Ramping up: Location makes house a fishbowl

ADDRESS: 860 St. Charles Avenue

ASKING: $349,950

SIZE: 2760 fin. sq. ft.



CURB APPEAL: 5 out of a possible 10

LISTED BY: Gene Fitzhugh of Montague, Miller & Co. 973-7706

Driving up to this house creates the feeling of being in a cartoon. First off, St. Charles Avenue has several unconnected segments, and if the directions aren't explicit, you can find yourself navigating a four-block section of downtown with increasing frustration. Heading east through the sturm und drang of the 250 Bypass, you take the Locust Avenue exit, but then this little street appears so quickly on the right (off the ramp) that you'll undoubtedly fly by and have to start again.

The second time around, take a sharp right, then immediately a swift and vertical left, and you're in the driveway. Do it at highway exit speed, and you just may feel as if you've left your spleen in the backseat.

First impression: height. This house rises from the earth like the proverbial phoenix– a tall phoenix.

"Brand, spanking new" comes to mind. But so does "boring," as the front walkway and entrance offer little charm or novelty. The property's appeal seems to be the proximity to Locust Avenue, enthusiastically described by the agent as the "Gold Coast."

The house has been constructed of solid materials and a builder's notion of what a house should contain: large rooms partitioned only by small protrusions from the walls, nine-foot ceilings, and glorious windows. Unfortunately, the latter open the house to the view of everyone whizzing along the by-pass. With lights on at night, the place will definitely win the Goldfish Bowl Award.

Whoever thought of locating the first floor master suite right next to the front door must have had quick exits in mind. It seems slightly odd to locate so near the site of UPS deliveries a room where one's most intimate and private acts are consummated. At the back of the house, the open kitchen and family room will probably become the family's center of operations. Open, and yet private (both inside and out), it's a place for kids to do homework, for dinner parties, or for couples to canoodle undetected.

There's not much to say about the second floor. Lots of space in the classic three-bedroom, two-bath layout. One noticeable little attribute is the gentle incline of the stairs. They're perfect for carrying babies, furniture, and perhaps also for those nights of tippling when floor heights can suddenly become shin-high barriers.

But new houses have a gleam that older homes just can't duplicate: no residual dust or cat dander, and no strange odors– just wide open spaces awaiting a decorator's touch. An air of possibility lingers here, as if the house itself waits with bated breath for the arrival of life.

This odd little dead-end near Locust already has several small, well-worn– but well-tended– brick ranchers. They don't currently jibe with the monolith rising in their midst, but that imbalance will soon change. The builder plans to develop the lot next door to this one (closer to the ramp) as well as two lots at the end (for bigger houses) where he plans to create a cul-de-sac.

One of the joys of driving along Locust is that each house has an individualistic style much like the owners themselves. Building lots are scarce, and in-fill's a good idea, but does every new house have to look the same? Many developers says they think outside the box, but they just keep on building them.