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There's no doubt about it: Today's homes are big and getting bigger. The average American home more than doubled in size between 1950 and 2004 -- from 983 square feet to 2,349 square feet. According to the U.S. Census' Survey of Construction, 10,000 new homes constructed in 2004 and 2005 were 6,000 square feet or larger.

While some proponents would point to the increased property values and influx of tax funds that McMansions can bring to a neighborhood, it can be tough to look at the bright side when a towering "starter castle" is blocking your sun.

Here are five tips for preserving the character of your neighborhood:

1. Be proactive. Assemble your neighbors into a homeowners group before trouble starts. A neighborhood association lets you speak with a more unified voice that can be heard by city hall better than a few neighbors.

2. Create covenants. "If you really want to stop this, get together with your friends, get a lawyer and develop covenants on architectural style and size" for your neighborhood, before it becomes an issue, said Robert Lang, a professor and the director of the Metropolitan Institute, a research institute tied to Virginia Tech. In Lang's neighborhood of flat-roofed, modernist homes, for example, he's not allowed to add a garage. This works in communities with unified architectural styles.

What's your home worth?

3. Think historical. Occasionally, neighborhoods can find protection against big change by securing state or federal historic district status. But did you know that some cities also can designate historic districts?

4. Remember: Change happens. Be realistic; neighborhoods do change over time. "Maybe through the discussions, 'no, no, no' is the answer” to whether a big house should be built, said Chuck Schlabach, president of the Naperville Area Homeowners Confederation in Illinois, which includes 140 associations in a city that has seen major change. But "yes" might be the answer, too, Schlabach said. "By being more organized and being more positive, you'll get more done. There is a way to win, but you've got to keep the other party in mind as you move toward that. It's got to be win-win." This might mean being creative and imposing energy-consumption restraints, rather than outright square-footage caps, for example.

5. Read up. Want to build a home that meshes well with a neighborhood or devise guidelines for new and remodeled homes in your area? Community First, an Illinois group of architects, residents and developers, has developed a "Workbook for Successful Redevelopment" ($19.95) to help homeowners identify architectural elements that characterize their neighborhoods and define processes to protect that character. Some sample pages are available here.