Some of the neighbors who live closest to David Valentine's immaculate rambler know him as a kind neighbor who checks on elderly neighbors and takes out their garbage.

Valentine, 66, has lived in his house for 37 years. He loves the street he lives on, his neighbors and the house that he has tailored to his hobbies and tastes.

But now, a two-story, 3,600-square-foot house rising next door has him thinking of moving out.

"I planned to die here," he said recently. "But I don't know if I can stay."

His peace ended this summer, after the elderly man in the small home next door on Hankerson Avenue died and a builder bought the house. While the new house being built next door is not big by Edina standards, it stretches along the snug 50-foot-wide lot, with bedroom windows that overlook the deck and backyard that Valentine considers his private retreat.

While much of the teardown debate in Edina has focused on details like building heights, setbacks and construction traffic, Valentine's dilemma -- to stay in his home as the neighborhood evolves around him, or to leave -- goes to the root of resident fears about redevelopment. At least one City Council member has expressed concern about allowing large new homes on small lots.

Record teardowns

Teardowns are skyrocketing in Edina this year, with 2012 demolition permits for single-family dwellings hitting 87 as of late November. The previous record for an entire year was 53, and city officials say they wouldn't be surprised to see the number hit 100 before year's end.

For longtime residents like Valentine, the large homes that now pock streets lined with ramblers and small Cape Cods can seem overwhelming, destroying the sense of community they valued. He calls it "class warfare," and is afraid of how he might react to the people who buy the home.

"I'm not against new homes," Valentine said. "But this feels like divide and conquer. This was my little retirement home, and now I've lost my privacy....

"You can't expect to have the old neighbors. But I'll never know these people like I know the lady across the street."

For developer Jeff Schoenwetter of JMS Custom Homes, the homes he's building on Hankerson -- he owns another lot across the street -- are a community investment, replacing obsolete properties with homes that people want to live in. Instead of contributing to urban sprawl, he said, the new homes are being built where there is already water and sewer and streets. He said they boost property values, acting as a confidence builder for other residents who see that their homes have value and are worth investing in.

That's responsible development, he said.

"I feel bad that David Valentine is unhappy; we don't set out to make anybody unhappy," Schoenwetter said. "He's in a rambler, and we built a two-story. ... Those bedrooms will be occupied predominately at night. I don't think kids are going to be sitting there watching what he's doing on his deck."

Neighborhoods 'fragile'

Hankerson Avenue is a microcosm of neighborhoods across the country, said University of Minnesota cultural studies Prof. John Archer, an expert on suburbs.

"Neighborhoods are somewhat fragile things," he said. "The people who already live there grew to love what they had, and then someone comes in and says, 'I'm going to change your whole environment...'

"There's a certain expectation, and a very unfortunate fallacy, that owning property of an immovable sort is somehow a guarantee that things will persist. We like to think of buildings as durable, but frankly, anything in this country that has a monetary value can be changed."

Retired from the printing industry, Valentine describes himself as "married" to his house, much of which was remodeled to fit his interest in music and video. He shares the house with his rescue cocker spaniel, Nimbus.

Outside, the large deck that once looked out on his neighbor's roof faces the wall of the new house. Now, even the privacy slats that he mounts on the deck railing in summer won't shield the deck, he said. He could never plant trees tall enough to create a privacy screen.

Valentine directs much of his ire at the city, saying it shouldn't allow big houses on 50-foot lots. Although Edina's building code has been changed in recent years to limit the spread of "monster houses," in many neighborhoods residents still object to the scale and size of new homes.

Maintaining integrity

It's an issue the city needs to keep an eye on, said Council Member Joni Bennett. Bennett lives in Morningside, where the teardown rate is escalating. She would like to see some building rules tightened, and is concerned about construction on small lots and the effect it has on neighbors.

With small homes disappearing, she worries about losing residents who are downsizing but don't want to move into a condo.

"Over the years we've been attractive to a lot of different people for a lot of different reasons," Bennett said. "I hope we are mindful about not losing that."

Archer said that conflict may be inevitable when big houses pop up in neighborhoods of little houses. Though people say they value diversity, he said, neighborhood unity is usually stronger in areas where residents have similar houses and incomes.

Managing change is a challenge for cities, Archer said. In older areas, they can try to control change by defining historic districts. But that can create clashes with property rights. They can try to control aesthetics through building regulations. But the more restrictive those rules get, the more likely they are to face a court challenge.

Or they can embrace change.

"Maybe a generation down the line, people in Edina will say, 'Wow, look at how things turned over, and weren't we smart to help that happen. Property values increased, and the end result was good," Archer said.

"Or they could say, 'We let money have its say, and look at the jumble that remains. We let everybody chase their own fancy."

Schoenwetter is honest about the future of Valentine's house: "I believe that in time, his house will also be redeveloped, either remodeled or razed."

Recently Valentine went to the JMS offices to air his complaints. The company offered to buy him out, something he is considering.

"I'm a yo-yo," he said. "A week ago I was out of here. But I love my family ..."

Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380 Twitter: @smetan