PANORAMIC COASTAL VIEWS



  One unfortunate thing about the design of this house is that the tower is too short, regulated by a very severe zoning restriction.  A 35-foot building height is really common in many ordinances where our houses are located.  However, in Virginia Beach the way in which height is measured is very peculiar.  For some….


Designing to maximize views on waterfront property



An important design feature for a coastal home is to enjoy the view to the max. Often this means devoting the first floor to bedrooms, leaving the second floor, or a third floor for the principal living space where the household will spend most of its daylight hours. Sometimes we are able to provide a….


CONTEMPORARY CRAFTSMAN, OPEN FOR VIRTUAL TOUR



This house is designed for a picturesque beachfront lot on the Chesapeake Bay, locally known as Chick’s Beach in Virginia Beach.  We label it “contemporary” because it has a very open floor plan, with Great Room-Kitchen-and Dining in a single room open to a covered porch deck facing the beach.  The Master Bedroom is on the third….


Anatomy of a Modern Farmhouse, plan



According to the building style trend trackers the Modern Farmhouse is “In”.  As we read the hype, this style calls for covered porches on the front an rear and a very open floor plan with first floor master. We have named this model plan Knots Island Farmhouse    


Under 1,000 SF can provide an open plan



Our Sunshine Villas design has five different 2BR condo units, all under 1,000 SF.  All plans have convenient parking under the buildings. All plans have covered balcony decks looking to western view of Chesapeake Bay beach sunsets.  All units have open floor plans for current life style living.  Unit F is depicted in our display….


Making ten condo owners happy campers



Sunshine Villas Currently we are designing a ten-unit condominium on a very narrow property in the Ocean View area of Norfolk. It is replacing a condominium that was destroyed by fire. Some challenges for this project are parking 24 cars on the property, build on pilings and provide apartment units the same size of the….


Livability in a Tiny House



LIVABILITY IN A TINY HOUSE This house model has been featured on Small House Bliss dot Com. is a “high volume” pin on Pinterest. There are three bedrooms in our version, including a Master Bedroom on the first floor. The living area of the entire house is just 1,112 SF. It has been constructed in many cities….


12 FOOT WIDE HOUSE PLAN FOR A NARROW URBAN LOT



12 FOOT WIDE HOUSE PLAN FOR A NARROW URBAN LOT This 12 foot wide house plan (The Pencil) features 2 bedrooms and 2 1/2 baths. It is designed for the unusual situation when a severely limited lot condition requires a home to be just 12 feet wide. Such plans can be quite livable as witnessed in….


How to Decide – Love It or List It



How to Decide – Love It or List It This Love It or List It adventure resulted in additional living area and architectural improvements that were less expensive than knocking it down and building from scratch. The roof was elevated in this design and the shed dormer on front and rear provide two bedrooms and….


Living in a small house just could be where It’s a Wonderful Life



As the economy has constricted the size of a new house has been diminishing too. [Five Reasons to buy a small house] That may be a good thing. There is coincidentally a growing body of current literature that promotes introspective living, less materialism and more focus on a lifestyle of simplicity. A sample of this….


ACCESSORY DWELLING UNITS = affordable housing made easy



Locating affordable housing opportunities in an already existing neighborhood can get very controversial when a project for a pocket of such households is proposed to be located where none has existed before.  On the other hand planners, funding agencies and the even the public at large are likely to find agreement in the concept of….


Where to park cars – old urbanism vs new urbanism



In the days before automobiles dominated the neighborhood streets a single family car could park on the street in front of a house or in an alley behind the house, or on the side of the house, or in a detached garage behind the house.  Urban streets were historically never equipped to deal with multiple….


The alternative to extending Light Rail now is a Grim Tale



Light Rail “nay sayers” have a view of the future that our choice is between (1) more and wider roads, or (2) a fixed rail link between regional communities that is likely to run in the red for the near term. Choice (1) is folly since building roads destroys the environment and fossil fuels will….


Four reasons to encourage and preserve NON-STANDARD BUILDING LOTS



What is a non-standard lot and how do they happen? Trying to fit a house on an odd shaped lot or a lot that is not the same as the majority of other lots in a neighborhood is the frequent cause of needing to apply for a variance at the local board of zoning appeals…..


Why OUTLAW In-law Apartments? ….arguments for legalizing Accessory Dwelling Units



The concept of an In-law apartment or an Accessory Dwelling Unit is highly acclaimed by city planners, sometimes in the same cities that prohibit them.  Take the language of the Virginia Beach zoning ordinance as a case in point.  Section 507 of its code sanctions the value of constructing semi-private living quarters for a senior….


