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Detroit: Model Home Designed to fit on City Lots

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Model home is designed to fit on narrow city lots

November 7, 2003

BY JUDY ROSE

FREE PRESS COLUMNIST

Booming house prices in Royal Oak, Birmingham, Ann Arbor, Plymouth, the Grosse Pointes, Wyandotte, Mt. Clemens and Wayne show that traditional towns -- places where you can go out to buy milk with a stroller rather than an SUV -- are hot today.

In more expensive spots like Birmingham and the Grosse Pointes, demand is so high that people who want an old neighborhood but a new house will buy a vacant lot or even tear down a house. Then they build a new home there in the traditional style of its neighbors.

The problem is that one-lot, one-house projects have no model homes. Those are built for subdivisions and don't fit a narrow city lot.

Now one Western Wayne-Oakland County builder will change that. Robertson Brothers, which has built more than 1,500 upscale condos and houses in the past 10 years, is building a model home in Birmingham designed for a 40-foot lot.

You can tour this model first and tweak it with your personal choices. Then Robertson will build it on your narrow city lot wherever.

This new business is called Robertson In-Town. "We put together a little company to handle the unique nature of in-town building," says president James Jehle.

This first model house won't meet every buyer's need because it comes at a Birmingham price -- $589,000 for the Pierce model shown here, $709,000 for a slightly bigger version called the Hamilton.

But looking at the hot trend toward city infill, we can hope this will spur more model homes for single lots, including homes aimed at smaller budgets.

An open, usable floor plan

The Robertson In-Town house is a classic city design that's deeper than it is wide -- the opposite of a subdivision house.

But like a subdivision house, the main living area is at the rear. The whole back half of the first floor is open space that holds a 15-by-19-foot family room with a fireplace, a 9-by-15-foot kitchen area and a 9-by-10-foot eating nook.

A dinner party-size dining room is in the middle of the house -- 11 feet wide and 16 feet long.

Getaway space is tucked into the front -- a 12-by-13-foot study with a bay window that looks toward the street.

The floor plan by Troy architect Laurence Hornbeck does a nice job of wringing open, usable space from the 25-by-46-foot footprint.

"We squeezed every inch of floor plan we could get under Birmingham's 30-percent coverage rule," Jehle says. That rule says the house and garage can't cover more then 30 percent of the lot.

Although the house is narrow, it has good window space, especially in the front and back. On the sides, where other homes will be close, high windows let in natural light without exposing a family's life to the neighbors.

The staircase is a dramatic accent point -- an airy, spindled oak-framed rectangle that runs three stories, from the basement to the second floor. It adds to the sense of openness and to the natural lighting, which pours in through a top-floor skylight and a side window.

This house comes with a two-car garage. As on most city lots, it's detached and in back. You have the option of adding a second-floor studio or office over the cars -- $10,000 with the space roughed in and $24,000 more if you finish the rooms. Birmingham zoning doesn't allow a second housing unit, so don't call this a carriage house.

Premium accoutrements

The specs on this model house are pure Birmingham: Granite kitchen counters, stainless steel appliances, European-style frameless cabinets, oak floors through most of the first floor.

The baths can't be huge, but they are lavish -- granite counters, a glamorous clear-glass shower, 42-inch mirrors.

Windows are Andersen, casement in front, double-hung in back. The wood-like siding is really durable cement-fiber siding by James Hardie, a favorite with upscale builders for vintage-style homes.

First-floor ceilings are 9 feet tall, doors are 8 feet tall. Buyers who choose the optional built-in bookcases will get the same elegant cabinets that are in the kitchen.

Right now this model house stands in what will be a mini-neighborhood, though not a subdivision. It's on a strip of Pierce Street just north of 14 Mile, facing Pierce Elementary school.

Nine houses will be built on 40-foot lots here, three more on 60-foot lots. But independent of those, this model will stay open for people who want to build one house on one city lot.

"It's hard to visualize when the house is just on paper," Jehle says. "A model is such a powerful tool."

This model home will be open only by appointment. To arrange one, leave a message for Marie Leitao at 248-840-9054, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays.

Contact JUDY ROSE at 313-222-6614 or [email protected]

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I'll see if I can find one. If I'm ever down in that area, I'll make sure to take some pics.

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It is great news. Saying that Detroit has a lot of infill opportunites is an understatement! It's good to hear that some people are finally taking advantage of them.

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Now one Western Wayne-Oakland County builder will change that. Robertson Brothers, which has built more than 1,500 upscale condos and houses in the past 10 years, is building a model home in Birmingham designed for a 40-foot lot.

That just shows how large lots are in suburban Detroit. The article makes a 40-foot lot sound small for the region. In suburban Toronto the typical lot is less than 25 feet wide. It's no wonder the prices mentioned in the article are so high.

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That's because 40 foot wide lots are considered small. Lots in suburban Detroit are about 1/3 of an acre. My own lot is 150 feet wide, 6 times wider than an average Toronto lot.

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My own lot is 150 feet wide, 6 times wider than an average Toronto lot.

That would almost be considered a farm up here ;)

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That would almost be considered a farm up here  ;)

LOL. My neighborhood was developed 40 years ago, when it was literally a subdivision surrounded by cornfields on 4 sides. So we all have 1-2 acre lots for the septic fields that were required at the time. Still, in new developments here, lots approximately 130 feet wide are standard. And there are still some subdivisions being built with one acre lots....talk about poor land use! But I guess that's what you get in the Motor City. We are the poster child for poor land use and sprawl :(.

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Land here is still very cheap, so middle income people can still afford to live here easily. In my area houses start at $150,000 & go right on up to several million dollars. Most of the homes here are between $200,000 & $250,000, however, and well within reach of the average person.

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