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COASTAL COMFORT, LIVING THE DREAM

Monday, August 7th, 2017

The coastal lifestyle can be enjoyed as a year-around experience, this plan is  ready for construction anywhere there is a coastal environment.  The simplicity of this particular design makes 2,400 SF live big inside.  This design also provides engineering economy that translates into construction cost savings per square foot.  The ROG is a flexible room that can be a fourth bedroom, a media room, office, or other family use.

 

 

An important feature when designing a coastal house plan is to bring the outside setting into the rooms inside.  It becomes priority number one to maximize the experience of living on a water-view property. This house design provides a large covered porch deck overlooking a pool and a boat dock on the waterway beyond.  All of the bedrooms enjoy a water view from the second floor, with the two children’s bedrooms each having a window seat on the view.

All of the first floor living spaces enjoy a water view, even the Dining Room has a wide opening to see through the Family Room with its 16-foot window wall.  The Family Room is completely open to the Kitchen and the large Dining Room, set off by its coffered ceiling shown in the interior photo provided here.  The garage has extra high ceilings for hanging bicycles, kayaks, beach-going toys.  We have named this house plan the Bay Island, for its neighborhood in Virginia Beach.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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PANORAMIC COASTAL VIEWS

Wednesday, May 17th, 2017

 

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 reason, perhaps political, building height is measured to the highest ridge peak of the structure.  Planners and architects know this is an unreasonably restrictive criteria, probably vulnerable to being struck down in a court of law if someone was willing to take the time to challenge it. There is no precedent for such a restrictive interpretation of building height, there is no rationale for it either.

The legal basis for limiting building height is historically to allow for sunlight to reach adjacent properties next door, and also to provide for air flow between buildings, dating back from the days of urban tenement structures. Whoever wrote the ordinance in Virginia Beach did not understand that a shadows on an adjacent property are not cast from the ridge of a pitched roof next door to it.  Shadows are cast from the average height of the building mass, somewhere midway from the eave to the ridge.  Norfolk boarders Virginia Beach to the west where its precedent for measuring building height is perfectly logical, completely consistent with the legal basis for height limit of residential structures. Its 35-foot building height is measured to the average height of the sloped plane of a pitched roof.

There is also no legal precedent to protect an adjacent property from a view across a next door property. Without going into the unenforceable of such a criteria suffice to say that it is almost impossible to block someone’s view from the ridge height of a pitched roof. The peak of a pitched roof is always above the line of sight of the occupied space of the house next door to it. On the other hand it is easy to imagine that an elected city council member could be badgered by an irate constituent who is worried about having a view blocked by the height of neighboring property. I suppose this is the origin of the peculiar way that Virginia Beach measures the height of residences in its jurisdiction.

Virginia Beach has many beautiful coastal properties for more and more imaginative designs to come. If it doesn’t change its peculiar manner of measuring building height new designs will continue to be less architecturally attractive and less exciting for the home owner’s than they could be.

This design has wrap around balcony porches on three sides, the porches are sheltered on each floor level. There is also a wonderful lookout tower on the third floor. This four-bedroom plan has two master suites. The main living area is on the second floor for maximum views for daytime spaces. It also has an elevator from the attached garage convenient to the Kitchen as well as access for anyone challenged by using the stair. The property lies at the tip of a peninsula at the entrance to boating canals to Broad Bay Island in Virginia Beach. It is an amazing property and fantastic privilege to be the architect for this true coastal house.

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Designing to maximize views on waterfront property

Thursday, May 11th, 2017

Custom Home on Waterway 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 tower or “lookout level” for the ultimate waterfront views.

Waterfront Custom Home Second Floor Plan

GMF+ Associates

Waterfront Property Custom Home First Floor Plan

GMF+ Associates

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CONTEMPORARY CRAFTSMAN, OPEN FOR VIRTUAL TOUR

Tuesday, May 2nd, 2017

Hinkle Residence(Greg Frech-Kelly)K170409-1N

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 floor with its own private balcony deck overlooking the beach.  It is three stories, 4 bedrooms, 3,000 SF of living area, exclusive of porches, decks and garage.  The upshot of this post is that the approved plans, ready to construct on this property are currently FOR SALE.

