September Happenings Around Kirkland
Additions to the Kirkland Painter's Hall of Shame

Wall Street Journal Article Covers Building Issues in Kirkland

Hi all, here is an article from the Wall Street Journal--today's issue.   I was interviewed by Sara Munoz earlier in the week.   I am including the text of the article below without the pictures that ran with the article (you can find the pictures on WSJ.com, but you might need a subscription).  Several of the photos included were of Lux homes.  Would love to hear other folks comments on this issue as well as other issues relating to building trends in our neighborhoods.   Here is the article:   

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB115816983265962083.html?mod=todays_us_personal_journal

Invasion of the Roof Snatchers

Homeowners Maximize Space
By Going for Flat-Top Look;
Style-Conscious Towns Recoil

By SARA SCHAEFER MUÑOZ
September 14, 2006; Page D1

When it comes to flat roofs, beauty is clearly in the eye of the homeowner.

Eager to squeeze in more square-footage -- and increase property values -- while adhering to community height restrictions, a growing number of builders and homeowners are building homes with flat roofs. But these box-like structures and their party-friendly roof decks are sparking a backlash among neighbors who think the houses are homely, detracting from neighborhood character and blocking views and sunlight. Now, a number of communities are slapping new rules on builders that require sloping roofs.

Communities everywhere from Delaware to Washington are addressing roof pitch. The waterfront town of Bethany Beach, Del., several months ago passed a minimum-roof-pitch requirement after a spate of new, box-like homes dwarfed the town's older cottages. St. Augustine, Fla., last fall banned flat roofs for homes on some smaller lots over concerns about style and rooftop parties, and the city of Kirkland, Wash., near Seattle, is holding a series of community meetings with homeowners and developers on house-to-lot ratios, which address, in part, concerns about the increase in flat-roofed homes.

Many popular home styles, of course, such as Prairie and Pueblo, have flat or low-pitched roofs. And in some parts of the country, such as Santa Fe, N.M., some ordinances even aim to keep roofs flat. Still, in many suburban American communities, the majority of homes have sloping roofs. But now, some Realtors, builders and local officials say, flat tops are increasingly infiltrating neighborhoods that traditionally featured sloping-roofed cottages and bungalows.

A FEW EXTRA FEET

A Chicago-based home remodeler discusses how homeowners and builders are getting creative to maximize a home's square footage in communities with strict height restrictions.The trend is being driven in part by people seeking the best return on their investment amid soaring property values in recent years. It also demonstrates how zoning restrictions communities passed in recent years have backfired. In response to runaway development, many municipalities tried to prevent oversized homes on small lots. But in some cases, the unintended result was flat-roofed, boxy homes seen as out of character with surrounding styles. By using a flat roof, builders can sometimes squeeze in a second or third floor, adding square footage while staying under neighborhood height restrictions.

Kirkland, a city of about 50,000 people near the headquarters of Microsoft Corp., several years ago limited square footage on smaller lots, but officials say that move -- coupled with height restrictions -- may have encouraged flat roofs and boxy homes as people sought more space on the upper floor. "We may have gotten that wrong," says Kirkland Mayor Jim Lauinger. "When you have people taking away a peaked roof and putting on a flat roof to get additional volume, you've really altered what the neighborhood used to look like."

Steve Rabuchin, a Kirkland resident, learned that first-hand when a 5,000-square-foot, flat-top home went up recently on the lot below his 2,700-square-foot hill-side property. Because workers on the house chopped down trees, the Rabuchins now have a view of Lake Washington -- but with a broad expanse of flat, black roof in the foreground. "They maxed out everything they possibly could and ended up with a box," he says.

Yet builders say the flat-roof style allows them to get the best return in areas where land is pricey. John Lux, a Kirkland-area developer, built five homes with flat roofs this year, compared with one in the previous two years, squeezing in two stories and a partially exposed basement by using the flat-roof style. "The city is wanting to see smaller homes on these lots, but it just doesn't make sense financially," he says.

Flat roofs can also have drawbacks for owners. They generally don't stand up well to heavy rain and snow, and can require more frequent maintenance than roofs with a traditional pitch, contractors say. Flat roofs can also be more expensive to build, requiring more structural support. Yet Realtors say that flat-roofed homes can have a "wow" factor from inside, offering higher ceilings and the possibility of roof decks.

But some Realtors say that out-of-place flat-roofed homes could be tougher to sell. "Most people don't want a place that sticks out like a sore thumb," says Chuck Riley, a Realtor in the Washington, D.C., area.

Most homes going up with flatter roofs are in older neighborhoods, where the lots are so expensive that developers build as big as they can to make the investment worthwhile. Some big home builders are espousing the design: Pulte Homes Inc., based in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., recently put flat roofs on a town-home development in Baltimore as a way to offer roof decks and add more living space. The Maryland division president says the company is planning more homes in the same style.

Flattening the roof isn't the only way builders are staying under height restrictions in certain neighborhoods. Builders will also grade the land higher at the base of the house, so the first story is partially underground and they can build higher, says Vince Butler, chairman of the Remodelers Council of the National Association of Home Builders. "When folks are trying to get the most space in their house they end up going up or down."

Builders also report that people on small lots increasingly are putting in big basements and protruding dormers -- portions of a home that often don't count against square footage restrictions. In some areas where regulations are strict and land is in short supply, it's not uncommon for builders to lift an entire house up on hydraulic jacks and put in a partially exposed first story underneath. This adds another story without going over height limits; it also makes for easier approval by architectural review boards because the addition is partially underground, says Paul Winans, a California remodeler and chairman of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry.

Flat roofs can spur some strong emotions. In St. Augustine, Fla., residents in a series of meetings debated the merit of boxy homes before local officials passed an ordinance requiring that roofs on smaller lots have a minimum pitch. "When you plunk down one of these square boxes, it stands out -- it's an affront to the historic nature of the town," says John Marples, a resident who spoke at one of the hearings.

But residents Thomas and Elizabeth Dreisbach are chafing under the new restrictions. They own a 1,300-square-foot home on one of the city's smaller lots. They would like to enlarge their house by adding a flat or slightly pitched roof to get a deck, more space and increase the home's value. Now, they will have to request a variance. Otherwise, they'll try to put a large roof deck on top of a sloping one, which Mr. Dreisbach says won't look as nice. "These restrictions are just causing architecture to be uglier and are taking money out of people's pockets," he says.

Write to Sara Schaefer Muñoz at sara.schaefer@wsj.com

Comments

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Bob

Hope you got permissions to reprint this article. I know the WSJ normally does not allow reprints, especially on subscription material.

Joe Kennedy

Steve - congratulations on being quoted in the Journal, your 2700 sq ft home and the success of the Kirkland Weblog.

Keep up the good work!

Someone who cares about Kirkland

Steve,

You have a well visited blog, and a good one. Please take some space and raise your voice for the quality of life in Kirkland.

We need to get (scum) builders like John Lux out of this community. If we just let the John Luxes of the world rule, we will only have huge boxes with square footage maxed out. It might be good for that individual home owner (or more precisely, the first owner since building quality is a word left off the business plan), but when EVERYONE is in a "big box", the overall quality of our city has been diminished.

There is more to living in a house than "maximizing" resell value. It is all about making it a home, and a home also requires great surroundings (neighbors, yards, trees, parks, open areas, little traffic, etc, etc). Much of what is built west of Market today looks like gigantic condos, with only a few feet left between the long dead side walls. Very little open land is left, apart from a concrete driveway. And in the process, the trees were removed as well.

Kirkland had a great mix of homes/houses just a few years ago, but that mix is unfortunately more and more a thing of the past.

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