Commission holds off on major renovation to Village home

The Architectural Commission voted to wait on approving a two-story addition to a Claremont Village home.

The January 11 continuation slows the process of approval for Jessie and Tina Rodriguez, the applicants and stars of HGTV’s Vintage Flip. The Rodriguez family also owns the local real estate company Cal-American Homes.

For their television show, the couple recently completed renovating a home on Indian Hill and 12th Street that will be featured in the new season of Vintage Flip. Another Claremont Village home on 12th Street was renovated and featured on their show last year.

The Rodriguez family, along with architect John Bohn, is proposing to add 2,400 square feet, between two stories, to an existing 1,200-square-foot home on 255 W. Seventh Street. The home, a 1908 transitional bungalow known as the “Ryerson House,” is listed on the city’s register of historic structures.

The home is intended to be the Rodriguez family residence, according to the couple. They bought the property two months ago.

The proposed additions would feature a more period-appropriate design on the front of the house, while employing a more modern touch on the back of the house that is not visible from the street, according to the city’s assistant planner Nikola Hlady, who presented the proposal to the commission.

“While representing a departure from the original design, it frankly looks pretty cool,” Mr. Hlady said.

Principal Planner Chris Veirs noted that the city wrestled with how to accommodate the additions while keeping the look and feel of the block. The solution, according to Mr. Veirs, is to allow a second-floor addition only if it’s located near the rear of the house in an effort to keep the overall look of the streetscape.

In the Rodriguez’ case, a massive oak tree located on the eastern side of the property would mostly obscure the second floor. Mr. Bohn said the tree would not only be taken care of during construction, but it would serve as a centerpiece for the remodel.

During his presentation, Mr. Bohn said the house would retain the feel of the block, with plans drawn from designs of other houses in the area.

But there were concerns from neighbors like Constance Cassinelli, who would be the easterly neighbor of the Rodriguez family. She told the commission during public comment that the second-story additions would block sunlight and air from her property, which she has enjoyed for 44 years.

“I will not have sunlight now. I will have two stories of clapboard,” Ms. Cassinelli said, also expressing concerns that the window placement would line up with the windows of her house, creating a privacy issue.

Under the plan, the home will come within the five-foot maximum setback from Ms. Cassinelli’s house, which only has a three-foot setback from the Rodriguez property due to an earlier lot division.

Martin McLeod, who sat on the city’s mansionization committee, noted that he appreciated Mr. Bohn’s comments and ideas, but, “If I were the neighbors, I wouldn’t like that.”

He called for consistency in design, saying that the modern design of the back of the property, while inventive, would take away from the era in which the house was built.

Jeff Descombes, who previously lived in the home for 25 years, attests that the design checks all the boxes for mansionization, including square footage and setbacks, and is the “largest interior house within a nine-block radius.”

James Sink noted that a color and material board is missing from the overall plans, which was confirmed by commissioner Maureen Wheeler.

There were also speakers in favor of the remodel, including the LaRose family, who also live on Seventh Street and are remodeling their home as well. They cautioned if the commission is “overly prohibitive with what people can and cannot do,” it would serve as a disincentive to young families who want to remodel their Village homes.

Claremont Heritage Director David Shearer was generally in favor of the plans, noting that there could be some tweaks in terms of the character and feel, but conceding that Mr. Bohn did “a pretty good job” in the design.

During discussion, Commissioner Marc Schoeman lamented the change in character of the block, but noted that the Rodriguez family and Mr. Bohn designed the house within the specs of the city’s mansionization code.

“In other words, the applicant has every right to do what they’ve done. There’s nothing that they’re proposing that they’re asking special permission for,” he said.

Ms. Wheeler called the design “delightful,” but agreed with resident Janet Macauley’s comment that the eastern end of the house looked “bleak.” She also called out the inconsistency in design and the lack of a color and material board.  Ms. Wheeler also called into question a window placement on the first floor, wondering why it would face east when there could be potential for more sunlight if facing the street. Mr. Bohn explained that the placement, which would look into a child’s room, would create more privacy.

Mr. Manifold noted the plans were “such an aggressive design for such a small lot,” and called the eastern wall and five-foot setback a “certain disrespect” to the eastern neighbor, Ms. Cassinelli.

In the end, the commission opted to continue the discussion to give the applicant time for a possible redesign and the addition of a color and materials board. The architectural commission will meet again January 25.

—Matthew Bramlett


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