Hinkle2Hinkle

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Anatomy of a Modern Farmhouse, plan

Monday, April 24th, 2017

Wise Residence(Greg Frech-Kelly)K170422-1

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

KnotsIsland_BSKI1KI2 KI3

 

 

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Under 1,000 SF can provide an open plan

Friday, April 14th, 2017

Sunshine Villlas_Unit Floor 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 as an sample unit.

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Making ten condo owners happy campers

Wednesday, April 12th, 2017

Sunshine Villas BEST CROP_POPEDSunshine 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 original condos, all with waterfront views. We may not win a prize for this design but we have 10 happy expectant households.

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Livability in a Tiny House

Thursday, April 6th, 2017

Katrina Cottage 3-Bedroom, 1,100 SF 2-story

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 across the country.
Katrina Cottages are historically small house designs from a number of architects intended to provide New Orleans households with simple replacement plans to quickly rebuild following the devastating 2005 hurricane that destroyed tens of thousands of houses along the U.S. Gulf Coast. Katrina Cottages are designed to resemble traditional homes in the affected areas, scaled down in size for affordability and quick construction of many units.

To purchase this plan visit us at www.gmfplus.com/stock-plans/

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12 FOOT WIDE HOUSE PLAN FOR A NARROW URBAN LOT

Wednesday, December 7th, 2016

pencil-web

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 the Canton neighborhood of Baltimore, MD, where such narrow homes touch their neighbor’s properties to become urban row houses.

FIRST FLOOR LAYOUT

The side entrance allows for optimal use of the living space. The front family room opens out onto a covered porch while the dining room opens out onto a private deck. The plan includes a first floor laundry room perfect for today’s busy life style. The staircase is located in the center of the structure. This allows for the maximum natural light in the living areas

SECOND FLOOR LAYOUT

The upstairs bedrooms are situated at either end of the structure with access to their own bathroom. The master bathroom being en suite. The guest bathroom being accessible from both the hallway and the guest bedroom.

To purchase this plan visit us at www.gmfplus.com/stock-plans/

#12footwide #narrowlot #urbaninfill

the-pencil-first pencil-second

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How to Decide – Love It or List It

Thursday, February 18th, 2016

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 an office.  The garage was enlarged to provide a second overhead door and parking bay.  A first floor family room was enlarged and new sunroom added on the rear. #loveitorlistit

Have you ever pondered the question “Love It or List It”? Check out our flow chart designed to help you make an informed decision of if you want to remodel or move. We also have a more detailed pamphlet on the subject available at http://gmfplus.com/GMFplus_Remodel_or_Relocate.pdf

burgess-before-after

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

Thursday, December 5th, 2013

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 literature includes Janet Luhrs and her Simple Living Journal, Michelle Passoff and her advocacy to Lighten Up and free yourself from clutter, Kathryn Robyn writing about a Soulful Home, and Sarah Susanka and her books about the virtues of a Not So Big House.

The amount of waking hours spent at home each day during a workweek for an average American worker has been clocked at under 4 hours. Millions of houses stand empty each day while appliances are heating and cooling the furniture, carpets and window coverings until the owner returns. And the idea of “home ownership” is something of a misnomer as well. What we typically own is a mortgage, not the house. We have the right to inhabit, maintain and pay taxes on what is fundamentally bank property while paying a monthly sum that may exceed its rental value.

When we visualize a future urban development pattern it is likely to provide a greater number of dwelling units per acre for all types of housing including detached single-family units. Older well-established cities will enjoy a bit of an advantage in attracting new residents with homeowners and renters returning from the suburbs to enjoy shorter commuter distances to work, cutting down on the use of the household automobile(s). Acceptable public transportation alternatives will become as attractive as they are already in Europe.

The global warming alarmists will sleep more peacefully and the air will be cleaner in this picture of future American city places. I also believe that households will have less stress in their lives, appreciating smaller living arrangements and closer inter-personal relationships. Households will have less space to store unnecessary junk, be less interested in acquiring more stuff to clutter their lives, and be more willing to make friends with households that are not like themselves.

