters of a certain neighborhood for playing ball, it might be ‘development' to build houses on the first, and the second, and the third, and the fourth, and even the fifth, but when we build houses on the last one, we forget what houses are for. The sixth house would not be development at all, but rather it would be mere short-sighted stupidity. ‘Development' is like Shakespeare's virtue, ‘which grown into a pleurisy, dies of its own too-much.'”

Leopold died in 1948. A strong proponent of respect for land and for controlled development, it is only now that the depth of his thinking is beginning to be fully realized.

Better late than never.

Sal Alfano
Editorial Director