“Boulder isn’t just for the rich”

The Daily Camera featured an article today about a physicist complaining about “McMansions” in Boulder, called “scrape-offs,” that fill an entire lot. This has been a phenomenon nationwide. I first heard about it last year. A resident of a city (can’t remember where) was campaigning to outlaw building these types of houses in her town. It made the national news. Due to current real estate tastes, people want large houses. They’re trying to “keep up with the Joneses.” I’m not sure what effect this has on the value of surrounding, smaller houses. It may make the land value go up, in fact, because the value of the “McMansion” that’s put in its place will be so much higher than the smaller house that’s already there.

One can hardly blame ambitious people wanting to do this in a town like Boulder, with its increasing land values. Boulder has already shown itself to be an immensely profitable place to own real estate.

I suppose the larger houses tend to attract a more upscale clientelle when a house in the neighborhood goes up for sale, who also want a house as large as the biggest one on the block, or larger. People complain that it changes the character of the neighborhood. I can imagine.

The physicist, Jim Faller, sounds like someone with a lot of time on his hands though. The article quotes him as saying, “My house is ruined.” And then goes on to say:

He said he feels the sentimental value of his house and neighborhood will only be lowered as more surrounding houses are razed. His house, though, has increased in value to about $800,000 to $1 million since he bought it in 1971 for $60,000, he said.

Ruined? Hardly. Maybe the sentimental feel of the place is ruined, but certainly not its value–a $740,000-$940,000 profit is not shabby at all. If that’s ruination I wonder what he’d consider “adequate.”

One thing Faller said that I couldn’t let pass without comment is, “Boulder isn’t just for the rich.” Au contraire. In case he hasn’t noticed, due to Boulder’s restrictive land use policies (ie. building the Green Belt to prevent sprawl), Boulder is just for the rich–unless you don’t mind living in a trailer park. We have a few of those here. I guess he didn’t notice that many of the common folk left a while ago and that he’s likely in the minority. I’m not saying this is the way it should be. It’s the result of choices that Boulder has made over the course of a few decades in the name of preserving the natural beauty. There are other towns in the West that did the same thing, with similar results. Check out the real estate values of homes near Jackson in Wyoming, just south of Grand Teton National Park. You can scarcely find a home that’s worth less than $1 million.

Every choice has benefits and costs. The question should be whether the benefits outweigh the costs, not what will solve all of our problems. There’s rarely a solution that doesn’t come with costs.

Apparently Boulder is quite satisfied with the current state of affairs:

Susan Richstone, acting long-range division manager for the city’s planning department, said the Planning Board has urged the City Council to take up the issue of scrape-offs, but it hasn’t because of a lack of public concern.

Uh huh. I bet.

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One Response to “Boulder isn’t just for the rich”

  1. sarah says:

    I agree, I am a college student and I live here now, half of my friends drive audi’s and other upscale cars and pay over $1375 a month for rent in a rundown two bedroom apt.. I’d love to settle down in Boulder, but there’s a fat chance for that considering most jobs either pay nothing, or require a PHD, and most houses are taken or over priced.

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