Cape Cod Residents Decry Rise of Large Homes

Around the country, buyers are scooping up real estate, knocking down old houses, and building grand new mansions. It's a trend that's finally coming to Cape Cod, birthplace of the original summer cottage. Some residents worry the demolitions are slowly erasing the cape's traditional character. From member station WBUR, Monica Brady-Myerov reports.

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Cape Cod has been a popular vacation spot for generations.

(Soundbite of song)

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Quaint little villages here and there. You're sure...

Unidentified Woman: You're sure to fall in love with old Cape Cod.

Unidentified Group: Old Cape Cod.

INSKEEP: The cape's old-fashioned charm is being threatened. Cape houses, typically one-story cottages, are being torn down to build huge vacation homes in some places. Year-round residents complain that this is changing the character of Cape Cod. From member station WBUR in Boston, Monica Brady-Myerov reports.

MONICA BRADY-MYEROV reporting:

Susan Browner(ph) treads a broken-shell path to Nantucket Sound.

Ms. SUSAN BROWNER (Cape Cod Resident): This is Bank Street Beach.

BRADY-MYEROV: Browner has what few are lucky enough to own, a half-acre of land in Harwichport with beach access. Her home is quintessential Cape Cod. The main building is a half-cape built in 1750 with weathered shingles. Eight years ago Browner bought and renovated the cottages where she spent her childhood summers. Now she's selling to move to Boston. But Browner, who's a historic preservationist, refuses to sell to anyone who wants to tear it down and build a new house.

Ms. BROWNER: The asking price for the house is $1,750,000, and I put it officially on the market in March, and to date, I've had nine full-price tear-down offers.

BRADY-MYEROV: Browner used to have a view of the beach from her family room, but now it's in the shadow of a recently built two-story, seven-bedroom vacation home. The home replaced a cottage built in the 1940s. Browner says she doesn't want her property sales to add to the building craze.

Ms. BROWNER: I think that we teach our children by example. I don't want to add to what I consider a growing problem on the cape.

BRADY-MYEROV: Browners says towns don't have clear standards to prevent the construction of new houses that are out of character with the neighborhood. Towns all over the cape are getting requests for demolishing and rebuilding, says developer Bill Marsh.

Mr. BILL MARSH (Developer): The reason that there are so many tear-downs is that it's all about the three great rules of real estate: Location, location, location. It's the same as it's always been. And the locations have gotten to be far more valuable than the value of the house that sits on the land.

BRADY-MYEROV: Marsh says the market is driving the trend because the old cottages are substandard compared to what's built today. Owners want their vacation homes to have landscaping, a bathroom for every bedroom and a kitchen with all the latest appliances. But many residents say the new multi-story mansions are changing the appearance of the cape. James Mischler has sold properties in the mid-Cape region for 25 years.

Mr. JAMES MISCHLER (Developer): It's just something about character, something about ambiance. Most of these are ersatz Victorian. They've all got more or less the same look. Let's put a tower in one corner, let's have a Palladian window. Oh, isn't it lovely? Well, they're wiping out in certain areas the nice little cottages that were there.

(Soundbite of construction)

BRADY-MYEROV: In Harwichport, construction workers nail shingles on a new, two-story home. In this neighborhood of elbow-to-elbow cottages, some new owners bought and demolished two or three of them to make room for a large house. A few blocks away, Pamela Chatterton-Purdy(ph) sits on her porch and laments the fabric of the cape being pulled apart.

Ms. PAMELA CHATTERTON-PURDY (Resident): It's the history of the cape that's being ripped down, because these beautiful homes that were farmers' homes, summer cottages...

BRADY-MYEROV: Purdy's husband David says the new home owners are bringing suburbia with them.

DAVID: You have these fancy gardens, you have the well-manicured lawns. That has changed the character of Cape Cod. People used to come here because they didn't have to take care of all that stuff.

BRADY-MYEROV: But builder Marsh says that stuff is what his clients want in their new homes.

Mr. MARSH: I think buyers are generally--I hate to say it, but a little insensitive about what the neighbors think.

BRADY-MYEROV: Town administrators say larger homes add hundreds of thousands of dollars to their budget, and absentee owners put little demand on town services and schools. Real estate experts say the building trend has no end in sight. The cape has international appeal, and agents say in comparison to other resort areas, Cape Cod cottages are underpriced. For NPR News, I'm Monica Brady-Myerov in Boston.

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