450 BETZ PLACE – RENOVATION OR DEMOLITION?

The odd circumstance with this project is that my client wasn’t sure what to do with this house when he first bought it.  Should it be renovated or demolished?  Usually a client contacts you and says that they have a house that they want to renovate, restore or add on to, or they will contact you and say they have a piece of property that they want to build on, and that there is a building on the property that needs to be demolished.  There are pros and cons for either demolition or renovation.

The house was built in the 1940s and is one of the older houses in the neighborhood.  It has survived, while many of the neighboring houses of the same vintage have been torn down and replaced with substantially larger houses.  The property value of the real estate demands that there be a larger house.  (For reference the post http://michaelrouchell.posterous.com/renovation-of-450-betz-street-existng-exterio has existing exterior views of the house, and the post http://michaelrouchell.posterous.com/renovation-of-450-betz-street-existing-interi had existing interior views of the house.)

A plan for renovating and expanding the house to be comparable to the neighboring houses is shown at this post along with existing floor plans:  http://michaelrouchell.posterous.com/renovation-of-450-betz-place-existing-and-pro.  The renovation and expansion plans show building setbacks as being 25 foot front yard, 20 foot rear yard, 7 foot side yard and 10 foot side yard on the corner street frontage, which is a requirement of the R1-B SUBURBAN RESIDENTIAL DISTRICT.  But after further review of the zoning code it was determined that, because the lot was a sub-standard sized lot, the setback requirements default to the R1-A SINGLE FAMILY RESIDENTIAL DISTRICT, which requires a 20 foot front yard, 19 foot rear yard, 5 foot side yard and 10 foot side yard on the corner street frontage.  Because the existing building encroached into the 10 foot side yard on the Geranium Street side, an addition is allowed to also encroach into the 10 foot side yard as long as it doesn’t encroach more than the existing building, nor can the side yard be less than 3 feet. 

The reduced side yard opposite the corner street (from 7 feet to 5 feet) benefitted the plan for the additions greatly.  As seen on the proposed plan, the additions take the form of two wings extending from the rear of the existing house.  The wing near the Geranium Street has additional living spaces, including a great room, and a relocated dining room and kitchen.  The wing on the opposite side has the master suite.  By increasing the width of the master suite by the 2 feet gained in the side yard reduction, the laundry room is able to be relocated near the master bathroom from its cramped location near the kitchen.  It would now be accessible from both the master bathroom and wardrobe area, be accessible from the hallway just outside the master suite.  This allows the space where the laundry room originally was located to be a butler’s pantry.  In addition, circulation from the garage to the kitchen can be greatly improved.

The problem with this house is the few options available for expanding the house.  The ceiling height under the existing second floor bedrooms at 6’-10” is too low for habitable rooms, and the floor elevation is about 14 inches below the main first floor elevation, which puts it below the base flood elevation.  By default, the garage has to go under the existing second floor bedrooms.  The front entrance is where it is, and to get a clear circulation path to the two new wings, requires that the existing dining room be sacrificed and converted into a larger foyer.

My client is now leaning towards demolishing the house.  Here is a list of problems associated with the proposed renovation that is favors demolition:

1.       The location of the garage:  My client has an issue with the garage location.  Even though the original garage was originally located where it is proposed, my client is bothered by the garage being located in such a prominent place on the site rather than at the rear of the property facing Geranium Street.

2.       The rear yard is too small:  The wing additions minimize the rear yard.  With the pool accessory building as proposed, the rear yard(s) ends up being three small spaces, a center courtyard with a lap pool, and two small yards located behind each wing addition.  It should also be pointed out that locating the master suite on the first floor level is one of my client’s requirements, otherwise, the master suite could have been stacked above the great room/dining/kitchen wing.

3.       Excessive circulation space:  The circulation spaces need to get from the great room to the master bed room is excessive.  Also, the travel distance from the front door to the kitchen is excessive and this bothers my client as well.

   

The property has two large oak trees that are located near the rear property line.  They are minimally affected by the proposed expansions, but if a new house were built on the site, and the garage were located all the way towards the rear (which is where my client would like the garage to be located), the oak tree nearest to Geranium Street would have to be cut down.  This tree has a trunk diameter of about 3 feet and has large branches that extend over the rear neighbors house and yard.  The neighbor’s house has a rear garage that faces Geranium Street, and its foundations are uncomfortably close to this existing tree.  To build another garage foundation just as close as the neighbor’s garage would most certainly result in the tree’s demise.

As if the oak tree were not enough of an issue, there are overhead utility lines that run along the rear property line (The wires run through the tree foliage), and along Geranium Street.  At the intersection of these lines is a utility pole with a couple of electrical transformers.  It also happens to be located where the driveway would likely go. 

So, to create a new house with a plan that works for my client, the old house would have to be demolished, the large oak tree with the 3 foot diameter trunk would have to be removed without damaging the rear neighbor’s roof, and the utility pole would have to be relocated.  There are few options of where to relocate the utility pole since it supports overhead lines in two directions.

What’s more, the old house provides a benchmark for the quality and craftsmanship that is expected in the new additions.  If the house were demolished, this benchmark no longer exists.  It then becomes easy to cheapen the new construction, and the end result could be less desirable.  This is another concern I have with demolishing the old house.

I am recommending that the house not be demolished, and the renovation/expansion scheme be developed further.  However, my client continues to talk to builders (who prefer to build new houses rather renovate old houses) who recommend that the house be torn down.  I have told him to not proceed with the demolition, since I am a long way from completing construction drawings for whatever he decides to do, and that because the demolition would take only 2 to 3 days, there was no need to hurry; it wasn’t causing any delay.  (The house doesn’t hold any sentimental value to him; it’s not like it was the house that he grew up in, but I still fear that he would regret demolishing the house, especially when confronted with the issues with the tree and the utility pole.)  The problems with the renovation/expansion proposal seem insignificant; you have to make the plan work as best you can, and can’t expect it to be perfect.

I have prepared a design for a new house for the lot just in case he insists that the house be demolished.  I will post the plans and elevations in a future post. 

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