Wednesday, September 30, 2009

August 25, 2009 - The Turtle Sweep

Don Lewis (no relation), the State approved wetland biologist, completed his turtle sweeps as required by the Conservation Commission prior to construction.  Although the habitat may have supported turtles at some point, he has found none and speculates that the busy road could be to blame.  It would be neat if they re-established.  Don is extremely knowledgable and really understands these critters.  For more you info you can go to  Here's a box turtle photo from their website.  They're kind of cute, aren't they.

August 20, 2009 - The Rendering

I received the final watercolor rendering from Rosanne Minerva.  As usual, she's done a wonderful job.

August 12, 2009 - The Sign

On the morning of Wednesday, August 11, my wife mentioned that Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s wake will be at Our Lady of Victory Church, directly across the street from our lot, Thursday afternoon.  Part of our reason for buying the lot and building the house is that it should be good for my business. It is in a nice area and there are people around with money and taste. Maybe some of them will need an architect. I was planning on putting a sign up, but didn’t have my final rendering back yet. Anticipating the thousands of people who would be passing by the next day, I wondered if I could have a sign made and put up in one day. SignIt Signs in Hyannis said they could. I wanted a perspective image of the house on the sign, so I finished the 3D SketchUp model of the house that I had been working on.

SketchUp is a fantastic 3D program that is relatively simple to use. Several years ago Google (I trust that you don’t need that email address) bought SketchUp and gives the basic version away for free. The basic version probably does at least 80% of what my purchased version does. SketchUp models can then be inserted into Google Earth.

The sign was ready the next morning and, again, Brian Cobb was ready to help out. He picked up the sign, planted it on the site and sent me a cell phone photo before noon.  This isn't his cell phone photo.  This is one I took with the siding and window color samples.

I thought I was opportunistic, but the Centerville Pie Company was way ahead of me.

August 7, 2009 - The Closing

We handed over a check, signed some papers and the lot was ours. It turns out that the owner’s attorney is actually our neighbor. He gave us some of the history of the area, including the Bearse’s, who originally owned the land in that area and whose family goes way back in Centerville.

As soon as we received a copy of the deed, we headed to the Barnstable Recreation Department and bought two Beach Passes. These passes give access not only to beaches, but to resident only beaches and numerous parking areas at other streams, bays, lakes and waterways throughout Barnstable. Those will be useful with our kayaks. I keep kidding that “I’ma git me a boat.” Maybe eventually.

This is another big file with Barnstable’s Ways to Water. It takes a while to load.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

August 3, 2009 - The Permit is Ready

I received a call from the Building Department that the permit was ready to be picked up. Actually, it’s just a Foundation Permit. You don’t get the full Building Permit until the foundation is in and the location confirmed by a surveyor. It’s actually bright pink, but my scan of a copy of the permit is more subdued.

We were ready to close, but the next time good for all involved wasn’t until Friday.

The Design

What would an architect design for himself (or herself) given a blank canvas?  I have to qualify the blank canvas part.  What I mean is, given a 24' x 40' blank canvas - and that was after going back to the Conservation Commission to enlarge the 24' x 38' footprint I had inherited.

Usually I prefer to use the exterior of a building to define outdoor spaces with a figure/ground kind of relationship.  This is also a way to delineate the various uses or parts of a building, and it usually creates a more interesting form.  In this case, though, there was little choice but to work within the box.

My wife really wanted a more Wrightian kind of look.  Given that we had to work within the box, that would be rather difficult.  Also, the heart of Centerville is a very New England Village type of place.  Wright was able to sometimes make the unconventional fit in, ala Guggenheim, but it's quite a challenge to do it right.

From a functional standpoint, we wanted the First Floor to contain all of the main day-to-day functions so they would be all on one level. Even within the enlarged footprint, space is at a premium.  It's kind of a forced economy, though, as there would be little room for wasted space.  Although the footprint is limited, there is a Foyer so that the door doesn’t open directly into the living areas, along with a small adjacent Powder Room.

The Kitchen and Dining Room flow into each other to facilitate gathering. The Kitchen has a peninsula bar with room for stools and an upper cabinet with glass doors on both sides for access to dishes and glassware. There is a prep sink at the window, near the refrigerator, range and microwave, allowing a continuous prep and work area. The Dining Room has an opening large enough so that the table can be extended further into the adjacent space for larger groups. A triple window overlooking the backyard and a sliding glass door to the deck provide plenty of light. The Deck, due to site constraints, has to be to the side of the house and has a lattice topped partial screen to provide some privacy from the street. It will have an outdoor shower for washing off sand after the beach and such, and has a gate which opens to the Porch for direct access to the yard.

