Garrett Park was established in the 1890's on a couple hundred acres of open farm land adjacent to the B&O Railroad, about half way between the cities of Silver Spring and Rockville in the state of Maryland, USA.  Its namesake, Robert Garrett, president of B&O, promised the original developers extra trains and free daily delivery of up to 60 pounds of freight.   An 1887 brochure assured home-seekers and investors that they could “confidently count on rapidly increasing value”.  By 1891, a half dozen three-story Victorian style “cottages” had been built.  More followed.   A variety of native trees, some still standing, were planted along the winding streets.  The town was incorporated in 1898.

By 1924 the population had swelled to over 200 people, mostly families living in what at the time were considered large homes.  That same year, a syndicate of retired WWI veterans set out to mass produce smaller homes in order to make the amenities of Garrett Park affordable to people of modest means.  “What about our property values?” cried the occupants of the new Victorian houses.  But progress prevailed and some fifty tiny houses were sprinkled around the town. They came with an option to include in the purchase a brand new Chevrolet, all for less than $6000.  Many of these “Chevy” houses have been modified but some are still recognizable by the tell-tale arch above the entrance to the small porch.

After WWII there was a huge demand for housing all over the country and much of the open space in Garrett Park was taken up with a variety of individually tailored homes,  not too many of any one style. By the early 1970's there were only a few vacant lots and most of those have since been occupied.  Rising property values, the scarcity of vacant lots and a growing preference for interior space have made it profitable to demolish some of the modest houses in town and replace them with one or two new ones that often dwarf their neighbors and seem too large for the size of the lot.

This phenomenon began to accelerate around the turn of the milleneum.The Town Council, in response to an outcry from concerned citizens, took a bold step in 2001 by passing a six-month moratorium on demolition to allow the people to catch their breath and discuss what was happening. The Town's historic preservation committee met several times to explore the possibility of tighter restrictions on the overall size, especially the height of new homes. Thanks to former mayor Peggy Pratt, Garrett Park was already listed on the national register of historic places in 1975. Several older homes are designated as historic sites such that any changes to them must be approved by Montgomery County officials. The possibility of extending those protections to the entire town was not a popular idea. People feared that it would lead to over-regulation, with every change in or addition to any home having to be approved by a cumbersome bureaucracy. Six months went by without any official action and mansionization quickly resumed.

An alternative and less controversial approach to checking the spread of over-development is through promotion of conservation easements, usually held by a land trust or by the county or state. This approach has been widely used to preserve forest and agricultural land and is beginning to spread to urban settings. It provides a mechanism whereby individuals, who want to voluntarily limit future development on their property can do so by giving an easement in which the limits are spelled out. Although such restrictions can diminish the value of the property vis-a-vis what it could bring from a developer, the diminution in appraised value may qualify as a charitable gift for income tax purposes, providing partial recoupment for the owners. The Garrett Park Conservation Trust was formed in 2002 for the purpose of accepting, monitoring and enforcing such easements.

The trend toward larger houses and the consequent loss of open space is not unique to Garrett Park. Older established communities around the Washington D.C. area and many other cities in the country are experiencing a similar phenomenon. In nearby Bethesda, houses are being rapidly demolished and replaced with larger ones. Garrett Park has an overlay zoning ordinance that requires new houses to be at least ten feet from the side whereas the county at large requires only seven feet. The result is large tall homes with dark narrow passageways between them. For an example click here.

Learn more about Teardowns and McMansions around the nation.