REMODELING and ADDITION TIPS: an independent lifestyle for seniors



The topic of building and remodeling a home for long-term independence is called Aging-in-Place.  It is becoming an increasingly important market niche for contractors and home designers since the largest population segment of society is entering the age of their senior years.  Surveys have determined that more than 90% of older adults prefer to remain….


Walk-through inspections – How to do it by the book



The residential building industry standard for workmanship is documented in a publication called the Residential Construction Performance Guidelines. It is the bible for judging a contractor’s workmanship for a homeowner or for a realtor at a walk-through inspection evaluating the completion of a project. Unfortunately, most contractors rarely refer to it. It can resolve many….


SHOPPING FOR A CONTRACTOR – Step 1: COMPARING PRICES



Successful residential and remodeling contractors build their reputations with satisfied customers by delivering good workmanship in a timely manner for a good price.  Consumers generally have confidence to manage their own project for timeliness and price but may find themselves in some doubt about workmanship expectations.  The most dependable approach to controlling workmanship is to….


A recommendation for compromise regarding the proposed 3-0 flood plain freeboard elevation



There is little doubt that the impact of immediately imposing a proposed 3-0 freeboard ordinance in Norfolk, Virginia Beach or Portsmouth, will stop homeowners from building additions to their existing homes in flood zones A and V.  That is a serious problem for homeowners and their contractors in Hampton Roads.  This issue is teetering on….


Is “The Wave” a sculpture to love? Weigh in on local public monuments



“The Wave” – is the newest public art moment in Virginia Beach, dedicated in October 2013, at a commemoration of the City’s fifty year anniversary.  It is located in the center of the new round-about on Laskin Road where automobile traffic disperses to resort areas to the North and South. I see it as a….


Proposed Flood regulations in Hampton Roads will likely prevent residential additions



There was another article (Inside Business October 7-10) about the adopting of a 3’ flood plain “freeboard” ordinance in our Hampton Roads region.  This time it was under discussion in Virginia Beach, at a celebrity panel discussion forum on September 30, 2013.   Norfolk City Council is due to vote on the adoption of the same….


Light Rail and Wal-Mart are from different planets!



Planning and academic research on the subject of property value changes due to the presence of a nearby Light Rail station consistently documents a positive investment opportunity, especially for commercial property and apartments. There was an article on the second page of the Virginia Pilot in the June 8th issue, relaying a story about a new….


SAN CLEMENTE, CALIFORNIA: RIPE FOR A FORM-BASED CODE IN LIEU OF GEATER ZONING RESTRICTIONS



San Clemente at first glance is to love it. The downtown is walkable, where locals and tourists alike stroll into Billy’s Deli, a barbershop, nail salon, wine shop and restaurants. Retail signage is subdued; restaurants and stores are open to the sidewalk, adorned with storekeeper smiles, well swept doorways and colorful flowers. What is not….


IS SUSTAINABILITY A MARKETABLE IDEA?



An important tenet of New Urbanism is the concept of sustainability. Sustainability begins with the idea that neighborhoods should endure in one place for a long time, contributing to their identification as a place that is distinctly recognizable by visitors, as well as home to the inhabitants. Such a concept has everything to do with….


HISTORICALLY APPROPRIATE HOUSE PLANS FOR URBAN INFILL PROPERTIES



Among the blight clearance strategies of a Redevelopment and Housing Authority they routinely purchase properties that are in poor condition or foreclosed or otherwise unsuitable for the health, safety and welfare of a neighborhood. This approach is especially effective when contiguous properties are involved and it can implement  several houses at a time to replace….


PROVIDE LIGHT RAIL TO PORTSMOUTH INSTEAD OF MIDTOWN TUNNEL



The recent editorial in the Virginian Pilot is in favor of the campaign to squash plans for the construction of the Midtown Tunnel. Agreed. The extension of The TIDE Light Rail to Portsmouth is the better alternative. How fortuitous that the tunnel project could be declared unconstitutional. There are plenty of common sense reasons to….


Selecting an established commercial hub is a prime Light Rail station stop



The idea of diverting the LR route from the rail Right of Way to the service access roads at Hilltop came from a resident participant at the Strategic Growth Area public forum. That was only last month. The consultant has already offered alternate routes, how responsive is that? Bravo! The best thing about the extension….


Midtown Tunnel design missed Light Rail completely



There is political momentum and apparently popular enthusiasm in the press for extending the Tide light rail to the resort area of Virginia Beach. I am anxious to vote my support for that project. I consider the light rail proponents to be cultural visionaries for the future of the whole of Hampton Roads. It takes….


Virginia Beach City Council voted in favor of a public referendum for Light Rail



This is a big step forward since there was a previous referendum in 1999 that was voted down. I was among the testifiers at the council hearing vote the night of April 24, 2012. There were speakers for and against at the hearing. A primary theme of the nay sayers was that they wanted to….


