Thursday, May 27, 2010

Getting a Plan Together

Where to begin?

The application for a building permit asks for general information on the floor plans and work to be done. We thought this would be considered a remodel, since the building was already erect, but due to the extent of the damage and the percentage of work needing to be done, we had to have an architect draw up detailed plans. These plans specified everything that needed to be done, as if we were building a house from scratch, the reason being codes had to be brought up to date and structural standards that needed to be re-evaluated.
The entire process of getting all the paper and approvals in place took a little over a year. We went with a local architect, figuring he'd know the workings and requirements better than someone outside the area. After hiring the architect, supplying the required number of blueprints, and the paying the fees for various permits as dictated by the city, we submitted our paperwork for approval. The city then came back with their wanting another architect to review the plans from the first architect, to make sure the plans were according to code. The issue we had with that was they wanted us to pay for this architect in addition to the one we had hired. The city had contracted with a specific architect; they should have either referred us to him in the first place or assumed the cost for their second look. We argued the point and the city eventually conceded. Another aspect that needed to be considered was that we were in the historical district. Everything visible on the exterior of the building required approvals by the Architectural Review Committee, which added to the time needed before work could begin.

We had to get permission from the city for my husband to be the General Contractor (GC) on the job, since he was licensed (and insured) just outside of the county. The city claims they recognize/reciprocate licensure from surrounding counties, but there seemed to be a little reluctance on their part. Certain work needs specially licensed people, whether you're playing the role of GC or owner, and we had every intention of abiding by these rules. Plumbing and electrical are two disciplines that always need a specially licensed contractor. Whether the role was GC or owner, we felt it should not have had a bearing on the approval we needed to obtain this permit. My guess is they'd rather have seen a local GC get the job.
While we were waiting for all the paperwork, plans and approvals to fall into place, it was all about cleaning up. This was all we could do without any permits. Demolition was minimal since a fire took care of a good portion of the building, and the building being exposed to the elements for an extended period of time took care of the rest. It was only a matter of getting all the garbage out of there. After having more than 40 tons of trash and construction debris removed; and getting our permits, we could really get started.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Welcome to the Neighborhood

I've always had he privilege of having great neighbors around me. Growing up in NYC, I knew just about everyone in my building of about 25 apartments at least by name, and I even got accustomed to considering some of these neighbors family. My parents never had to pay for daycare or a sitter- the neighbors were always there (a majority of the neighbors were retired) and took care of my sister and me whenever it was needed. They made the holidays extra special. Since my parents are from a different background, Christmas was not something they celebrated; still on Christmas morning we'd wake up to a living room full of everything a child could dream of. My neighbors made the holidays and everything else so special, and those thoughts still stay with me today to the point where we're that house on the street that is full of lights and decorations.

These days in my suburban world, I'm surround by neighbors who constantly look put for each other and always help out. My husband has the to travel from time to time, and when he does, I get an extra stream of support from the people around me. I tend to joke about my not having decided if the they think I'm totally helpless or useless, but I always appreciate their gestures. During the winter, one offered to dig me out after a snow storm, where his named price was a cup of tea. Another time, as the weather has been getting warmer and my husband is away once more,  I come home and find my lawn is mowed. In addition I get numerous calls about dinner and making sure I have something to eat, since they all know how great a cook I'm not. I am a whiz with a phone and take-out menu, so food is never a problem . I realize I'm getting off track here and talking about myself a little too much, so back to Newburgh.

Sunday morning, I was drinking a cup of coffee while sitting on the stoop, when someone passed by and said hello. He went on to ask me if I had just moved in; my reply was that I was only waiting for someone. He then continued to explain how he was about to welcome me to the neighborhood... This got me thinking about the people in the neighborhood. Although I'm not here that often, I've always had positive experiences with the people around. They are friendly, look out for each other, and will help if needed, even from time we were brand new faces.

When we first started construction, the property owner next door saw us working with a small generator, and offered us help with the electric supply. He ended up running extension cords from his building so we could plug various tools into without worrying about overloading the generator. He also let us use his lot to set up a dumpster; sparing us the need for a permit to have one on the street. He made an effort to help us out several ways over time, and never asked for anything in return, not even a dime.

Other instances included residents across the street encouraging our work. One person went as far as to show me her apartment to see how visible the differences between the two places were and how great we were doing. On another occasion, someone called us at home to see if anyone should have been in the building in the evening, as he saw lights on in one of the apartments. Our phone number had always been plastered on the trucks we were using, and he must have taken note of it. It turned out we didn't switch off the lights when we left that day, but the fact that he was concerned speaks volumes to me. This showed me people are aware of what's going on around them, they care about what's happening, and aren't afraid to do something if needed.

The point I'm trying to make here is that although things may look run down, you can't use this to judge the people around. There's a large sense of community, examples of this would be all the work being done by volunteer organizations or something as basic as the number of churches with a small radius. The people are ready to welcome new faces; the only thing is we just need to give them the opportunity to do so.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Where This Is Leading

I think I know where I want to take this. I have had a couple of conversations via email with Newburgh Restoration, and she has been a wealth of inspiration and has helped keep me focused on what the ultimate goal is. We all want to see Newburgh be all it can be and she has managed to remind me of all that. She has managed to reawaken the passion I have for this, and her blog makes me want to be there more, and she even has me thinking about what I want to do next, since this project has more or less been completed. I say "more or less" because I feel a house is never complete.

