I thought you were building a house.. Where is it??

So yes, we’re building a house.. Of course it always takes longer than you want. The good news is we are really, really close to having the actual builder copies of the plans and are getting bids from several contractors in the area. Each of them has their own strengths and I think we’ve narrowed it down to two but we may be adding another one into the mix.

Couple of new-ish features we are thinking about adding or at least I haven’t talked about them on here yet. We went to a backyard expo class put on by the Texas A&M Agrilife Extension (WH08P!) and I started getting even more excited about Rainwater Catchment. Trying to figure out the best way to do it. I don’t really just want to add a barrel, I’m thinking something like the metal cisterns. Haven’t been able to find anything online that really strikes my fancy yet. Also we’ve been talking about solar! Unfortunately the house position doesn’t really lend itself to solar on the house, so I’m thinking about solar on the roof of the carport. Wasn’t really planning on adding that yet, but the plans might be changing a bit because I think it would be cool to add solar sooner than later.

In other news, the lot is looking great. The neighbors are all great and helping us by calling in people who shouldn’t be there and are probably picking up trash some because it’s been much cleaner lately.

More coming soon!

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Building in the Historic District…

One of the drivers for setting up this blog is to document the process around doing new construction in a historic district in San Antonio. I haven’t been able to find any details anywhere else on the web, so I figured it would be nice for someone going through the same things in the future.

So what have I learned so far? We turned in our plans to get on the agenda for the next Historic Design Review Commission (HDRC) meeting about a week ago, we’re planning to be on the August 21st meeting agenda. HDRC actually has a pretty informative website and guidelines, which I think I’ve gone over about a 100 times so far. Here’s some basics:

  1. There are different guidelines for new construction and renovations
  2. New construction guidelines focus on not having anything that would distract too much from the historic structures but they also don’t want you to mimic them (this surprises a lot of people)
  3. The process consists of two approvals, conceptual (approving the idea) and final (approving the actual plans) approvals
  4. The staff we have worked with so far has been amazing easy to deal with, more than willing to meet to review plans and ideas before we are actually putting anything up for approval

I’ll keep posting more as I figure it out. We’re applying for conceptual approval, which basically means that we want to make sure we are on the right track before fully locking down our plans with our architect. So you’re probably wondering.. just what are the plans looking like? Image

Here they are! It’s still a work in progress, but it gives you the general idea. We’re trying to mix some of the elements of the neighborhood with some more modern touches. Here’s some general information. We’re going for a mix of material on the outside, mostly stucco but also clapboard siding (probably the most used material in the neighborhood. The pitched roof is standing seam metal roof, also very common. My favorite part is actually in the back. The porch and second story deck. If you go out to the lot and face south you can actually see the Tower and several other downtown high rises at ground level. So we’re very excited about the downtown views from 10-12 feet up! Overall the house is a 3 bedroom, 2.5 bath, 2 story house with a fairly open floor plan on the bottom and all 3 bedrooms upstairs. We’ll post more on the specifics of the interior and site plan at a later date.

What comes next? There are a couple of things coming up soon.

  • First of all the HDRC meeting, I’m expecting some feedback even before the meeting, so we might be making some adjustments between now and then.
  • We are also members of and involved in the Dignowity Hill Neighborhood Association. A fantastic group of people who live and/or own property in the neighborhood. We hope to present our ideas at the next meeting on the 19th of August.
  • And probably the most exciting and scary part…… starting the search for a builder or contractor to run our project! If you have any suggestions, we’d love to hear them!

It’s All Good in the (Historic) Hood

Our neighborhood is beautiful – that is, to me, the other half of the dynamic duo.I like to think that I see potential in a lot of things.  This lovely conglomeration of homes, warehouses, and eclectic historical features is situated on the very near East Side of San Antonio, Texas – my favorite city of all-time and home since birth.  This area can best be described as “in progress.”  Though there is much good in it, there is much that many current residents still want to improve.  So why did we choose this area, rather than an already-bustling area of town?  The answer to that is complex, as humans usually are.

1) Location

Naturally, as for all homeowners and home-builders, location is primary.  Everything we do is in or near downtown SA.  My significant other is the kind who would be perfectly happy in a 400 square foot efficiency in a mixed-use retail/living structure.  I, on the other hand, demand a yard, a dog, and a place to produce crafts.  Dignowity Hill lies right across I-37 from downtown proper, less than a mile from our oh-so-sacred Alamo, a little over a mile and a half from the landmark Tower of the Americas, and only 0.8 miles from one of my favorite places on earth – the San Antonio Museum of Art (SAMA).  Once you get into the actual neighborhood, you might not remember that Dignowity is so near to our urban center.  Yards are large, houses decently spaced, streets lined with flowering crepe myrtles. You get all that, and our master bedroom will have a fantastic view of the cityscape. The best of both worlds, you might say.