If this view of the future American city place is a bit ambitious on my part I say okay, maybe it will take a little longer than my lifetime. Nevertheless it charges me with energy to promote living in small houses in more densely settled neighborhoods and learning to accept different types of neighbors next door. It is, after all, the season of brotherly love and kindness and the hallmark film of whatever my reader may be celebrating – It’s a Wonderful Life – is worth striving to reach.

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ACCESSORY DWELLING UNITS = affordable housing made easy

Wednesday, November 27th, 2013

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 improving housing opportunities for single parent households, the marginally employed , empty nesters, workforce households, the elderly, the infirm, long distance commuters, short term residents, and so on.

Taking a broad-minded view, most would agree that the more disperse affordable housing is integrated into a community the better for society as a whole. It is a less controversial solution to allow an existing single family property owner to provide affordable housing on their own property for their own family member.  But it is difficult to control a semi-independent family member quarters from becoming an apartment for rent on the open market.  Therefore many communities have created restrictions in their zoning regulations that prevent this type of affordable housing from being built.

There is little argument against the economic and social advantages of being able to provide an addition/apartment to an existing house that could serve as a semi-independent suite for an aging parent.  However, to breakthrough the rule that only one dwelling should exist on a lot intended for one house is no small matter in a typical zoning district.  Therefore, getting a permit to build a typical ADU project, such as an apartment above a two-car detached garage, could entail changing the permitted uses in designated zoning districts, changing the definition of a dwelling unit or creating a new type of zoning district, such as what the City of Norfolk has done, to follow below.

The restrictions start with forbidding the installation of more than one kitchen in house zoned for one household.  This law was conceived at a time in the history of urban development patterns when suburbia ruled the future view of American land use; houses looked a lot alike, had the private car parked on a driveway in front of the door to an attached garage and were occupied by a two-parent household with children.  But today the facts are:
The percentage of American households with children under 18 living at home [2009 USA Today] has hit the lowest point — 46% — in half a century.
The majority of today’s households are more likely to see the advantages of related or unrelated individuals living at the same address, and eating separately is a part of that living arrangement.

The next most bothersome limitation to providing an Accessory Dwelling Unit on a single family property is the size limit of the accommodations.  In Virginia Beach the ordinance for what is called “a flex suite” provides for a maximum size of 500 SF or 20% of the floor area of the existing house.  This is roughly the area of a two-car garage.  It is very challenging to provide the facilities needed for a semi-independent lifestyle (bedroom, sitting space, kitchen, bath, private entry) in this small space.

A similar floor area restriction is very much related to the general area limit for accessory buildings, including a garage or pool house.  The limit of 500 SF for a detached garage serves as enough space for an enclosure for two cars.  The problem is there is no allowance provision for living space above the garage, typically called a carriage house.  It is very good engineering economy to construct such a living quarters over a garage with its own private entry stair.  But the zoning administrator is apt to count all of the space over the garage as additional square feet.

The criteria for habitable living space is any space with a ceiling height of 7 feet or greater.  This living space definition is found in the International Building Code.  The building official is quick to count any attic space that has a height of 7-0 feet or more as part of the 500 SF limit.  The result of this anomaly is that architects and designers of detached garages must diminish the building height to have a very minimal attic.  The 7-0 living space criteria when combined with the 500 SF floor area limit makes for some very squat looking detached garages.

I have two immediate recommendations that would help clear the way for affordable housing quarters on existing single family properties: (1) allow for a kitchen with its own cooking facilities (range) to be included in the accessory living quarters permit, and (2) do not count living space above a garage as part of the 500 SF of allowable ground area for a detached structure.  Instead, write a code provision that gives planners the discretion to allow accessory dwelling units in designated residential districts that includes kitchens and carriage houses.

The discretionary allowance for ADU’s could be required to demonstrate provision for parking for the main house as well as the accessory quarters.  There could be an architectural review of the height and width and stairs for carriage house designs.  In the Norfolk Zoning Ordinance there is a provision for what is called an Urban District.  It reads as follows:
10-12 Urban Residential District (UR).
10-12.1Purpose statement. The purpose of the Urban Residential District is to provide development opportunities in older neighborhoods by encouraging the construction of new, urban homes. The district permits a mixture of townhouses and detached one-family homes, including the possibility of auxiliary structures which can contain a secondary dwelling unit located on larger lots.
10-12.2Auxiliary structure. For purposes of the Urban Residential District, an auxiliary structure is expressly permitted to contain a dwelling unit and shall meet each of the following criteria:
(a) The structure is no greater than the primary dwelling in all dimensional aspects including, but not limited to, building height, width, length, and square footage.
(b) The structure is located on the same lot as the principal dwelling unit.

