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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Toll Brothers is Hungry: Eating Our Land and Spitting it Back Out

One of the nation’s largest developers is gobbling up our precious open spaces and spitting them back out in drastically altered pieces. Unfortunately, the McMansions Toll Brothers is planting on former farmland throughout Bucks County, Pennsylvania will only yield poor attempts to satisfy families' hunger for the American Dream.

Bucks County, Pennsylvania – known for rolling hills, quaint riverside towns, open spaces and working farms. Well, it used to be that way at least. Toll Brothers is now offering “luxury living you can't afford to miss!” on what used to be farmland next to my home. The necessary luxury they offer comes in the shape of 6,000 square foot luxury estate homes “exceptionally priced from the low- 800’s”well, more on the order of $1.6 million according to the saleslady I spoke with.

My moderately-sized house used to lie wedged in between, and across the street from, hundreds of acres of working farmland. Throughout my childhood, we had the suggestion of neighbors with a few scattered homes down the road.

As I grew up, however, I watched the farmland in our county be devoured by developers eager to capitalize on the landscape and location. Estate homes, villas, age-restricted housing, gated communities, luxury single-family homes, McMansions – these words entered into my vocabulary as a very young adult. I used to lie awake and wonder when we would get word that the farmland next to us would be turned into such a place.

The day of reckoning has come for the surrounding farmland. “The Highlands at Chapman’s Corner” is here, and it is impossible not to take note. Besides the seemingly endless road construction, approximately 20 single-family luxury homes now blight the landscape. They are oddly smushed together and seemingly self-conscious without any trees to soften their exposed edges. The houses come in a variety of flavors: colonial, federal, collegial, columnar, tudor, idiotic, and ugly. “The Highlands of Chapman’s Corner” represents conspicuous consumption at its finest.

I explored the model home the other day; read on to hear more and view what I saw, and get a sense of what the carbon footprint of this single-family home looks like...

The model home boasts six bathrooms, a gigantic master bedroom suite (see photo), three staircases, a three-car garage, thirty-foot ceilings, sunporches, offices, parlors, more closets than I could count on two hands, and the list goes on. The house literally screams quantity not quality as its poorly insulated windows climb the walls to the vaulted ceilings. The only part that appealed to me in the slightest was the wine cellar (and maybe the foozeball table). Perhaps the MOST ridiculous thing I spotted was this note on a coffee table! (If you can't read it, it says: "I am sitting in my beautiful sunroom, built by Toll Brothers, enjoying my serenity.")

The conversion of working farmland into roughly 20 single-family homes is an act of violence against our land. Giant dirt-movers arrived and systematically shifted every ounce of soil, re-organized and molded the landscape of the suburban American Dream. They formed artificial rifts and valleys without consulting the natural contours of the land or the flow of water after a fierce rainfall.

Such homes are also a slap in the face to millions of people in our own country struggling to house their families. Such a monstrosity could easily house more than twenty people.

Regarding the carbon footprint, it'd be a little challenging to get an exact number, but a Professor that Jesse Jenkins is working with provided an offhand estimate of what the energy consumption would look like. His estimate is that this Toll Brothers McMansion would consume five to eight times more energy than a typical single-family home in the region, just for heat! It would likely consume 25,000-40,000 kWh over the annual heating season; with energy at about 10 cents/kWH that would total $2,500-$4,000 just to the heat the house over the winter. If they heat with natural gas, it would probably be more.

These McMansions are not my dream with their insultingly large footprints, intercom systems, shoddy construction, and thoughtless placement. These houses breed discontent while promoting our endless cycle of consumer want, as evidenced by the unhappy couple I witnessed arguing in the living room of the model home over the size of their future abode.

When wealthy Americans travel the roads of more leads to more, we need more now, and excess, they may find themselves at the door of Toll Brothers. I just hope they have the sense to turn around before they invest their money in cardboard dreams.


Anonymous said...

Did you say TROLL Brothers?
That would be apropo!
I also live in disgust at the use of scarce resources e.g. farmland, to grow McMansions and ashphalt.
I read the other day that the last fruit canning factory in North America EAST OF THE ROCKIES was closing in my own province (Southern Ontario-Niagara fruit belt). Fruit canning would still be in "North America" in Vancouver. Silly me I thought, why transport the peaches west to can them and ship them back? Duh, the fruit now gets shipped from China. I hear China has its own problems w. farmland conversion these days...Hello, sutainability anyone?

Anonymous said...

perfect post. That was exactly what I was looking

Chervil said...

McMansions are like a cancer that is eating its way through every society, destroying farmland and communities in the process. We have exactly the same issue here in rural Australia and it is heart-breaking to watch.