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• Setting: urban
• Neighborhood: Historic Railroad District, Ashland, OR
• Type: stand-alone detached unit
• Use: owner’s full-time residence
• Square Footage: 500
• Year Built: 2012
• Owner: Cheryl & Jim Levie
• Designer: Brian Rogers
• Builder: Mark Snyder of Innovative Construction
• Total Cost: approximately $75,000
“We’re gypsies. Flipping houses is a creative process that we enjoy. I grew up really poor and my dad fixed up every house we’ve ever lived in. I grew up this way. Most people get divorced over remodels, but we love the art involved. Besides, we have a small house, so it’s nice to have the extra space of the ADU.” – Cheryl Levie
Jim Levie is a custom homebuilder who has purchased, renovated, and resold more than a dozen homes with his wife Cheryl. They use funds from one project to finance the next. Since they’re always interested in increasing the value of a property, they keep an eye out for a property that will accommodate an ADU. As they were looking for a house in Ashland, Oregon in 2010, one property in particular caught their attention. They liked the historic character of the house with its original cabinetry and tile. There was also an outbuilding on the property – a chicken coop that had been converted into living space. The seller was attempting to sell the property as two homes. Fortunately, Jim had contracted on several ADUs and was familiar with the regulations. He looked into the permits and discovered that the shack conversion had been done without permits and was, therefore, illegal.
“The city ‘grandfathered’ it in as approved but we were to bring it up to code. The original structure was set right on the property line. The fence was literally nailed right to it. In addition, being on the property line, we were to make that wall that was literally in our neighbors’ yard, a firewall. But we’re right along the alley, so when we had our property surveyed we gained another 10 feet.” – Cheryl Levie
When Cheryl and Jim purchased the property they decided to obtain the appropriate permits to complete the conversion, transforming the chicken coop into a legally habitable second dwelling. Their plan was to add additional square footage and modify the roofline to make the out building match the primary dwelling. They had the construction experience to update the plumbing, wiring, and insulation themselves.
However, they discovered that because their home was on the historic register, they had one of two choices for their chicken coop. They could either build within the existing shell, making no modifications to the exterior, or replace the structure entirely. They were unable to construct an ADU that would be a hybrid of the two options as they’d originally planned to do.
“The City would not let us modify the structure. They would not let us change the roofline to match the historic house. The county left us no choice but to tear it down and start over. They shot us down on every idea. So we decided to deconstruct the shack. We had to rip down all the reusable material. We wanted to be better stewards and not throw good materials in the landfill, so we took as much as we could to Habitat.” – Cheryl Levie
As they designed an ADU to replace the chicken coop, they came up with a design that allows them to have a single-car garage on one side and a living space on the other side. In the process, they attempted to make the new building more like the existing 1945 home, which was one of the original houses on their street.
“We researched the period. I love doing that. I’d done it on other houses, too. Retro Renovation is a great website. We modeled all the cabinetry and tile after the primary house. When you walk into the ADU you get a lot of the same feeling as the main house. When we replaced the kitchen in the main house I saved the hinges and we used them in the ADU.” – Cheryl Levie
Since they were attempting to honor the character of their existing 1945 home, they found it frustrating that they were required to comply with so many regulations, especially since they were aware of several illegal garage conversions nearby.
“When we built the ADU, we had to go before the historical committee for review. Once you’re in the system they make you jump through hoops. There are a tremendous number of converted garages in our neighborhood, but there’s little enforcement of the code. It wouldn’t be so bad if they made everyone comply. But in the end we got an award from the city’s historic committee!” – Cheryl Levie
Energy-efficiency guided some of their purchasing decisions, including an Energy Smart fridge, wall heat, exposure windows, and extra insulation. They also considered installing a hydronic heat system since they were doing a slab-on-grade foundation. They had done an in-floor heat system like this in another house, but they couldn’t make it pencil out for their ADU. Meanwhile, they incorporated many salvaged materials in their build.
“Hippo Hardware in Portland is awesome. I love that place. I spent a lot of time rummaging through bins of handles and knobs. The highlight was researching the period. The house was built in 1945 and my parents were married in 1945. It was a really nostalgic period. After the Great Depression in the 1920s the 30’s brought artsy, art deco design and then the early 40’s is virtually a barren design period with no raw materials during WWII. Right after the war we had the Baby Boom and a resurgence of life and design. I enjoyed talking to my dad about this time period.” – Cheryl Levie
When they first built the ADU, Cheryl and Jim looked into renting it out as a furnished, short-term rental to bring in additional income. However, they discovered that in Ashland, OR this is considered a commercial use. In order to use a property for nightly rental it must be within 200 feet of a main road. Cheryl wasn’t able to find any allowance for a variance. They’ve also considered having longer-term renters, but Cheryl explains “we don’t want someone living permanently 50 feet from our back door.” These days Cheryl and Jim use their ADU as a guest space for family and friends. Cheryl says her favorite aspect of having an ADU on her property is that it makes hosting guests so comfortable.
“They can make their own coffee, use their own bathroom, and you don’t have to run into someone in your jammies in the kitchen. It’s really comfortable for guests who come to visit. There’s nothing I dislike about the ADU. In fact, I like it better than a bigger house because you can clean it and close it off!” – Cheryl Levie
Jim and Cheryl have also found that, especially now that Jim is retired, the ADU provides extra space if either of them are working on a project. Although they’ve been flipping houses for years, Cheryl explains she’s really attached to this place. She figures she and Jim probably will move at some point since it’s in their nature, but she hopes to keep the house as an investment property, renting out the primary dwelling and keeping the ADU as a guest cottage.
So what advice does Cheryl have for homeowners considering creating an ADU on their own property?
“Think of the purpose of the space, and if you’re in the city of Ashland, figure out whether the City will accommodate your vision. Do your research!” –Cheryl Levie
It’s fun to see a more realistic, less space-age, version of the 50’s style. It reminds me of a few beach rentals I’ve been to on the east coast. The entrance walkway/patio combination is a nice touch
The permitting process on this one sounds painful. I wish the people who write and enforce city codes could read stories like this — because (in my humble opinion of course) it shows how frustrating and ridiculous it can be to be a good citizen and follow the rules. The choice the homeowners had — to either leave the chicken coop exterior as-is or completely tear it down — would have probably stopped homeowners who were less experienced with properties and building. My gut feeling is that if rules were less absurd, then more people would follow them. 🙂
Anyway enough of the editorializing. Thanks to Cheryl & Jim for sharing their project!
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