Some more progressive municipalities have taken steps to allow carriage houses on single-family properties when access and parking spaces are adequately provided.  The end result has not proved catastrophic, even when allowed to be rented to non-family member tenants.  The motivation to allow carriage house tenancy is typically associated with developments where relatively high dwelling unit density is not controversial and vacant property is at a premium.

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Where to park cars – old urbanism vs new urbanism

Friday, November 15th, 2013

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 car households.   The attention to multiple-car garages facing the street is a suburban phenomenon.  That style of neighborhood provides homes that are dominated by a garage, the driveway to get to it, and inevitably, unsheltered cars parked on these driveways,  since there is a lot of stuff in the garage already (especially aggravating in localities where home do not have basements.)

old_urbanism_webPlanners and designers of ideal city streetscapes are understandably concerned by the over attention given to dealing with the automobile in the front yard of suburban homes.  Among the many tenets of NEW URBANISM is the desire to return to a style of residential development that is dominated by people and porches and pedestrian sidewalks and landscaping, rather than garages and driveways and front lawns. The real estate marketplace is coming along slowly to the return to the value of an idyllic streetscape,  but not without some holdouts kicking and thumping for suburban automobile accommodations, a la 1960’s, when gas was cheap and roads less congested.

The convenience of the alley garage and its driveway has obvious appeal, keeping cars behind the house instead of facing the street. This is possible when a development is being created from scratch.  It allows lots can be narrow, houses closer together; add front porches within talking distance of a person walking on a front sidewalk.  Presto! the end result can look just like urban streets of the early 20th century and even more so when contractors can be directed to provide a style of the house architecture to look historical.  There are many nostalgic styles to emulate, every community has some architectural presidents with characteristic details to copy.east-beach-norfolk-va-web

A development that provides for garages in the alley is not really a new concept. It has been around since horse drawn carriages.  Its appeal is coming back in vogue along with a revived interest in home architectural styles fashioned to match early 1900’s neighborhood streets: Victorian, Arts and Craft, Shingle, Colonial Revival, to name a few.  Creating the NEW old urbanism is most successful when the streets and lots are laid out with a certain organized irregularity that requires different size homes and even a mix of multi-family with single-family structures. This mixture of lot sizes and densities is a radical departure from a typical suburban development strategy that seeks to keep everything the same encouraging builders to repeat a model house style again and again.

The development of East Beach in Norfolk is a new urbanism development that is fashioned to provide all of the virtues of old urbanism, including rear alleys for the automobiles. It is a masterpiece of neighborhood planning and walkable streets, including a number of parks (house lots are too small for children and dogs to run) and walking paths for pedestrians. Its randomness belies the carefully laid out opportunities for landscape vistas, architectural discovery, and meeting places. There is one other important planning ingredient that has insured continuity of the nostalgic neighborhood theme; enter the “town architect”. In the words of a Congress for New Urbanism article about East Beach in 2011:

The architecture of the homes is carefully managed by a design process that includes a full time town architect, a 5 member design review committee, and an award winning Pattern Book. No two houses are alike. There are 4 vernacular styles fashioned after traditional Tidewater Virginia architecture…. The homes are designed and built by a 35 member architects guild and a 20 member builders guild. Implementation of the design is enforced with frequent field inspections. Exterior materials are durable, sustainable products designed to have lasting, enduring quality and look natural. No vinyl siding or PVC railings are permitted.

The result is a neighborhood of tenacious resident loyalty and shared values inspiring community celebrations and activities.  Households are passionate about preserving the character their neighborhood.  The love for it as a place to live is noticeable everywhere you look in East Beach. The simple decision to get private automobiles out of the view is hugely important to the beauty of the community. That feature alone suggests how important it is to the potential success of future planned urban residential development layouts, making a difference in residents emotional attachment to their neighborhood; stabilizing prices into the future.

