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Diary of a Mad Renovator: To Raise or Not to Raise

Written by Jaqui Lividini

Here's our house during an earlier storm. This was on the cover of the Hartford Courant in September '85.

We got some news this week: Turns out months after the fact, Hurricane Sandy reared its ugly head one last time. Due to all the substantial damage on the Connecticut Shore Line, FEMA has redefined zoning in Branford.  In July, our cottage will be classified as a high-velocity zone property rather than its current status as a still-water zone property. What does this mean in real life terms? Our cottage has to be raised 15 feet above sea level. It’s of course to avoid Sandy’s aftermath a second time – a painful-but-necessary kind of change. I wouldn’t wish a hurricane on anyone, but this news was definitely a different kind of disaster. I understand a house needing to be raised in order to save it from ruin, but in terms of design it’s definitely a stressful setback. When you’re renovating though, no matter who you are, you have to be as flexible as possible. It’s going to be one delay after the other - there’s no such thing as a smooth-sailing renovation (except in Nancy Meyer movies). I’ll spare you even more technical details, but now what to do about this?

I must admit I’m in a bit of mourning over this situation, if you recall one of the reasons John and I fell in love with this cottage is just that, it’s a cottage -- small & charming.  I’m acutely aware that I may loose that intimacy if our house suddenly soars 10 feet into the air!  On the flip side – the views will be even more spectacular then before – if that’s even possible, and perhaps a garage can be snuggled under the house.  I had a moment of defiance when I first heard about the re-zoning, dug my heels into the ground, and said I am not doing it – what is the worst that can happen.  Well I quickly found out from my cracker jack insurance agent Norm Munckle that the consequence is no flood insurance.  I quickly got over myself.

In the meantime --- Design Development to the rescue!  While I was grappling with so much indecision, Doug, our project manager, quickly solidified a game plan while enlisting both our designer (Charles) and the architect (Joe) to start working on possible design solutions.  We spent the weekend going through tear sheets trying to decide what’s feasible in terms of space, scope, and expense. We should reach a conclusion by next week (though I’m sure like everything else that conclusion will have to be tweaked, changed, tossed, turned etc.).

What’s most important to us is keeping the integrity of the beach cottage, even though we’ll have to redesign both the front and the back. Doug and team are now working through the rules and regulations of house lifting – but I must say, the the town of Branford, especially Laura and Janice, have been spectacular in their willingness to help  make this situation as palatable as possible – as for the garage – seems simple – stay tuned! At the end of the day -- let’s just say it was a blessing in disguise that we hadn’t begun major renovations earlier, as any work that was done would have had to be scrapped and started from scratch. I’m starting to have to be one of those people that sees a silver lining in everything…let’s see how that goes!

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