If you’ve been following on Instagram for awhile, or know us in “real life,” you probably know some of our backstory – why we wanted to build, how long it took (spoiler alert: it took a long time), and the challenges we faced to get to our dream house. But I think most of you have gotten to know us more recently and probably have no idea.
My husband, Josh, is an architect and it’s always been his dream to design and build a house of our own. Josh has definitely been the dreamer in our marriage, while I often took on the role of Worst Case Scenario Imaginer/Big Dream Buzzkill. You know, the one who asked the no fun questions like: How would we afford to do that? But where would we live while we build? Do you have any idea how expensive land is around here? That kind of thing. So jumping on board this dream was a little scary for me, but we both loved houses and the thought of designing one from scratch together was enticing.
About 5-6 years ago we started casually looking at properties. Josh was always keeping an eye out for a deal on land for sale, even though we really thought it would be way in the future. At the time he wasn’t an architect yet – he was studying all the time and going through the testing process to get his license – and I was a stay at home mom to our two kids. Money was pretty tight. That all changed when we found a piece of land for a great price in an amazing location that seemed really perfect for us. One detail I didn’t mention before is that we lived next door to my dad. He lived alone, and when Josh and I were newly married the house next door went up for sale – and we bought it! We liked being neighbors (um hello free babysitting! And if you’re reading this we like your company too, Dad…) and when we started talking about buying property and building – we all decided it would be ideal if we could somehow buy adjacent properties or a parcel big enough to split up so we could still be neighbors. Well this land that we found just so happened to be two 5-acre parcels side-by-side!
We did our due diligence, we hired an expert to make sure it would be buildable, and we got a great deal on the land. Everything seemed to be falling into place perfectly, and after praying about it and feeling total peace about the whole thing – we went for it! And Dad bought the lot next door. We didn’t have a lot of resources to put into the land or house at that time, so we decided just to take our time and do work on the land ourselves to get it ready to build. We spent many hours, evenings, and weekends there clearing brush and trees and putting in a driveway. My thoughtful husband even built a little playhouse out there so the kids would have somewhere to play while we spent many hours working on the land. We designed our house plan and knew where our backyard would go and where we’d put the kids’ playground and our garden. We were finally ready to start building, so we submitted our site plan to the county – which, based on the info we’d been given from our wetland’s biologist, we thought was an easy approval. Then one day, an e-mail popped into our inbox. I couldn’t tell you the exact wording, it’s all kind of a blur at this point, but the overall message was loud and clear: STOP ALL WORK IMMEDIATELY. I really felt like I’d been punched in the stomach. Unbeknownst to us, the wetlands regulations had changed since we purchased the property less than a year previously, and we were left with no buildable land anywhere on our 5 acre parcel. Dad’s 5 acres next door was in the same boat. We were completely shocked, so we did the only thing we could think to do: start looking for a loophole. We had a second opinion of the wetlands done, which unfortunately didn’t come back in our favor. Our last and only option was to apply for something called a Reasonable Use Exemption, which basically is a way for property owners to use land that would otherwise be unbuildable. This was a pretty lengthy process. We even had to have a hearing examiner meeting, which was at the courthouse and felt a little like an interrogation – super intimidating! After all of that, they finally agreed on a site plan for us. Unfortunately the site plan was VERY different from what we’d envisioned. We would have to choose a different house plan with a smaller footprint, have a pretty small yard , and our house would be up against a pretty busy street. We’d envisioned a long driveway with our house tucked away from the road behind the trees. We’d dreamed of a big yard with lots of quiet and privacy. Pretty much the opposite of what we would be able to build there now.