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Lot description

If you skipped Lot History above, you should probably read this, otherwise feel free to skip to Our Dirt.

The lot we found is less than one mile from the school, at the top of a hill. It's a corner lot, 8200 ft2 which is large for the area (6000 ft2 is average) and has an odd shape. I'll try to get a picture here. On the north side lies a one-way road, and across from the road is DeLaveaga Park. A large ( 565 acre) county park. Since it's at the top of a hill, it affords a great view of the city of Santa Cruz, with the Monterey Bay in the background (about two miles away).

The neighborhood is all single family houses, 1800 - 2500 ft.2.

Our Dirt

What we boughtthe Barn

It's 1 July 1998 and we're the proud owners of dirt. Well, not really dirt as it's mostly covered with concrete and has a barn in one corner. One good wind, or strong sneeze in the vicinity will bring the barn down. Once concession we did get from the sale was the owner would rent the barn for six months, and when he left he would be responsibly for taking the barn and a good part of the concrete with him.

After purchasing the lot, we figured we'd plan the house for six months, find an architect at the beginning of 1999, have building permits by the beginning of the summer, and have a house at the end of the 1999 or beginning of 2000. Hah!

I go out and buy a couple of books on building houses to get some ideas, and I purchase software to let us draw the house on the computer. I find this much easier, my wife still uses paper and erasers. I get to see my version of the house in 3D walk-through. Best $30.00 I spent. The books were mostly useless.

I don't know what it's like in the rest of the country, but here in Santa Cruz a standard family house (3 bedroom, 2 bath, 6000 ft.2 lot) runs around $300,000 (remember, it's still 1998, in 2001 those same houses are going for about $500,000). The houses themselves aren't worth anything. The land is worth a bunch. About 2/3 of the total price. The books I read all start with ``don't do anything until you own the land.'' That's own, as in without any loans or anything. Good luck.

One silly book talks about being your own contractor. You can do it all in 30 minutes a day. This man should be slapped. Then stomped on. Then laughed at. I suggest to anyone to watch one of the Home Time series that builds a house from the ground up. You're not going to get all of the details right in 30 minutes a day, and you're also not going to get the sub-contractors you want when you want them because they're all busy helping real contractors who are going to give them repeat work. They will do their best to help you, but be real.

We spent four or five months planning our house, and it's now getting toward the end of the year so we go looking for an architect. I interview one and though he's very good, we were looking for a Mediterranean style house and his style was (at least to me) odd. I work in a building he designed. It's interior has large red wood beams (no, not redwood, but douglas fir painted red), green wood trim, and brown plaster. This is the really expensive plaster finishing (painting?) that gives it an ``old'' feel? The first thing my manager said when he came into the building (it was being custom done for my company) was ``when is it going to get painted?'' OK, ax him. The real estate agent who helped us buy the lot recommended another man. He charged $55/hour (vs. $85 for others or even a straight percentage) so we thought, why not? Excellent decision! He's been in the area for many years, knows everyone and seems to have a good working relationship. We show him our sketches, let him know what we want and send him on his way. He comes back with a 7400 ft.2 house! Nothing pretentious mind you, just a cozy little affair. Actually, he said this is the biggest possible house we can put on the lot and it's a lot easier to make things smaller. Which we do. Much.

Since the lot has a rise of 7' from back to front, we thought it made sense to put in a basement. Otherwise, any rooms we put in the lower level would have a great view of dirt. Our plans called for a 2500 ft.2 house, 3 car garage and basement. Simple, yes? The zoning allowed only a 3000' house, but everyone knows one does not count a basement or garage in that, right? Wrong! The city ordinance is very fuzzy and open to interpretation and at the time they chose to interpret it as 3000'. Period. All covered area included.

Our architect thinks this is just silly so he goes into the city to get some clarification. Of course this takes several weeks since no one in Santa Cruz has ever heard of a basement. Finally, the planning department comes back with a definite maybe. OK, we draw up some preliminary plans to give to the city.

Did I mention it's now June 1999? We still think we can start construction this year. There is a building moratorium from November through April (so people can't start building during the raining months) but we figure we can start in October.

The summer comes and goes. The preliminary drawings go to city planning. The staff recommends against, but we still think it might be worth a public hearing. Before paying for this (a public hearing means we must mail a postcard to every neighbor in 1000') I go canvassing the neighborhood for support. I figure if I get all the neighbors to OK it, it will happen. I took the plans door to door, and anyone not home got a letter from my wife and me explaining what we were doing. Unfortunately, though the response was overwhelmingly positive (we're only talking 12 houses or so) there was one against, two iffy, and one who told me he'd seen many coastal communities fall prey to monster houses and he didn't think he could support it. Even though a basement made sense, it set a bad precedent.

To get a variance (which is what we needed for our basement), one first must go the planning department (which we did). If they object (which they did) one moves to the planning commission. They hear arguments from both sides and then rule with the suggestions of the planning department. Finally, one can go in front of the city council.

I won't go into Santa Cruz politics, but the mayor at the time actually referred to a drainage ditch as a ``seasonal riparian corridor.'' We decided we didn't have a chance and would have to lose the basement. Back to the drawing board. 1999 has officially ended.

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