A lovely family in the neighborhood had moved out of town for the wife's new medical fellowship. The move came at the time the market had crashed so rather than sell their home, they rented it. One year later, the husband received a substantial promotion that would necessitate their return to Massachusetts.

While they loved their Newton home, and were excited to be returning, they had, in the meantime, had a fifth child and realized the house would be too small. They turned to me to help them with a second story addition and renovation of the entire house. They were looking to add an additional 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms on the 2nd floor, to gut and renovate the first floor, to create a circulation stair that was open and airy to connect the 3 levels of the house, and to finish the basement and add a nanny suite. In addition, they were interested in "Greening" their home and making it more energy efficient.

The building department in Newton had been undergoing a complete overhaul of the Zoning Code as it pertained to density. The new commissioner had come from another town where he had witnessed the negative implications of overbuilt lots. As a result, he eliminated the loophole sentence from the code that had allowed this possibility in Newton. However, he did not put a new guideline in its place and the code reverted to a tiny FAR (floor to area ratio) requirement. Residents of the town were up in arms. The timing was terrible. If we had to comply with code as written, the existing house already exceeded the allowed density! Going for a special permit or variance would add at least 6 months and much cost to the project.

I met with planners and inspectors who were very sympathetic, but felt their hands were tied. I appealed to them to say that this change in the code was putting people out of work. I said contractors and architects would lose projects, clients wouldn't be building, and ultimately the city would feel the negative results. I know I am not the only one who appealed on behalf of their client, but I believe this project was one of the straws that broke the camel's back.

A few days later, I was scheduled to appear in city hall to start the special permit process. The planner I had been working with called me ecstatically happy that very morning. The Alderman had voted the night before to provide a bonus year regarding the FAR because they admitted the code was now more confusing and unworkable than before. They needed a year to investigate how to proceed. This change in policy, at exactly the right time, allowed us to design and build the addition that the house really needed. Good design prevailed!

•  SBJ ARCHITECTURE, 223 Grant Ave, Newton, MA   •