Often Living Rooms or Family Rooms aren’t really planned for the furniture they will contain, creating problems down the road. The Living Room, although not overly large, has the walls, windows and openings in the right places to provide for the functions within.  There is a spot on the end wall for a fireplace and future built-ins, and an opening in the ceiling allows light from the dormer above.

The Laundry Room is centrally located and has space for shelving and storage, also acting as the de facto linen closet. The Master Bedroom is large enough to also have a place for a desk and computer. Small rectangular hinged awning windows above the bed add light and ventilation. The vanity with double sinks is separate from the Master Bath with its jetted tub and large curbless shower.

The Second Floor has a large open multi-purpose room, the second Bathroom and a large Bedroom. The ladder near the stairs provides access to a small roof deck. Since the trees will remain close to the house, the back of the house will most often be in the shade. This will provide a nice sunny spot. Although it faces the ocean, it’s doubtful we’ll have an ocean view. We walked up the hill at the church across the street to a similar elevation and couldn’t see the ocean. However, in the winter when the leaves drop, we’re hoping there may be a glimpse.

The Basement is full height only in the rear portion. The front half has a raised slab due to the distance to the septic system, but we will locate the furnace there to keep the Basement as open as possible. The back of the basement is about 2/3 above grade, so we can fit in some full size windows even though this is primarily a storage space.

July 14, 2009- A Very Long Day

July 14 was the day of the all important Conservation Commission meeting. It was also, assuming we get approval, the day I had to file for a Building Permit. Paying work seems to come first and I had to squeeze my own project in. The 14th actually really started on the 13th. I was working frantically all day to finish the house plans. The building codes had changed recently and become much more stringent when building within one mile of the coast. I had reviewed the Wood Frame Construction Manual, now required for construction in this area, but hadn’t really studied it. My indoctrination started on the afternoon of the 13th. There were some unexpected requirements and some which didn’t always make sense. There is a checklist which, if followed, can eliminate the need for some complex structural engineering. I worked through the night and may have gotten 45 minutes of sleep. The Conservation meeting was at 8:30 AM and I couldn’t risk being late for that, and it’s a ninety minute drive without traffic.

I met Lynne Hamlyn at Town Hall and she did her presentation to the Board. The Commission voted unanimously in favor. We’re on our way!

Then I went over to the Building Department to file for a Building Permit. They checked off what I had and said I needed departmental signoffs, an original copy of the deed, an engineered site plan with an original seal and signature, and a roadwork bond. I won’t be doing any work in the road, but need a bond nonetheless. I was able to get the planning department signoff and then headed off to the Registry of Deeds and the Engineer’s office. I had to find an insurance agency to issue my ‘roadwork’ bond. It costs $100 for a bond which could, in the worse case, pay out less than $500. That wouldn’t be a bad business to be in.

After getting some additional copies, I returned to the Building Department. They took what I had and said to come back at 3:30, when departments are available for more signoffs. When I returned, the Board of Health said that the only one who could sign off was the Director, and he was in a meeting which started at 3:30. They made a big point of telling me they close at 4:30 and, just in case I forgot, mentioned it again. “Just come back tomorrow morning.” they said.

The only problem is that it’s at least a three hour round trip for me. They wouldn’t hold on to the paperwork and my check until I had all the signoffs. I thought they could take the paperwork, sign off in the morning, and then slide it down the counter to the Building Department portion of the counter – but it doesn’t work that way. It was a governmental Catch 22.

I called my Realtor, Brian Cobb, and he gladly obliged. He took the stack of paperwork and check to them and actually thought, after all this process, they’d hand him the Building Permit. It’s not quite that easy. That could take up to thirty days.

Our neighbor built an addition and wrote a book about it.

To those not familiar with the process, there are many revelations.  And there are plenty of revelations even for those who are familiar with the process.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Countless Small Decisions

Among the myriad of decisions to be made is the weathervane. At least there’s no pressing urgency and the final decision can wait.

I like the sailboat. A codfish could be appropriate, similar to the one hanging in the Barnstable Courthouse, since Cape Cod was named after the abundance of cod the European settlers found. The tuna has more presence than the codfish. A whale could be good, but is a little clich├ęd. My wife wants to honor the turtles who could be on site, but the turtle weathervanes we’ve found are much more expensive than the other choices. The decision will have to wait.

I neglected to mention that we were in Chatham for the week starting July 4.  It is what New England seaside towns should be - except that, because of this, real estate can be quite expensive.

