Community Project

A spec remodel becomes a universal design showcase, bicentennial celebration and nonprofit fund-raiser

November 30, 2003
Variable-height countertops in the kitchen allow cooks of different heights and abilities to work while seated. A raised dishwasher reduces back strain. "Layered" lighting " including over- and under-cabinet lights, can lights and pendants - and a lighting control system make it easier for aging eyes to get the appropriate amount of light for different tasks. Natural light from windows and skylights gives the small home a more open feeling.

Countertops: DuPont Corian.

Skylights: Velux.

Windows: Weather Shield.

Lighting fixtures: Progress Lighting.

Lighting controls: Lutron.

After photography: Daniel W. Floss & Associates Photography
Visitability means that even if the homeowner doesn't have special needs, any guest with physical infirmities will be comfortable. A ramped rear entry and low-threshold entry doors allow wheeled access. All doors in the home are at least 32 inches wide, and most of the hallways are 36 inches wide, to accommodate a wheelchair. The doors have lever handles, which are easier to push than it is to turn a knob.

Door: Masonite.

Trim: Azek.

Porch flooring: Tendura.
The 500-yard move required hiring a Kentucky house mover and working with the city to clear traffic signals and utility lines. The original style, Country Federal, featured a central stairway, two rooms downstairs and two upstairs, a gable-ended roof, a central front door and a five-over-four window pattern.
The fully accessible first-floor master bathroom includes a curbless shower, easy for a walker or wheelchair to roll into, and a washlet toilet seat.

Toilet: Toto.

Tub: Pearl.

Faucets: Grohe.

Tile: Seneca Tile.

Fan: Panasonic.

Shower base: Swanstone.
Remodeling a historic home. Funding and selling a spec remodel. Designing for visitability. Making an infill lot buildable. Running a community fund-raiser. Owens Construction Contracting Co. in Powell, Ohio, did all of this in just one project.

Two years ago, the Worthington (Ohio) Historical Society contacted Bill Owens, CGR, CAPS, about a house scheduled for demolition. The Griswolds, one of Worthington's founding families, had lived in it until the early 1990s. The current owners, who lived next door, wanted to tear it down to landscape their yard.

The historical society and Owens persuaded them to change their minds and donate the home to Owens, who owned a vacant lot just a few blocks away. Owens Construction had done remodeling jobs in the area, and Owens hoped to increase that work by doing a whole-house remodel in a highly visible downtown location.

The house already had been moved twice, added on to and turned into duplexes. Owens Construction began by stripping the house to its shell in preparation for the move. At the time, Owens planned to renovate the Griswold House as a for-profit spec job.

After the move, though, the home sat while Owens Construction worked through its backlog. "We had it on the foundation, and we wrapped it up in asphalt roofing felt, and it looked horrible for almost a year," Owens says.

In summer 2003, inspiration struck: Why not turn the house into a nonprofit remodel, offer tours, involve sponsors and donate proceeds from the sale to a community charity? It seemed like a great way for his company to participate in Worthington's 2003 bicentennial.

A lot, and a lot of NIMBYs

Without owning land, Owens couldn't have done this project. His company occasionally builds homes, so he had purchased the infill lot in Worthington several years earlier when a subdivision was created on the grounds of what had been a group home. He took a 60x100-foot piece, which had a short back yard and no one else wanted. "Back then it was an unbelievable deal," Owens says.

Though buildable and zoned for housing, the lot required preparation, including changing the curb cuts and improving the access. Getting the house's relocation approved by the "not-in-my-back-yard" neighbors on either side, however, required greater effort and delayed the building permit by four months.

First they objected to losing green space. The city's desire to preserve a historic home won out. Then came problems with the plans, which called for a two-story addition on the home's rear and a detached garage in the rear- and side-yard setback.

"We needed variances because the new zoning codes were restricted enough that you could have ended up with a very tiny house on that lot," Owens says. The resulting house is 2,400 square feet, 200-300 smaller than Owens would have liked but 1,000 more than the existing shell.

While the house is average size for the neighborhood, it sold at $438,000, significantly higher than the typical $250,000-$300,000 price range. Had the project not been turned into a nonprofit venture with donated products, says Owens, the house would have been average rather than a showcase. "We were able to put in dollars per square foot that nobody in the area had seen before." The marketing effort and outcome

The relocation itself drew attention on the street and rated a front-page article in two local newspapers. In late 2002, Owens Construction created literature outlining the history of the home, how the company planned to remodel it as an "aging-in-place home" for empty nesters, the bicentennial tie-in and plans for promotion. Owens also chose the charity to receive proceeds from the home's sale: Partners for Citizenship and Character, a nonprofit, grass-roots organization in Worthington that promotes responsible behavior and values through school groups, businesses and institutions.

After an initial public showing in May 2003, the house remained open for tours every weekend throughout the summer, drawing about 1,000 people. The Ohio Historical Society furnished the home with period furniture, which helped draw traffic. Owens Construction created a four-page newsletter, the Griswold Gazette, to distribute at the house. The home also served as a venue for multiple civic and historical society events.

"It was important to us to be recognized as a community partner," Owens says. "This house was almost a visual representation of the community partnership."

Payoff has come with an article in The Columbus Dispatch and 15 minutes on the local NBC affiliate on the Fourth of July. Real estate advertisements note that Owens Construction remodeled the house. The company also has gotten jobs, both commercial and residential, from the mayor of Worthington and several city council members.

Owens has discussed joint-venture projects with new-home builders who've seen the home. Together, they visit neighborhoods with remodeled housing, evaluate the potential, and look for infill housing and rehabilitation opportunities. "That takes money, but it also takes knowing people and having the right relationships," Owens says. "I think it really validated us in the business community."

Related Information:
The Financials
Before and After

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