Again: What’s The Case For Sameness?

I’m once again struck by the extent to which legal regimes embed the notion that sameness, as such, is a value worth preserving. Here’s Kelly Matlock reporting on a proposed development that would replace a vacant lot that’s inside a historic district:

In her testimony to the HPRB yesterday, Green stated, “The Takoma Central District Plan specifically addresses height. It states that ‘new commercial and residential buildings should be no more than 2–4 stories in height to match existing residential scale’ and to preserve Takoma’s ‘small/town village character’.”

She continued by saying that, “The Takoma Overlay District permits heights of up to 55 feet, but as I also understand it, you have the ability to reduce the height, as needed, on case-by-case basis.”

Note, again, that we’re not talking about knocking down a historic structure and replacing it with a new one. We’re talking about replacing a vacant lot. Yes, it’s a vacant lot in a historic district. But it’s a vacant lot. And we’re being urged by members of the community to restrict the size of the new development — a move that has citywide implications for housing affordability, the tax base, etc. — in order “to match existing residential scale.” Obviously, though, no neighborhood as it currently exists could have been built if not for the fact that at some point in the past new structures weren’t erected that failed to match what existed previously. And it’s not at all clear to me why we would think it’s the case that, as a rule, conformity is an important aesthetic value that needs to be balanced against other economic and environmental considerations. If someone was objecting to a proposed new building on the grounds that it’s ugly well then that would make perfect sense. Nobody wants to see something they think is ugly go up across the street. But the problem with the new building is just that it’s not the same as other buildings nearby? Who cares?