And no trip to Cape Cod is quite complete until you've gone all the way to the end and visited Provincetown. It's quite a colorful scene.  I didn't purposefully get The Nut House in this scene, honest.

July 6, 2009 - A Long Day

We arranged a trip to Martha’s Vineyard with my sister in-law and her kids. Our auto reservations had us at the ferry early in the morning, returning late that evening. As we were waiting for the ferry, I received a call from Lynne Hamlyn, our permitting consultant, who was scheduled to meet with the Conservation Commission head the next day to discuss at what we’re proposing. She needed some additional drawings. That meant they’d have to be completed after we returned. We had a great day on the Vineyard, going to-

Vineyard Haven, the hub of Vineyard activity,

Menemsha, a fishing village where Jaws was filmed,

Aquinnah with the spectacular clay cliffs,

Edgartown, with its quaint setting and pristine buildings,

and Oak Bluffs with its gingerbread cottages and impressive homes ringing the common.

We got back to the house late, then it was time for me to get to work.

July 4, 2009 - The Purchase and Sale Agreement

After some back and forth and misunderstandings, we had a Purchase and Sale Agreement ready to sign. Having only one layer of real estate agents actually made things just a bit more straightforward. The deal was a little more complicated because one of the contractor partners who had overseen the permitting process didn’t seem to understand why we wouldn’t want to build what they had proposed. Brian Cobb, our Realtor, suggested I talk directly with the owner, Mr. Orbe, who was very pleasant to deal with. We quickly came to terms. He had accepted our offer at our initial price.

This is what we’re proposing.
I recently came across an excellent book, "Get Your House Right: Architectural Elements to Use and Avoid" by Marianne Cusato. It serves to reconfirm many of the principles already known by many architects, and illustrates many other insights key to creating designs that look and feel right. This stuff typically isn’t taught in architecture schools. It may be a little too classically oriented in places, but is well written and illustrated in ways that anyone can understand. It should be required reading for architects, builders, designers and anyone else involved in the creation of buildings.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

June 27, 2009 - The Offer

After much deliberation, we decided to make an offer. We have watched the home buying programs on TV and seen the trepidation people go through. Now it was our turn. Brian Cobb, our Realtor, was very helpful, but since he was both the listing agent and our agent, we had no one looking out for just our interests. We went into this thinking it was more of a window shopping exercise and ended up getting serious.

I think I had done my due diligence, though. I had consulted with the Engineer, Down Cape Engineering, and the environmental and permitting consultant, Lynn Hamlyn. We would need a favorable decision from the Barnstable Conservation Commission and their next available meeting wouldn’t be until July 14. Then we would apply for a Building Permit, which is usually a two to three week process, but could take up to thirty days. I felt uncomfortable closing on the lot until we had a permit for a home with a first floor master bedroom and a reasonable driveway slope. Given the previous difficulty with permitting, we didn’t want to take any more chances than necessary.

Here’s a view of our potential new back yard.


The Decision Making Process

Now that we had found piece of ground we really like, we had to figure out whether or not to go for it. We really don’t need another house, but had been looking and pondering for years and, if we were going to make the leap, this seemed to be the right opportunity.

I looked into potential construction costs, insurance, taxes, flood zones, permitting constraints, etc. The septic system was to be an expensive denitrification system and, due to recently enacted building codes, the windows would be much more expensive since we would be within one mile of the coast. The new codes require more anchorage and bracing, which makes ultimate sense to me. Impact resistant windows right at the seaside can make sense too. New England has the occasional hurricane, but not like the southern coastal states. Those storms, though, have triggered the insurance and code writing institutions to issue more stringent codes. One of the ironies I found, though, is that local insurance agents weren’t quite sure if the better and more expensive construction would result in lower rates. We could use conventional windows as long as we had pieces of plywood and fasteners ready in case of a storm. This would be cheaper, but what if we weren’t there to close up? And what would it be like living in a dark bunker with the plywood in place? Hurricane shutters are another option, but the total cost would be nearly as much as the impact windows. We decided on impact windows because, among other reasons, they offer more protection from intrusion.

I found that, although other permits had some time left before they expired, the septic permit would expire in February 2010. The variances had already expired, but since a permit was taken out, the variances would continue with the permit until expiration. Also, if we started construction before November 1, 2009, turtle sweeps would need to be performed by an NHESP (Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program) approved wetland biologist. That meant that we couldn’t buy the lot and delay construction for several years. We would risk ending up with an unbuildable lot.

