Fifteen years ago I noticed a neighborhood house that had been completely demolished except for the front wall. It looked like a plywood movie-set for a Western. Nothing about it made sense and there it stood for a year or two and then someone came in and built a house behind it. At some point the vestigial wall disappeared or was absorbed and now nobody remembers what was there before. The new house is massive. I think it ate the wall.

I wondered at the time if it was an effort to keep the neighbors calm so they got used to seeing the front of the old house and thinking everything was on the up and up. Like, they’d add a little bobblehead hound in the window, and a cardboard cowboy silhouette with his arm waving, Howdy, Howdy! And they wouldn’t notice things getting darker and darker until their own house was in total eclipse.

Builders don’t like objections from the neighbors. They’re not above a little subterfuge, which is French for horseshit. I recall seeing an ominous red ribbon around a magnificent old tree on my route once and I confronted the developer about it. Oh that, he said. Yeah. We had a tree guy come out and look at it and it’s rotten at the base. It has to come down before it falls on someone.

Two weeks later the magnificent tree was a sawdust memory and the magnificent tree’s trunk was clean and unblemished, but something must have been a little off about it, because it turned into a condo. The tree inspector is on his private island and can’t be reached for comment.

Well, I’ve seen plenty of remaindered house bits since then. It’s a thing. I haven’t got the authentic story yet, but pretending a new development is actually just a remodel gives the builder either tax advantages or breaks on permits. They don’t need the whole front wall, either. Why, you can do a substantial remodel on a small portion of siding.

It’s like Michael Jackson retaining one original earlobe.

That’s what happened around the corner. Tiny little house there, and one day whoosh it was gone, and was replaced by a utility pole with a box of electricity on it, and a little sign with a phone number you can call if you have erosion concerns. They don’t mean erosion of the neighborhood, per se. A while later the utility pole had a dab of the old siding nailed to it. I’m pulling something over on the taxpayers, the dab of siding said, if you squinted at it just right, and it’s all perfectly legal. I thought nailing the old house-bit to the upright was a little biblical and over-the-top, but it was just temporary. I will be damned if they didn’t get the whole new house framed up and then reattached the old siding to the corner.

And then they sided over it.

I always thought a remodel was when you came in and added a toity and put in new sheetrock and cabinets. This sucker was remodeled like the Allies remodeled Dresden.

I’m in favor of building codes. And thoughtful housing policy. As far as I can tell, all this does for the city is fatten up the tax base. The same number of people probably live in the new house only with more space and money around them. There’s probably a lot of insulation and a heat pump and energy efficiencies but it’s still heating an extra 4000 square feet. And repurposing a forest to do it.