New Code Allows remodeling attics of 3-story homes



Starting March 1, 2012, the entire State of Virginia began enforcing a new building code entitled the 2009 Virginia Construction Code. That means that a new permit issued for a residence after this date is required to adhere to additional regulations and modifications to the former codes that had been in force. It is applies….


Virginia Construction Code 2009 takes effect March 1, 2012



The choice for meeting code requirements in Hampton Roads Virginia are either to provide calculations to demonstrate compliance in accordance with the prescriptive code requirements by the classic method, or to hire a structural engineer to analyze the house design on an individual basis.


Light Rail extension into Virginia Beach, sooner, rather than later



Does a proper vision of the future form of Hampton Roads include light rail transit? The question is more controversial than I imagined, most recently triggered by the story in the Virginia Pilot that there could be a referendum in November for the extension of the Tide into Virginia Beach. As of this writing, there….


2012 Shaping the future of Hampton Roads, Virginia



A really BIG item this week is the page one story 1/29/12 about a possible referendum in November for extending The Tide light rail into Virginia Beach. This is remarkable since it un-stalls the opportunity to get federal stimulus funds for the project before it’s too late.


The Indoor Mall is on its way out – Lifestyle Centers are coming



Sears (and Kmart) announced, less than a week after Christmas 2011, that it would be closing over a hundred under-performing retail locations. It included the Sears in Norfolk, VA, in Military Circle Mall (renamed The Gallery). There is little doubt that the luster of indoor retail malls has faded (is fading) going the way of….


Bold New Plan for Waterside – Front Page News



The front page of the Virginian Pilot (1/17/2012) shows the first of five proposals for the resurrection of Norfolk Waterside. Titled BOLD PLAN FOR WATERSIDE, submitted by Harvey Lindsay Development, there is some inconsistent thinking in this particular Bold Plan for Waterside: 1. Waterside was not provided a stop on the Tide Light Rail. This….


Faith-based stakeholders can energize urban planning efforts



I stumbled across a podcast in Urbanophile about urban planning related to faith-based stakeholders. This post makes the point that resiliency to recover from “place stress” can be greatly influenced by the collective religious fervor of the inhabitants. I agree. “Place stress” (my label) can be related to recovery from natural disasters, social persecution and/or….


Nominate your choice for the best WALKABLE Urban Street in Hampton Roads



Do you have a favorite street in Hampton Roads, to see and experience, especially during the holiday season? I contend that the best places are the streets we where we get out and walk, no drive-by street is eligible. The best streets are safe, scenic, friendly and likely to be frequented by others enjoying the….


Lighthouse Center Homeless Campus – a public hearing in Virginia Beach



A motto of the Lighthouse Center in Virginia Beach is that “we are homeless, not helpless.” As it turns out there could hardly be a more prophetic slogan. The current facility, located at 825 18th Street, has to go. It is slam in the middle of the Convention Center corridor that is slated for development….


Emerging Architects are assigned to community-based design projects



Since its inception in 2000, the The Rose Architectural Fellowship has achieved dramatic results in neighborhoods across the country. To date, 35 Rose Fellows have been sponsored, to devote their design and organizational skills to help their host organizations create or preserve over 7,000 sustainable, affordable homes and 43 much-needed community facilities for low-income people….


Virginia Beach Oceanfront Resort Strip to get a new Form Based Code



The Resort Area Strategic Action Plan (RASAP) has been an established planning direction for a couple of years in Virginia Beach. It is already being implemented in the mixed-use project underway on the block where Jewish Mother and Heritage Natural Market used to be. A new code is going to make this type of development….


Planning Housing for the Homeless in Virginia Beach – a container house campus



A recent report has been disseminated by the City of Virginia Beach, Department of Housing and Neighborhood Preservation, entitled Comparative Analysis of Homeless Facilities and Programs in Selected U.S. Cities and Counties. The study was written in response to citizen advocates for the homeless, that Virginia Beach is not doing enough for its homeless population…..


-Builders and Designers Guild- Norfolk Revelopment and Housing Authority



The restoration and preservation of quality neighborhoods with sound housing stock is a common mantra for city planners and redevelopment authorities. The typical agenda for achieving this ideal is by setting limits of where and what can be built within jurisdictional boundaries; regulating the methods and quality of construction by State building codes. This effort….


Planners like the word “workforce”. Neighborhood groups don’t.



“Not in my back yard.” The term NIMBY (or the derivative Nimbyism) is used pejoratively to describe opposition by residents to a proposal for a new development close to them. Use the word “workforce” for a proposed development and there could be stampede of nervous neighbors afraid of what may be moving into their surroundings…..


