Between Scylla & Charybdis & Bad Timing


With my kitchen 90 percent done, I’ve been thinking about putting my house on the market again come spring (which gives me a few months to complete the 10 percent). So I’ve been looking online (and visiting a few open houses) in my neighborhood.

But I’m particular (others might choose a different word)…and there isn’t much in my neighborhood (in which I’d like to remain) that fits the bill and also fits anywhere near the budget.

The challenge is (as it was last year), that I want a house with a garage or first-floor family room (read:workshop), but I also want a living room, dining room and kitchen, as I now have. And it has to have at least 2 full baths, and three or more bedrooms (one of which would be a study). Oh – and it has to have been built prior to around 1930.

At the moment, there are only two properties in my ‘hood that match; one of them is listed at $320k (it’s gorgeous) and the other at $260k (it is slightly less gorgeous, but still does not completely suck). My goal was to find one for around $120k that was livable and could become gorgeous with a lot of work. Last year, there were several of those on the market around here (granted, they all smelled pretty bad, but…). But almost everything on the acceptable streets (read: reasonably safe) has now been bought and rehabbed, or is in the midst of being rehabbed…at which point it will be listed for $250k or more. (Including the stinky ones I looked at last year.)

And frankly, I kinda like my house. Now. Now that I’ve put a lot of time, effort and money into it. (If only I had pictures and smell-o-vision of the Kelly green carpet that covered three rooms and the hall when I moved in…).

But it still doesn’t have room for a shop – no matter how many times Christopher Schwarz tells me I don’t need a dining room. (He also thinks I should “just dig out the basement” to make room for power tools down there – never mind that it’s field stone and has a recurring water feature when it rains. Also, almost zero natural light. And spiders. Lots of spiders.)

So I’ve circled back to considering an addition, with a first floor family room (shop) and an additional bedroom (or whatever) above, and possibly another full bath. (See my terrible sketch at top for the first floor…and note that I’d be tearing into the back wall of my 90-percent-done kitchen. Or someone would. Dammit.)

So today, I checked in with the zoning department. I’m screwed. Any structure or addition must be set 20′ back from the rear property line. Those of you with eagle eyes may see the 315″ in my drawing above, from the back wall of my existing house to the rear of my property. Now math is not my strong suit, but I’m pretty sure that leaves me about 6′ for an in-code addition.

If want to pursue this, I’ll need a variance. That application costs $300-$500 (it’s unclear to me which app I have to submit), plus one has to submit approved site plans, which I’m sure will cost far more than $500. That’s an expensive gambit with odds heavily on failure.

While there are many houses around me that don’t meet this particular code (among myriad other violations), the neighbor behind me is likely to say no, because he’d then be squeezed by code violators on both sides. In which case, I lose. And even if he says yes, I could still be turned down. There’s simply no telling.


I  don’t want to spend $1k+ to be told, “no variance for you.”

But I really don’t want to give up my dining room.

About fitz

Woodworker, writer, editor, teacher, ailurophile, Shakespearean. Will write for air-dried walnut.
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28 Responses to Between Scylla & Charybdis & Bad Timing

  1. I’d be more worried about the GIANT BLACK WORMS creeping on your neighborhood’s streets! Sheesh, they even put ’em on the maps there.

    • fitz says:

      Aren’t you funny. Those are actually skid marks left by the drug dealers peeling out; they always have KY licenses, for the record.

      • Wombat says:

        Better Scylla and Charybdis than Syphilis and Chlamydia!
        Seriously though, I don’t know the area but it seems like moving to a different area might kill a lot of birds with one stone.. I know you don’t want to but maybe you should give it some consideration? Plus you could get away from the skid marks in the street (do drug dealers not even wipe these days? Sheesh)

    • toolnut says:

      They seem to all be converging on the property highlighted in red.

  2. bobprime0 says:

    Move the dining room to the basement. It is rude to mention that the dining room looks like a dungeon during a dinner party so you don’t have to worry about that and your tools stay nice and dry.

  3. Jerome Bias says:

    What are the possibilities of adding an outbuilding like a garage?

  4. Dave Reedy says:

    As a lifelong, Skyline slurping Cincinnatian, I don’t see the draw for that neighborhood. Couldn’t pay me to live there. Move uptown and get out of the hood. Some fine old houses in Mount Healthy or how about the Oakley area. That being said, I admit I don’t know the market. I do feel that your $120K target is unrealistic.

  5. toolnut says:

    Since fixing the basement and water feature is out (due natural light requirement) Maybe the bump-out could be much smaller and then you make that your study. (No second floor addition, just a little bump-out. The Next owner can use it the same way or as a sun room. It’s also nice to have a study off of the kitchen. ) Then the current workshop/study can become the workshop. You may still need a variance, but asking for a 10ft addition with a 4ft variance might be easier to get approved. I’d talk to an architect about the bump-out, the basement fix or reconfiguring some walls inside to get you what you want. Good luck.

    (I’d still work on fixing the water in the basement. It will make selling the property a lot easier.)

  6. snwoodwork says:

    I’ve always said Florida houses have no soul and this confirms it. As a lifelong resident of the South, these houses look almost like a different country. And what is this “basement” you speak of?

  7. playnoevil says:

    Build up.

  8. Russ says:

    Keep in mind that the city, town, county, etc want your money. They would love to issue a building permit, because that brings them money. They would love for you to have a larger house, that costs more in taxes, because that brings them more money. Also, keep in mind that most people don’t really care what happens on someone else’s property. We recently went through a variance process, and it was actually pretty easy. No-one even showed up at the variance hearing.

    Best of Luck,

    • fitz says:

      I hope I have your luck (or get over my pique at not having a dining room…or having the perfect storm of interested buyer and ramshackle perfect house to rehab come on the market…we shall see!)

  9. Publius Secundus says:

    Swap houses with Chris. He seems to think he can make it work.

  10. Narayan says:

    Personally, I’d move. That said–I’m in the middle of a project that involves picking up an existing structure and moving it to a new foundation. I’ve learned since the beginning of this project that this is done ALL the time, and for everything from very modest houses to massive buildings like barns, banks, and churches.

    If you like your house and its location, you might want to see what it would cost to lift the house and build a new foundation. At the very least, you’d be able to address drainage issues around your house, get a deeper basement with modern conveniences, and could even incorporate loading/unloading of lumber and equipment into the design.

    I suspect the cost of doing this in your area is probably comparable to purchasing a new home, but it allows you to leverage the sweat equity you’ve already put into your existing house and you could probably write most of this project off your taxes over the next few years given that it’s a shop and relevant to your business. But I’d look into it if only to put another option on the table.

  11. Why not a combined workshop/dining room? I would think a nice, new Roubo workbench could double very nicely as a dining table!

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