2) Price

But of course, there are lots of choices for locations around downtown.  There are apartments of varying square footage and fanciness throughout the city proper.  The areas around Broadway and the lovely structures of the Pearl Brewery are scenic and bursting with life and real estate.  It’s even possible to find lots with space for yards.  Ultimately, it comes down to the fact that Dignowity is not yet as popular as other up-and-coming areas.  Less than a decade ago, most of the Pearl Brewery sat abandoned.  The luxuriant Japanese Tea Gardens were dry hangouts for unsavory characters (and my high school friends and myself), and nary a local would be seen regularly downtown.  Now, though, change is in the air.  Third Brewsday offers craft beers, the Tea Gardens are served by a lovely tea house, and apartments are rising all around the Pearl and SAMA.

“But, you were supposed to tell us about price!” you say.  Yes, a decade ago, it might have been perfectly affordable to move into the neighborhood near the Pearl.  And yes, it is still in development.  However, a piece of land in that neighborhood 4/5 the size of the one we found in Dignowity was slightly over 5 times the price.  The cost of fixer-upper bungalows in the once sketch Southtown are creeping ever higher.  And all of this ties in to…

3) Potential

Dignowity Hill may have some houses that seem to be collapsing on themselves.  Certainly, there is vandalism.  One of our favorite restaurants had its front windows smashed in, and the culprits have not been apprehended.  However, it has the potential to be one of the most fun and interesting neighborhoods in San Antonio.

Firstly, most residents are fantastic. We’ve met most of our future neighbors, and are greeted warmly by many of them every time we visit. We attend neighborhood association meetings monthly, and have not only met interesting people, but listened to interesting dialogue go on about the neighborhood. We eat at Pancho’s and Gringo’s weekly, and are always treated royally by the family that owns it. (This is the above mentioned favorite restaurant.)

Besides the people, however, sits the neighborhood’s development. The San Antonio Express News ran an article recently about the businesses and entrepreneurs who are taking an interest in the Near East Side. Among these, one of the most well-known is the Alamo Brewery, which plans to build on and develop a lot next to the historic Hays Street Bridge. Also in the works are a rooftop wine bar, an outdoor beer and wine joint which will resemle the Friendly Spot in Southtown, and one development which is already visible – the introduction of 12 compact townhomes on a lot at the corner of Cherry and Pine Streets.  While only the last of these is in the works as yet, the promise of interest in the neighborhood is what provides the security we need to move in – especially where finances are concerned. The possibility that this neighborhood may become something like a new Southtown someday means that, if we were to turn around and sell our new home someday, the value will have gone up. Now, that doesn’t mean we’re planning on selling (ever), but then, it’s always nicer to hedge your bets.

4) History

The last and smallest of our motivations for moving to this neighborhood was that it has a rich history. In fact, it is San Antonio’s first “suburb” (for all that it is now practically downtown). It was the province of Czech immigrants in the late 1800s. Boosted by the railroad, among other industries, the neighborhood grew and diversified, leaving all the beautiful, historic homes still found there. This is the kind of neighborhood we want to live in – one with a rich history, rather than populated with cookie-cutter mass-produced homes.

So this is my short insight on our complex thought process. We’re happy with our choice. We’ll see how the experiment turns out.

 

Get ready Dignowity, we’re moving in!

I’ve always enjoyed reading about progress in development around downtown and about house building in general, so I figured I’d give something back by posting about our experiences as we move through the progress in the historic neighborhood of Dignowity Hill on San Antonio’s near east side. The plan is to give periodic updates about the design, approval and building process in the journey to build our new house in this great historic neighborhood just east of downtown San Antonio!

Going into the project we have a couple of main goals in mind:

  1. Design a house that we can grow into–spending the last few years in a condo close to work has been great, but we want to move into a place that will have room to grow, have a great yard for potential pup, and enough room for crafts.
  2. Be modern but fit into the historic neighborhood–I would describe myself as liking modern design and clean lines but we want to mix that into the awesome character of the hood.
  3. Take advantage of downtown views–we’re less than a mile from the Alamo, you can see the Tower of the Americas from the backyard, we plan to have many windows and a second story deck to enjoy the views.
  4. Build it green–there are a ton of great eco-friendly options out there, so we want to take advantage of building from the ground up and include them where it makes sense.

Speaking of green building, we just got our first green sample product in, the Cresco Liteblok:

crescoblocks

 

I’ve always been interested in the idea concrete building materials but think that poured concrete and solid concrete blocks have some major downfalls. So far the Liteblok seems interesting, it seems like it could be a good choice to get the concrete-like benefits (fire resistance, durability, vermin resistant) while also having great environmental cred for insulating so well. Once we get some structural analysis done of the site we can figure out if they’re a real option.

Coming next, the lot selection.. Where’s Dignowity Hill, why did we choose it, what do we think of it so far and more!