Making one house two homes

SOMETHING had to give. This tiny bay-side town perched near the Golden Gate Bridge had little to offer in the way of new housing, and land prices had soared too high to build any.

Tiburon faced a quandary common to communities across the country: Informal and illegal living quarters had begun to sprout in homes zoned for single-family occupancy. So Tiburon's town managers decided to make more effective use of what it already had by allowing the legal expansion of existing homes. That way the town could eliminate abuses, set controlling standards, and make sure that conversions were made according to building codes.

Gerry and Kathy Cirincione-Coles took Tiburon up on its offer.

Several years ago, the busy professional couple purchased a big 1956 California ranch-style house in a zone that allowed for duplex conversions. This year they remodeled their house to provide a second dwelling, a condominium unit to sell.

``We had enough square footage in the lot size,'' says Mr. Cirincione-Coles, ``and we could handle parking for two families. Once we decided to tackle such a conversion, I worked for months at my own drawing board, searching out the kind of design that we felt would have the most appeal.''

Then the Cirincione-Coles sat down with architect Hank Bruce to develop final plans for a side-by-side condominium dwelling unit that would provide maximum privacy and noise control.

``What we came up with,'' he says, ``was a basically simple contemporary design that included many skylights and big expanses of glass in order to make the most of the situation and the magnificent bay views.''

Although the original structure was divided in the remodeling process, with a new portion added, the now two-family house, shingled in local California style, looks as if it had always existed on the spot.

Many local residents feared the effect of the ordinances, concerned that people would ``do what they wanted regardless of its effect on others,'' says Mr. Cirincione-Coles. So the couple decided to tread a careful path. They went to each of their neighbors and explained what they were doing and why they wanted to do it, and showed sketches of the way the house would look after the conversion process.

``We did our best to address ourselves to their concerns,'' Mr. Cirincione-Coles says, ``and were as honest and open as we knew how to be. We assured all neighbors that their views would not be destroyed, and that our roofline would not be intrusive or unattractive to the people who lived on the steep hillside above us.''

One neighbor, Margaret Taylor, notes that ``not only did the Cirincione-Coles satisfy neighbors that their views would be not affected, the remodeling job they did retained the integrity and character of the neighborhood.''

When they went down to get approval of his duplex conversion plans, the Cirincione-Coles were commended by the Planning Commission and the City Council for the considerate way they had gone about gaining approval of their neighbors.

Because a condominium is a vigorously legislated type of building, the couple retained a professional consultant to guide them through the maze of codes, covenants, and restrictions that must be observed.

``There are attorneys who specialize in this kind of work,'' says Mr. Cirincione-Coles, ``and I would advise any homeowner to get their good advice before they begin such a project. I thought I knew something about the process, but I could not possibly have done it alone.''

One California state planning law, however, was more of a help than a hindrance to the Cirincione-Coles. Passed several years ago, the law requested the cooperation of all cities and counties in the preparing and implementing of housing elements to accommodate all income levels.

In Tiburon, there hadn't been much housing available for people, even those with higher incomes, who desired to live in this popular and picturesque community. Yet families were changing and so were their housing needs. There were more widows, widowers, and divorced people living alone. There were also more single people and more couples with no children. And none of the above wanted or needed large houses on expensive pieces of property.

The state planning law set the climate for the town's decision to allow the legal expansion of existing homes. While some citizens feared that the population would double in single-family districts and traffic would become congested, these things haven't happened, says Robert Hanna, Tiburon's city planning director.

What has actually occurred, he contends, is that allowing a secondary living unit to be added to homes has helped satisfy some of the housing goals of the town. ``In my estimation, our plan has worked,'' Mr. Hanna says. Several other Marin County towns are now exploring the idea.

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