Traditional Neighborhood Design in Winfall, NC



Community Development Corporations are commonly not-for-profit organizations incorporated to provide programs, offer services and/or engage in other activities that promote and support community development. CDCs typically serve a geographic location such as a neighborhood or a town. Such is the case for the Northern Community Development Corporation of North Carolina, serving the rural counties and….


Plan a wedding along a river boardwalk, adjacent to a gorgeous urban park



It is not a crazy notion to imagine Norfolk’s Waterside as a premier restaurant and banquet catering facility. While Waterside has been “the subject of endless studies, surveys and hand-wringing over the years” it continues to sit underutilized and marginally enjoyed, not to mention a financial albatross to the City of Norfolk. Introducing the “Elizabethan….


New Urbanism – at No Additional Cost – loving what you have



The website for the City of Hampton, Virginia is low key and …well …neighborly. If you’re curious, click Living in Hampton. I especially like the page for its Neighborhood Office. It is here that a resident can learn about his street community and what identifies its sense of place. This is new urbanism at no additional cost, describing the presence of the features and home styles, already present, that give identity to a neighborhood’s surroundings.


Housing and Redevelopment Agencies + HUD/VASH = A Place to Live for Homeless Veterans



On July 14, 2011 it was announced that U.S. Housing and Urban Development is providing $46.2 million to public housing agencies in all 50 states and the District of Columbia to supply permanent housing and case management for 6,790 homeless veterans in America. It was a low-key announcement. It is a modest investment, especially in….


Adaptive Reuse – planner’s agenda for a rewarding project



When the original use of a structure becomes obsolete or is no longer required, as with older buildings from the industrial revolution, architects have the opportunity to change the primary function of the structure, while retaining some of the existing architectural character that makes a building unique. The Captain George’s Restaurant in Williamsburg, Virginia is….


Specifying “affordability” in Traditional Neighborhood Design



Redevelopment planners are facing a new challenge for replacing deteriorated single-family houses with new homes that conform to Traditional Neighborhood Design standards, including that prospective buyers cannot qualify for the selling price of the new home. A sagging economic climate has made getting financing to purchase a new home increasing difficult for more and more….


Neighborhood Preservation – Design Center – Norfolk, VA



The life expectancy of a 100+ year-old frame houses reaches a point of critical repair or removal that is a challenge for city planners to maintain traditional urban neighborhoods, such as Norfolk, VA. How can city planners control what happens to maintain or restore the original character of these streets? ENTER: The Design Center conveniently operating….


Top Ten Reasons to celebrate the Tide



I am kicking off my new blog on the inaugural week of the light rail in Norfolk, Virginia, an appropriate beginning to my “what say you” that is directed at urban planning issues especially as concerns designing houses and residential neighborhood communities, focused on the creation and preservation of what Steve Mouzon www.mouzon.com refers to….



  • GREGORY M. FRECH

    Urban Underbelly is a blog that seeks to share the back stories of successes and struggles in achieving the visions of New Urbanism, especially in Hampton Roads, Virginia

    New Urbanism: is a city planning and architecture movement directed at the creation and restoration of vibrant neighborhood places: centralized, sustainable, walkable and socially diverse.
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  • Residential PROJECTS
    Award Winning Beach Bungalow OBX – The Westly
    Lynnhaven River Makeover
    Winthrope Avenue Residence
    Greene Residence
    Burnette Residence
    Tibideaux Residence
    Straley Residence
    Stewart Residence
    Simkins Residence
    O’Connel Residence
    Kyrus Residence
    Klar Residence
    Kesler Residence
    Gerloff Residence
    Drinkwalter Residence
    Commercial PROJECTS
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    Chamberlayne Ave. Storage
    Linkhorn Bay Condo
    Captain George’s Restaurant
    Self Storage: Historical Renovation
    Self Storage: Curved Glass Façade
    Self-Storage: Phased Construction
    Self-Storage: Building Reuse
    Morning Star Self-storage
    Self-Storage: A Good Neighbor
    Neighborhood Office Building
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    Self-Storage: Structural Innovation
    Planning PROJECTS
    Buckroe Beach, Hampton Virginia
    Knotts Creek Refuge
    Virginia Beach Community Development Cooperation
    Cypress Cove Commons
    Bishop Court
    Curtis Residence
    Burton Station Office Park

    Green PROJECTS
    EarthCraft Residence
    Frech Residence
    NRHA
    Torope Residence
    Fortner Residence
    Interiors PROJECTS
    The Nicholson Companies, Norfolk, VA
    Kantor Residence, Norfolk, VA
    Cape Henry Residence
    Lochhaven Residence
    Nicholson Residence
    Waterside Interior Renovation

    Awards
    Cedar Grove Apartments
    HomeArama 2010 East Beach
    Church Point Shopping Center
    Church Point Historical Manor
    Smithfield Affordable Sustainable Workforce Housing
    Beach Park West Apartments