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The alternative to extending Light Rail now is a Grim Tale

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013

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 inevitably run out for our private cars to drive on them. More roads also spreads out the population settlement pattern that in turn requires even more roads, greater destruction of the environment, more pollution and further commuting congestion and community separation.

Choice (2) will run in the red until settlement patterns catch up with the regional vision of the future. Light rail is expensive and requires investment at the earliest opportunity for a sustainable future.

I was charmed with the photo of the front page of the Hampton Roads section of the Virginian Pilot this morning.  Imagine, three private proposals for extending the TIDE light rail from Norfolk into Virginia Beach.  What a bright future there could be in the future of Hampton Roads. 
tide_photo
The reason that the smaller metropolitan area of Charlotte, NC already has light rail serving its commuter population could be because the political leadership there is operating with a vision of itself as a cohesive regional economy, rather than a balkanized satellite cities competing for a separate piece of action. 

It seems to me there are regional transportation investments that could make a huge difference in the future growth of Hampton Roads towards becoming the regional economy that it deserves to be: (1) an expanded commuter Light Rail system, and (2) an expanded nationally focused airport with its own designated airline Hub.

Earlier this week Governor-Elect Terry McAuliffe included mention of his support for extending light rail to Virginia Beach: “One important issue that I did campaign on — it is time we took light rail all the way from our naval base all the way to Virginia Beach.”

It is worth a chuckle to see the photo of Kerry Dougherty, at the top of her column, overshadowed by the banner image of The TIDE rail car along with the headline: “A Chance of Train at the Beach.”  As if to say, “Kerry, you missed the train,” with her non-supportive  commentaries, completely misunderstanding the opportunity that light rail means for the region of Hampton Roads.

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Four reasons to encourage and preserve NON-STANDARD BUILDING LOTS

Tuesday, November 12th, 2013

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. A non-standard lot typically doesn’t provide the minimum width at the building line where the front wall of a house is supposed to be in line with the house next door.

As residential architects we enjoy dealing with the challenge of a non-standard lot. Builders, on the other hand, are happier when they can build the same house shape (changing the front elevation once in a while) over and over again. Sometimes I think that planners are persuaded to side with the builders who are constantly striving for sameness and street regularity.

  1. My Reason 1 for advocating that the boundaries of existing non-standard lots should be preserved, for the sake of neighborhood diversity.  The special character of a particular residential street and the joy of living there for the various homeowners is improved with houses that do not all look the same. There is even a strong argument for deliberately encouraging lot layouts to be different in the same neighborhood so that houses cannot look the same as each other.The geometry of systematically drawing out lots for a new subdivision takes into account maximizing the number of possible lots in the context of providing a logical site drainage design, as well as compliance with the local subdivision ordinance. If one does this exercise with great diligence the end result is the absence of any non-standard lots.

    Planners and site engineers may have gotten overly skillful, in recent times, laying out new subdivisions where the pattern of lots is perfectly uniform, perfectly boring. In is only when the subdivision process was more loosely enforced and developers were less concerned about repetitious products that non-standard lots came into being.

    The City of Norfolk has a name for leftover lots in its urban neighborhoods.  They are called Gem lots. Truthfully many of these lots are abandoned, now city owned, and need to be joined to adjacent properties for viable use and inclusion on the property tax roles. Occasionally the Gem lots can stand alone as a property for a new single-family home.  We have designed homes as narrow as 12-0 feet for such a property.

  2. This brings me to reason number 2 for advocating restraint in the elimination of non-standard lots: an appropriate house for such a lot may need to be more compact and thereby more affordable to a family that otherwise could not own a home. Habitat for Humanity is just such a vehicle for getting this to happen with non-standard lots.  We have created many houses for non-standard properties that were donated to HfH to build a home with volunteer labor and the world is better off for it.
  3. Reason number 3 for relishing the preservation of non-standard lots is the increased number of dwelling units per acre, higher urban density.  This idea makes some surrounding homeowners nervous. More people living on my street could mean introducing a household that is “not like me” and more traffic and general fear of the unknown.  Actually the social health of a neighborhood is improved by diversity and density; bringing with it an increased level of public services including police and fire protection, schools and public transportation.
  4. My 4th reason for standing up for preserving the existence of non-standard lots is the most compelling of all. To do so promotes a sustainable living choice by allowing a new house on a property that is already developed for construction, including the existence of public sewer and water and sidewalks and garbage collection and on it goes.  Simply said, building on an in-fill lot saves energy and reduces the carbon footprint for a new home better than any other population growth strategy possible.

