Accessory Dwellings

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Sabin Green – A community of 2 ADUs and 2 modest homes

Back in 2005, I was trying to figure out how to create affordable home ownership opportunities without public subsidies in a strong housing market.

With a background in affordable housing development and having just completed a small cohousing condominium conversion project, I was interested in models that would support affordability and community within an urban, amenity-rich neighborhood. I had learned about ADUs as a planning student and was intrigued by the possibility of using the condominium legal structure as a way to separate ownership between ADUs and primary residences.

When a property came on the market that could support two primary dwellings and two ADUs, I jumped in with an offer (1 of 11 received within a few hours!) and owned it a week later. Here are before and after shots:

Before – original house on the right and vacant side yard on the left

After – with one of the ADUs visible between the homes in the back

The 75’ wide property had an 1,100 sf house with a detached 2-car garage and sideyard. It was platted as two 37.5’ wide lots, meaning that it could be divided in two, which I did. Then I worked closely with Mark Lakeman at Communitecture to design a community of 4 homes and shared common house that all face a shared, central, circular courtyard. Inspired by the following rendering and grounded by construction drawings to go with it, a wonderful group of buyers assembled to purchase the homes and launch a new community.
Our goals for this project were as follows:

  • Preserve and renovate existing structures rather than tearing them down,
  • Use less land per house by arranging multiple residences on the same lot,
  • Build (2) small homes under 600sf that are affordable and take fewer resources to build, heat, and maintain,
  • Design to make it easy for residents to share resources (ie. internet, meals, newspapers, camping equipment…),
  • Incorporate salvaged materials and artwork, and
  • Create a beautiful and welcoming place in which to live.

Garage conversion ADU:
The garage conversion was relatively straight forward, especially since the 24’ x 24’ structure was already pretty livable (although not permitted as such). It had a 10’ ceiling, insulated walls and attic, kitchen-like cabinetry with sink, a full bath, pull-down stairs to decked attic storage, gas furnace, and a large covered porch over a side patio. Here’s what it looked like when we got started:
We replaced the garage door with French doors and rebuilt much of the concrete driveway leading up to it as a brick patio. Inside, we installed wood flooring and trim over the existing concrete, and legalized the electrical, plumbing and mechanical work for the kitchen, bath and heating system. Finally, we cut back the covered side porch to let more light in.

New ADU on a 20’x20’ footprint:
In the back corner of the site, we designed and built a new ADU across the courtyard from the garage conversion ADU described above. To leave space for a nice courtyard, we tucked the ADU in the rear corner of the site and designed it within a 20’x20′ footprint. Portland sets a limit on ADU height to 18′ to the mid-point of a gable roof, which meant we could go 1 1/2 stories in height. After many sketches, we ended up going with an L-shaped building with central circular stair.
One of the design challenges was where to locate the bathroom. By choosing the upstairs next to the sleeping area, we prioritized the needs of residents over guests (who would have to tromp upstairs to use the lou). The circular stair provides the house with a visible anchor, under-stair storage, and very space-efficient way to go from floor-to-floor. In-floor radiant heat might be over-kill for such a small space, but it sure is cozy.

For those interested, here are architectural plans for the site plan and new ADU.

I expected a 1-person household would buy the new ADU. Instead, a couple moved in with their 2 cats. They ended up staying on after having a baby, and eventually moved to a larger home to give their family a little more space.

Unfortunately, I don’t have cost information on these ADUs because the construction expenses were hopelessly entangled with the costs of renovating and building the primary homes on the property.

Since moving in, the new owners have surrounded the homes with a beautiful and bountiful garden, bee hives, additional bike parking, robust compost system, and a clothesline. Each home provides privacy for residents, while the community elements of the project offer opportunities for sharing (meals, gardening, child care, cob guest room…) and impromptu fun. The ADUs remain a relatively affordable option in an increasingly desirable neighborhood. And the variety of home sizes allow people at different stages of life to live together in community.

As a developer and general contractor, I have no role in the project once everyone moves in. So it’s great to see that residents of Sabin Green have carried forward with their own vision of “a sustainable and resourceful urban community, supporting each other and contributing to the larger community”.

For green features and additional images of Sabin Green, check out my company website. There were also nice stories in the Oregonian, Communities Magazine, and on NBC’s Today Show.

– Eli Spevak
Orange Splot LLC

Next project…. Cully Grove

About Eli Spevak

Community housing developer


This entry was posted on December 23, 2013 by in Conversion, Detached, Floor Plan, Garage, New Construction, Projects.
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