Here are early drafts of the Site Plan and Floor Plans.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Constraints

The current owners had gone through an extensive and drawn out process to gain approval to build on this lot. Variances from both the Board of Health and the Conservation Commission were needed and, of course, each board has their own agenda and requirements. As is typical in New England, several neighbors were opposed and attended most every meeting. They were concerned with, among other things, protecting the eastern box turtles they claimed were on site.

The permitting process took more than a year. We were looking at a lot with a building permit in place for a 24’x38’ house with the living, dining and kitchen on the first floor and two bedrooms on the second floor. After living in a house with multiple levels, we would really like a house with the main living spaces and the master bedroom on the first floor. After having gone through the wringer during the permitting process, the contractor who had shepherded the process thought it would be inadvisable to go back and ask for more.

We could live with a 38’ long house, but first drafts of the plan showed that squeezing everything we want on the first floor would be a little tight. Two more feet of length would make a substantial difference. The driveway would be very steep because they had shown it going around a fire hydrant and up the slope on top of the septic tank, and the deck would have, as shown, become the entrance to the house. We really wanted to make several changes to the existing site plan.

I contacted the consultants involved in the previous process to try to determine the feasibility of gaining approval for these changes. It seemed possible.

Friday, September 25, 2009

June 1, 2009 - The Lot

We found out that the property is 2/3 acre with permitting in place for a two-bedroom house. It’s a previously undeveloped lot with an old cranberry bog in back. As the plan below shows, the area remaining for a house is very limited. The Town generally requires a 50’ no touch zone surrounding wetlands. The septic system takes up the front yard, leaving a 24’x38’ spot for the house. It’s not ideal, but it’s workable and the price is much more reasonable because of the constraints. The street is kind of busy and we’d like room for more First Floor space and a garage, but we like the fact that it’s in the downtown area.  House lots in that area are just about impossible to come by.

This is from the Town's website.  They have a GIS system with great online information.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A little bit about Centerville

Centerville, MA is actually not a Town, it's a Village.  I always thought Hyannis was a Town.  It's a Village too.  In fact, both Centerville and Hyannis are Villages in the Town of Barnstable, along with Osterville, Cotuit, Marston Mills, West Barnstable and finally, the Village of Barnstable.  Hyannis Port is part of Hyannis.  The Barnstable County Courthouse is in the Village of Barnstable, making Barnstable a Town, a Village and a County.  Got it? This is what it all looks like. It may take a while to load.

Hyannis is kind of the tail that wags the dog.  Hyannis grew because it was the major shipping port for Nantucket and beyond, and now it's the major commercial center for the Mid-Cape.  It's convenient, but not always pretty.

Downtown Centerville is a quaint little spot.  It kind of looks like a movie set.  Here it's called
"The Town that Time (and maybe you) Forgot."

I'm often frustrated when a nice place is ruined, but no one's gotten around to messing up downtown just yet.  Some of the stuff in Centerville along Route 28 is a different story, though.  There is a strip mall that should be a lesson on what not to do.  Anyhow, here's a little Centerville history.

May 30, 2009 - Land for Sale

Since I'm just starting this blog in September, I thought I'd go back to the beginning - or at least the beginning of the process - and keep things more or less in chronological order.

In late May we decided to spend the day on Cape Cod looking for a house to rent for a week.  The previous month's research had resulted in a wealth of possibilities.  We decided to spend Friday night in Truro, near the tip of Cape Cod, and drive back through our various destinations.  In our typical fashion, we didn't get to the hotel in Truro until well after 11 PM.  The next morning turned out to be sunny and warm in spite of the weather forecast.  We headed out to the beach in Truro with Chip, our elderly dalmatian and our son's dog Fitsum.  Chip, at 14 years old, has had numerous problems including cataracts, difficulty walking and increasing doggie dementia.  Here's a photo of his day at the beach.

Our drive back would take us back through most of the Towns on the south side of Cape Cod.  We went through Chatham, which is picture perfect, and then though much of the interspersed beauty and ticky-tacky that seems to permeate the cape.  After Hyannis, we drove west through Hyannis Port and then to Craigville Beach and Centerville.  We went around the block in Centerville to get back to the fabled Four Seas Ice Cream and spotted the For Sale sign on what would become the site of our new home.

We have often pondered where else in the world we would like to live.  Being an architect, I am always looking at homes, real estate and surroundings.  We had thought about other potential homesteads for a long time.  The deflated real estate market makes thing more interesting if you're on the buying end.  I thought it could be a little like the dog chasing a car, though.  The process is kind of fun, but what happens when you catch one?  Dreams are cheap.