So I’ve filled you in on the back story of how we stumbled into building a spec house, and you saw how demolition of the existing house got started a few weeks ago – now it’s time to catch you up on how we spent those weeks between purchasing the lot and getting ready to build.
From the very beginning, one of our biggest goals has been to make the best use possible of this incredible lot. Ironically, the biggest problems we encountered were the very things that make this lot so awesome – (1) it’s huge, and (2) it’s on a corner.
(our redacted survey)
Those two factors give us pretty big setbacks and two frontages (i.e., technically two front yards) – that double whammy reduces the buildable area of the property and, for awhile, caused us to spend a lot of time down “at the city,” talking to building and zoning consultants. Aren’t you jealous?
One of the issues that we’ve had with this lot are the setbacks and build lines. Setbacks are determined by the city and build lines are put into place by the original subdivision developer, but other than that they’re essentially the same thing – they are restrictions that state how much yard you have to have before you can build your house (like you have to have a 35 foot deep front yard, etc.). Make sense?
In our case, the original developer had the neighborhood platted with 40 foot front build lines and 20 foot side yard build lines. We were surprised when we got our property survey that the build lines were so restrictive, so Jason did some digging into an advance copy of the title documents and discovered that the build lines were amended in the 80s to be less restrictive and to allow homes to be built closer to the street – 30 feet in the front (instead of 40) and 10 feet on the side (instead of 20). Hurray, we were so excited!
But not so fast. The title company said that they wouldn’t insure those amended build lines (meaning that we couldn’t build on them) unless the property had been re-platted. We went down to the city and found out that, nope, the property had never been re-platted and those new build lines were nowhere to be found. So, we were back to 40 and 20 foot build lines.
Could we get the property re-platted ourselves? That was our first plan, and then we learned that it cost thousands of dollars and could take months. We were willing to spend the thousands of dollars in exchange for a larger backyard for this spec house, but we weren’t sure we could afford to lose months waiting for the property to be re-platted. Then, we spoke to another consultant who said that the process could take up to a year. A year? Heck no.
So, re-platting was out. The setbacks put in place by the city for our property are just 35 feet and 10 feet, better than the build lines originally put in place by the developer. So could we just follow those? We looked into applying for a variance, a two month process which, in theory, would allow the Board of Adjusters to consider our application and grant us a “variance” to the build lines and allow us to build on the less restrictive setbacks. That sounded like a great plan!
Then we learned that the Board of Adjusters doesn’t have the authority to change build lines – no one but the original developer can do that. Womp womp. However, the expert we were talking to said that there was another course of action we could take – we could have the property re-platted to remove the build lines, or re-platted to revise the build lines to 35 feet. While this approach could work, it had a lot of problems:
- our property technically has two front yards (what the heck?!?), so if we had the build lines removed or revised, they would automatically revert to 35 feet. That would be fine for our front yard, but our side yard (which, remember, is technically a front yard) would then have a more restrictive setback since the current build line is just 20 feet. That’s no good.
- once we had the 35 foot sideyard (i.e., frontyard) setback, we would have to apply for a variance to get it reduced to 20 feet like it is now. But what if that variance wasn’t granted and we had a 35 foot setback on the side? That would totally ruin our plans.
- and don’t forget that the whole replatting process could take up to a year! The expert said that best case scenario it would take 4-6 months, worst case is a year, and the average is 9 months. Then we would still have to go through the 2 month process for a variance. So, basically, we would still be dealing with this drama a year from now, when we should be selling the house.
Where are we now? After all that research and running around, we’re back to our 40 and 20 foot build lines. Luckily, we’ve worked with our architect to come up with a floor plan that will work with those build lines.
Whew! Is your head spinning like mine? And by the way, if you made it all the way to the end of this ridiculously long, almost entirely photo-free post, you deserve a pony.