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Filling In: 37 Eagle Street Part 1

November 18th, 2014

Matthew Denker is filling in 37 Eagle Street. For real.
By Matthew Denker

Welcome to the first part of Filling In: 37 Eagle Street. I’d love to tell you how many parts to expect, but I don’t really know. What I can tell you is that this is the first Filling In about a real live project: my wife and I are building ourselves a house at 37 Eagle Street external link in Corn Hill.

So what gives? Why a house, you say? Well, I’ve always dreamed of building myself a house, and if you haven’t noticed from previous columns, I’m very much interested in developing Rochester. If that’s not a fortuitous intersection of desires, I don’t know what is…

Satellite Photo of 37 Eagle Street, Rochester NY. [PHOTO: Google]

How did this all happen?

Well, back in 2009, a small piece of land in a neighborhood we love, Corn Hill (SURPRISE!), came on the market. My wife and I decided to play the long game and pull the trigger. We made a cash offer of $7,500 on September 29th, 2009. If you’re doing the math, this is not cheap acreage (the lot is 1/10th of an acre on a good day at 41’x100’). Even so, it seemed like a steal to us.

After a variety of small delays, we closed on the property on January 6th, 2010. So yes, even cash offers can take some time to make happen! In any event, we certainly weren’t in a position to start planning, building, or anything else at the time, so the top priority became waiting. At least we were waiting until April 2010, when we realized we had to find someone to mow the property for us. Maintenance, even with nothing there (maybe especially with nothing there) is a consideration we won’t overlook again.

37 Eagle Street, Rochester NY.
Speaking of considerations, there are also taxes on vacant land. One might even argue there should be more taxes on vacant land external link to promote less vacancy – but that will be a separate argument for a separate column.

Over the past four years, between mowing and taxes, we’ve spent about $800 a year. If you’re keeping track, we’re $10,000 down and still don’t have somewhere to live. Nevertheless, here we are, in 2014, and we are furiously trying to find an architect. Our timeline is to have something to move into in the next three years.

In addition to picking an architect and designing the house, we will need Preservation Board and Zoning Board approvals (hope to see all of you at the hearings – preferably in support). We will also need to pick a contractor, get a loan from a bank, and start digging. There’s so much to do, even if we have time.

What are we hoping to build?

Well, other than trying to build 3 units, we don’t really know yet. My fantasy home, if you can call it that, would be this external link: classic foursquare in the front, and glassy/modern in the back. Clearly this house is too large for the land, but you can see how a shortened version could work.

The basic site layout we’ve been shopping around is shown below, but even it may be subject to change…

37 Eagle Street Site Plan.

What if I want to know
even more, you ask?

For that, I will be blogging about the process on a day-to-day basis over at 37 Eagle Street external link, but the columns here will continue to cover major milestones throughout the project.

Come back soon for Part 2, which will be about selecting an architect. In the meantime, if you have any questions or any ideas for what we might want to think about, I would be happy to hear them. As car salesmen say, no reasonable offer will be refused!

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, November 18th, 2014 at 10:04 pm and is filed under Urban Development. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

21 Responses to “Filling In: 37 Eagle Street Part 1”

  1. John says:

    Welcome to the neighborhood Matt!

  2. Charles says:

    Matt – congratulations and best of luck. Look forward to the upcoming articles.

  3. Martin Edic says:

    Looking forward to this. I used to live right around the corner on Troup in a house that no longer exists.

  4. Thank you all so much. It’s exciting – both the house and the opportunity to talk about it publicly. I also hope it’s not the only construction project in Rochester I get to blog about over the next few years. If you ever have any questions, I’d be happy to try and answer them as best I can.

  5. Bill says:

    Welcome to the neighborhood! Looking forward to reading future articles while seeing progress in person.

  6. Louis says:

    I would love to see a much boulder statement on the front facade than just another traditional design, not many people get the opportunity to design their homes from the ground up so your pretty lucky in that regard. This RIT arch student wishes you the best of luck!

  7. Adrian Martin says:

    If you want 3 units, would you be allowed (and would you want to) split it lengthwise 3 ways, to have 3 lots of 33′ x 41′? Or maybe split it 37’/25’/37′, and the two end lots of 12′ yards (3 25′ wide townhouses sharing walls).