You might think a project of this size is complete once you get your Certificate of Occupancy, but that is only the beginning. If you're in this as a quick way to get rich, this may not be the sort of thing for you, you need to have a love for these sort of things. I believe a house is never complete, because there are always little things you can do to make it that much nicer, things need to be maintained (or you're back where we're starting from with a run down place in the neighborhood), and there are always new ideas churning inside.

My goal here is to give you an idea of what's involved, but nothing along the lines of a how-to manual. I want to help you see what something can be instead of what it is, and be a source of encouragement. I pride myself in being straight forward, will say things how I see them, and don't believe in sugar-coating things. They may be unfounded or just my opinion; if you feel I'm wrong or misinformed, call me out on it. Being that we were practically starting from scratch, I feel its safe to say I've gotten to experience most of what is involved regarding a full rehab of a structure. What I want to provide is a little insight on what to expect and at the same time encourage you to see it through. The key is having a vision and perseverance. It may take a lot of time and resources, but after going through it all, I say it was worth it. I'm ready to take on another one, its only a matter of time until we find the one that is just right for us!

Friday, May 21, 2010

From a Doorway to Inspiration

Inspiration comes from all sorts of places and all sorts of times. We had barely closed on our building and were in a hardware store for something totally unrelated when I saw an entry door. I looked at the door and just liked something about it. I had no real reason for getting that door, nor was I even looking for a door, but we ordered it because we did need a door.

The coloring of the door wasn't your traditional red (a red door is believed to ward out evil), but had a reddish orange tone to it, which I thought would harmonize with an old brick tone. I wasn't sure if it would look nice with the building, but still I liked it and the dimensions would probably fit the boarded up opening. This door had a stained glass sort of insert with rose or burgundy colored design (depending on how the light hits it), which gave me my idea. From there, I new what I wanted to have on the inside of that door and it all fell into place.

The entry hall follows the color scheme of that glass insert. The wall colors mimic the colors of the glass, and the tile floor came together the same as a puzzle would. We started with a mosaic center, not knowing what to do with the rest of the floor. The floor ended up being pieced together with tiles from different places- they were not a pre-matched coordinating set with accent tiles, and all the inserts had to be individually cut, but that floor makes the hall. I can't take credit for the floor, though. My husband was the one who found all the pieces, pulled it all together and made it fit into my idea coming from that door.

I'm very fortunate to have the husband I have. I was even more fortunate that he had the capability to do the things he did with this place. That isn't what makes me lucky, though. I'm lucky he encourages my random ideas and supports them. With a little tweaking here and there, our ideas fit together, the same way he made that door fit. It's the little things, like buying a door without knowing any specifics, and basing an entire project around it that makes this so interesting. It's like looking at the world through a rose colored glass panel.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Sun Powered Thoughts

No, this isn't about solar energy or how to turn your house into a self sufficient structure relying on Mother Nature.

I believe the sun energizes people, as well. Driving to work this morning, the sun was out in full blast, but like many others, I was headed to an office and will need to spend the next eight hours under florescent lights. Still, I feel energized, and will probably knock off my to-do list before its even lunch time. This gives me more time to imagine what Newburgh could be.

This weather makes me want to get outside or go for a relaxing drive with the windows wide open and radio setting the tone. One of my favorite rides is across the Bear Mountain Bridge, following along with 9W, going past Downing Park, and onto Broadway, all the while checking out the variety of shops lining the street. I sometimes find I take that ride for absolutely no reason, except for the fact I love to drive; rush hour may be the only time this turns into a love/hate relationship.

My daily ride to work takes me into a whole different direction, but this morning, my mind was traveling up to Newburgh. I’m hoping I can snag my contractor and landscaper (aka my husband and my mother, respectively) on Sunday and do something up there. I haven’t checked weather reports to see if it’ll be clear, but I’m just going to follow this feeling and hope it is. At home our lawn is looking healthy, the flower beds have been planted, our little vegetable garden is set up, and I’m starting to see the beginnings of little green balls growing on a peach tree. Sitting by a small koi pond we have hiding in the back, I watch my cat watch the fish. I can't help but think this is my haven.

I want to create a similar atmosphere at my place in Newburgh, the only problem being I’m in the heart of the city and don’t have much raw land to work with. There is an empty lot next to us, overgrown with weeds, and I never see the owners around or tending to anything. It may not be right, but I’m tempted to turn that into something better. If they’re never there, who’s to say they’d even notice, not to mention we’d be doing them a small favor cleaning up the space for them. We had accidentally been cited by the city for not keeping the growth below a certain height on that lot, so I know someone else took notice of the way this detracts from the neighborhood.

If I could make that lot mine, the possibilities could be endless, but being that it’s not, I have to keep my activity to a minimum. The problem with this lot is that it’s a backyard or loading area to a commercial space the next street over, and to acquire it, we’d probably have to purchase the entire building behind us.

