Best Laid Plans…Lessons Learned.

Before demolition

I thought I had done all of my research and got all the right answers.

I failed to clarify: “…without needing a variance?”

We purchased the house with the idea of using the existing structure to build a new house around it.

You may think this idea was crazy. Our intention was to save all of the 200 year old oak trees on the property.
The house, as it sat, was nothing special—it had no redeeming qualities.

It was actually a very, sad house.

My daughter in the original kitchen

We lived down the street from this house and I feared if we didn’t buy it, a “builder” would and clear-cut the lot to build something that might not fit with the neighborhood.

I asked 3 questions of the Village Planning and Development Department staff:

  1. Can I add on to the existing house, within the allowable setbacks (build-able space as
    defined by the building & zoning code) ?
  2. Can I add up/over, on top of the existing structure?
  3. Can I add a detached garage, in the back, with a driveway coming out on the adjacent street?

I was told “yes” to all the above. So we bought the property.

I started designing and worked with my dad, an architect,  to draw up the plans…

this is what was submitted for permit.

plans for victorian
We wanted to build this^–working with the existing house, adding out, up and over.


Not long later, I got a call from the Village. The plan examiner said, “You can’t do this without a variance…” (a variance is an exception to the rule which needs a majority vote by the Zoning Board of Appeals and Confirmation by the Village Board.)

Obtaining a variance could take 6 months and the answer might still be “NO” (plus I learned there was a political bent to the equation–the Village President was our neighbor and didn’t like the idea of the proposed driveway coming out on the blind corner of “snake hill”…)

We went back to the drawing board.

Plat of survey with proposed addition.

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4 thoughts on “Best Laid Plans…Lessons Learned.

  1. I remember hearing about this from back when Chris worked in the building department. We had looked at that same property and thought the same thing about the oak trees and knew that there was nothing we could do to salvage that lot and not lose the trees.


    1. The plan that we proposed would have not required us to remove any trees to build the additions. It was that darn little triangle of area that was built over the backyard set back line, that made the house “non-conforming” and the Village didn’t want us adding “bulk” to a non-conforming structure. Turned out “trees aren’t everything.”


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