I was motivated to write this article from a question that was asked by a planner wanting to know what regulations may have been used elsewhere, for community wanting to follow a standard procedure to consolidate a non-standard lot into a larger parcel.  I hope that the lots in question can be developed separately.  We love the technical challenges and the social rewards of designing homes for non-standard lots.

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

Thursday, November 7th, 2013

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 family member on a property zoned for single family occupancy.  It reads: The purpose of this section is to enhance the opportunities for affordable housing and independent living available to senior citizens and disabled persons, while maintaining the tranquility and integrity of single-family residential neighborhoods.

Section 507 goes on to list several things that are not allowed in such living quarters, limits the size of the quarters to 500 SF, and sets forth additional permit application requirements, including occupancy renewal every two years.  What purpose does this ordinance serve?  Does it discourage In-law suite projects rather than encourage them?  Would a homeowner interested in building such a project be motivated to reveal to the permits office what they are doing?  The answers “None, Yes, and No” are the obvious response. 

This is a significant issue.  Housing need surveys have determined that the demand for such projects has been increasing steadily,  especially in recent years, as the baby boomer generation is entering their retirement years.  The sad truth is that too many In-law apartments that have been built are illegal or at least under the radar of permitting authorities that have not seen fit to create a proper ordinance to meet the demand. Progressive localities have addressed this housing need by adopting ordinances that guide such development rather than discourage it.

An In-law apartment might be an apartment over a garage or a basement suite. Other variations are dwellings attached to a single-family home or a living space completely detached from the home, like a small guest house. It all cases they should their own entrance, kitchen, bathroom and living space. Common space, such as laundry rooms and living rooms, are usually allowed. The separated living space required is generally from 400 to 800 square feet.

Typical of the arguments against allowing in-law apartments are imagined parking problems, overcrowding, increased traffic and aesthetic impact on a neighborhood. Planners generally agree that all of these issues can be addressed in properly worded provisions of an ordinance that allows In-law apartments in at least some designated residential zoning district categories.  Some 13 years ago, the AARP, in consort with the APA, American Planning Association, published a model ordinance guideline for what it called ACCESSORY DWELLING UNITS, ADU’s.  The guideline continues to serve as a valuable resource today for jurisdictions writing their own provisions for permitting ADU’s in designated zoning districts.

In a research study published in 2008 by HUD, Office of Policy Development and Research, it concluded: Communities find that allowing accessory dwelling units is advantageous in many ways. In addition to providing practi­cal housing options for the elderly, disabled, empty nesters, and young workers, ADUs can provide additional rental income for homeowners. ADUs are smaller in size, do not require the extra expense of purchasing land, can be devel­oped by converting existing structures, and do not require additional infrastructure.

The HUD study was derived by investigating the experience of several zoning jurisdictions that had adopted ADU ordinances including one in Virginia, Fauquier County, where permit approval depends the size of the property, and availability of septic/sewer and water services. Each of three different types of units is approved by the Fauquier Office of Zoning Permitting and Inspections, provided that the units meet zoning requirements. According to the county’s zoning office, 155 accessory dwelling units and 37 efficiency apartments were permitted from 1997 to 2007.

Call them Accessory Dwelling Units or In-law suites, they are an inexpensive way for municipalities to increase their housing supply, while also increasing their property tax base. By providing affordable housing options for low- and moderate-income residents, communities can retain population groups that might otherwise be priced out of the housing market.  When accessory dwellings are allowed in the community, homeowners can generally qualify for home improvement loans to finance the construction or remodel.

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  • 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
    Reginella’s Trattoria & Pizzeria
    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
    Kettler Headquarters
    Cagney’s Restaurant
    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