My goal this weekend is to check the lot out in detail to see what we’re up against. I don’t even know if the soil is usable, what’s hiding among all that overgrowth, or how much of an overhaul the place would need. Still, I have to take advantage of this sun powered feeling I have and check it out, regardless of what the outcome may be.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Curb Appeal

How do you build curb appeal when there is nothing seems to appeal to anyone on the block? Some cracked or uneven sidewalks, buildings that show their age, and the few patches of undeveloped land that tend to be dumping grounds for garbage and overgrown with weeds is what I see when I look around, but that's the worst I see.

I've done everything I could do within my means to make my place as appealing as possible, but as people not familiar with the neighborhood come through, the area always manages to scare them off. It isn't like they witness a crime scene or find themselves victims of any sort. They come to find an empty lot full of garbage, sidewalks needing some repair, and litter strewn here and there. Still, there is something that I can't seem to put my finger on. What is this unappealing trait that the neighborhood conveys?

The neighborhood needs help from everyone. I'm not putting this all on the property owners. The City doesn't exactly make it easy to make these repairs, with the fees and permits needed for just about anything that requires more than a paintbrush, in addition to Architectural Review Board approval for those within the historical district. If the landlord makes an effort to repair small things, perhaps the tenant will take a little pride in where they live and make a little effort on their part to keep things nice.

Looking out my "thermal pane windows with true divided lights", as specified by East End Historic District Design Guide, I see two extremely obvious, broken replacement windows across the street with tacky sheets blowing in the wind. Next door, I see they erected a chain link fence, even though when I was meeting with the Architectural Review Board about a fence, they specifically said "anything but chain link". I have come to ask myself why the City goes through the trouble to mandate these standards, or why I even bothered. Negativity seems to be far more contagious than a positive outlook and I find myself caring a little less each time I'm there. Still, I try to remain optimistic and hope something, somewhere will change for the better, and I'll keep trying to contribute to that better place in my own little ways.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Brick Fireplaces

This all started with my husband coming across an ad somewhere for a city auction in Newburgh. We toyed with the idea of going, just to see how the whole property auction process works, and decided to give it a try. Prior to the auction, we drove around parts of the city, taking quick glances at properties we might be interested in. The day of the auction, we also brought a small sum of cash with us, just in case there was a bargain we couldn't pass up, and the auction list with our "potentials" marked. As bidding began at modest prices, they escalated quickly and were more than we were prepared to spend. It looked like this was all beyond our means.

As the auction was nearing the end and us not even coming close to the final bids for the properties we were interested in, I took another look at the offerings remaining. Towards the back of the booklet, there was a little black and white picture of a brick structure, which touted eight fireplaces. Those fireplaces and the brick caught my eye and I told my husband "This sounds cute". Itching to come home with something we put in a modest bid, and ended up winning the property for about the price of a mid class a new car. As we were waiting in line to hand over our down payment, people were making small talk and comparing who bought what. As we mentioned what we bought, someone questioned if that was the burnout (the remnants of a building that caught on fire), while someone else mentioned the area being the hooker district. We quickly contemplated bailing out and not submitting the down payment, but I can be impulsive at times and like taking chances. My rational was the down payment was enough of a sum for us to miss it, but it wasn't an amount where forfeiting would be a financial end. We went through with it.

We then left the Delano Hitch Stadium and head straight to our new purchase. The building is all boarded up, and the better part of the roof was missing. My husband pries the boards off of what was once the front door, and we cautiously creep inside. We take a quick look and wonder what we just got ourselves into. The place was filled with garbage, missing parts of the floors, was in fact the scene of a fire, and really had nothing besides the exterior brick walls and main support beams that could be salvaged. Oh wait- the fireplaces did look like they might be able to be saved, even though they were sealed and patched up.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Help Travel Back to Newburgh's Heyday

I think I'm starting this as a way to vent, but I'm not sure where I'm going with this. My thoughts jump back and forth in time and so will the order of these posts. There may not be one particular story to present or one particular view; the only common thread throughout this is Newburgh (old or new), but please bear with me...

I'm hoping this can be a place to connect with others who see something more that run down buildings and people loitering. I'm looking to collaborate with these people of vision, and hope to get ideas of how I can help bring Newburgh back to its grandeur.

This only represents my thoughts and ideas however good or bad they may be. Statements are only based on my experiences and I may not have my facts straight. If you find that's the case, let be know, but please be nice about it. If you are taking the time to read this, you and I ultimately have the same goal: to see a new Newburgh reminiscent of what it was at the turn of the last century.

Although I never lived in Newburgh, I used to live in NYC and this place reminds me of a scaled down version of where I grew up. I love the idea of old buildings, small shops along Broadway, and glimpses of the Hudson River.

I'm a small stakeholder in this city, having only a single row house, but I have high hopes for the place.

What frustrates me is trying to get things to turn around. Perhaps I'm being impatient, as I do see things changing slightly, but I wonder if I'll ever see a complete turnaround to what Newburgh once was.