  8. So my understanding is to do so (split the property) would involve much the same zoning rigmarole as just putting 3 units in an R-3 zone (but a non-conforming lot). One of the curious issues we’re running into (and one of the stranger holes in a zoning code), is that 3-family homes in R-3 zoning actually have no minimum lot size other than the one dictated by the number of bedrooms in each unit. SURPRISINGLY, that would make our building legal of-right EXCEPT because we want to have one of the units be in a detached garage, it is actually a two family home and a single family home all crammed onto one lot, and thus it is not a legal 5,000 sqft lot allowing us to do this. For the most part, we really want the separation of the third unit (and well, the garage!). That said, we likely have options if we need to exercise them should the ZB shoot us down (in the face). If you can believe it, the ZB stuff will be written about extensively when we get there. We’re hoping to get calendared for late winter/early spring next year.

  9. Oh, Louis, we would love a really bold design, although the question will be how much the preservation board will be sympathetic to the same. I suspect at least the front of the house will be victorian-inspired. It is our hope that the back of the house is very transparent. I’m sure this will show up here at some point, but one of my absolute favorite (at least partially historic) houses is this renovation of (addition to) a really great Foursquare: http://dcmud.blogspot.com/2013/01/diplomacy-by-design.html. As I’ve noted before, this house is way too large for our lot, but the classic front with the very transparent (and decidedly un-historic back) really appeal to me. This is certainly the sort of idea we’ll be working towards.

    If I had my druthers about something purely contemporary, I would go right to something inspired by Philip Johnson. I love both Farnsworth and the Glass House, and would love to see more quality mid-century modern in town. Think 44 Exchange but without a bank drive-thru.

  10. Wow these comments are getting emailed to me all out of order. Anyway, thank you Bill! I’m sorry to say there won’t be much progress to see in person for some time (think spring 2016), but we’ll get there slowly but surely. We’ve been trying to do work in the neighborhood for some time now, but have had surprisingly mixed luck. We were going to buy a two family on Waverly Place, and it fell through AT the closing. Even our lawyers were shocked. Doesn’t happen often.

  11. ACW says:

    Very cool! Excited to follow the progress. Since you are building in a historic preservation district, does the preservation board have to approve every last detail of the exterior design?

  12. Matthew Denker says:

    To my knowledge, they don’t approve detail by detail, but yes, we do need to get their approval of our design. They can also comment on a bunch of stuff, from design, to materials and finishes, to siting. It’s a scary prospect, but one we knew about and have been planning for.

  13. Cari Petrichick says:

    We wish you best of luck in your planning and completing! My husband,Kevin, and I own 38 Eagle St across the street. We have always thought the lot looked so sadly vacant. If you need anything we can help with, just ask. That’s the small town in the city that makes Corn Hill so special. Ps Did your brother used to mow the lawn? He is very nice and worked hard!

  14. Adrian Martin says:

    How connected to units have to be to have a 3 unit house instead of a two unit and a single unit?

  15. I haven’t been able to get a completely clear picture on that, but it seems like they would need to share a foundation.

  16. Carl – That’s so wonderful of you, thank you! Yes, he used to mow the lawn when it was part of his rent. We have the management of our other property(ies) take care of it now, but my brother still lives up the street in Corn Hill Commons with his wife (that’s new!). She’s from Rochester, so I don’t think they’re going anywhere (at least outside of Rochester) any time soon.

  17. Bonny says:

    As you start to move forward, your lot is in the Preservation District of Corn Hill/Third Ward and whatever you do will have to be approved as appropriate for the district. It does not have to be 1850 looking..but appropriate.

  18. Lonna says:

    I looked at that property too and had a design from a magazine with me that had the list level mostly garages with one small unit, and the second level was living space. The front was a cottage look. There is a need for rental garage space in Corn Hill. I met with Peter Segrest, an architect who was also on the Preservation board. Good Luck, you will have great neighbors.

  19. Matthew Denker says:

    Interestingly, the lot is half in the district. Which seems strange. In any event, we’re reasonably confident we’ll be able to get what we want approved. It won’t be a vinyl aided cape cod. That’s for sure. Nevertheless, the process of working with the preservation board will be well documented here. We continue to hear from people about using the property as garage space and continue to be weirded out by the concept (Sorry in advance!). My wife and I were car free for 8 years in New York city, and now have a single car we basically never use here in Boulder. While we’d surely love to make a little extra money, I don’t think we could bring ourselves to do it with parking any more than say opening a meat processing plant in a residential neighborhood.

  20. Lonna says:

    The garage space that I know of being rented on Corn Hill is for motorcycles and mopeds, not cars.

  21. That’s interesting, if not what would seem to be a real niche market. I’ll look into it when we move back. Thank you.


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