That home reconstruction job near O’Connell High School is not just another Arlington tear-down.
Coming soon on the corner lot of Van Buren and N. 29th Street is an unusual project in intergenerational housing.
My friends Fred Winter and Joan Smith, far-sighted 70-something Ph. D’s in retirement, are going in on a long-term joint residence with their daughter Samantha and husband Ben. Those millennial partners are in their early 30s and active in the workforce, and come toting grandsons Callan and Henry.
Together they have lined up the financing, permits and design of a North Arlington split structure they will occupy in separate units. By spring, it will replace the four-bedroom ranch home built in 1950 now-semi-demolished (Zillow valued it at $858,845).
Their vision is copacetic under the county’s accessory dwelling unit ordinance —enacted in 2008 after some bitter debates. While so-called “mother-in-law- apartments” were touted as a way to alleviate the affordable housing shortage, some opponents warned of “mini slums.” The county capped accessory dwellings at 28 a year, and the disputes eased.
For the Winters, the idea of sharing a home between generations came from daughter Samantha Hunter. “Upon seeing my parents care for their mothers during final years, I realized my adult life would be different,” she said. “Checking in on them, helping with the property when it became too much for them to manage, making decisions on end-of-life care, and executing estates would fall solely on me. Being able to be in the same place with them alleviates a lot of that stress.”
Her mother Joan, a psychotherapist, said, “We wanted to maintain boundaries but also be close together and help each other in our various life cycles.”
Samantha “would have inherited the property anyway, but now we’re all on the deed, with a shared phase-in and phase-out on payments,” said Fred, an archaeologist and academic. Doing due diligence, they considered the budgetary and regulatory limits, approving a design that aligned with county rules.
“We wanted independent families within the combined household, so we needed two full kitchens,” Fred said. A giant house with one kitchen would have meant they could have gone bigger. But that wouldn’t allow the privacy.
Designing within the old house’s brick outline “was exciting,” Fred said. “We got to modify the layout and pick where all sinks, toilets, electrical plugs and switches go.”
The designers are “good at looking at what we want and then tweaking the idea to save us money, coming up with better ideas,” Joan said.
Most important, the neighbors, many of whom have known the family since Samantha was in second grade, not only have not complained—“they’re very helpful and call when the tarp falls off,” Joan said. They were consulted in advance, Fred added, and the neighbors view the dual unit as “a plus for the neighborhood.”
Like many families of a certain age, the Winters took the opportunity to clear out decades-old possessions, giving away 2,100 mostly scholarly books.
The only possible downside, Fred says, is his daughter’s dog Teddy. The parents respect the younger generation’s boundaries. “But I can’t imagine when they’re both at work, and the kids are at school and day care, that gregarious Teddy won’t recognize the people on the other side of the door. And I can’t imagine we won’t interact with him.”
Sources disagree about which artist gave us Smokey the Bear. Was it Saturday Evening Post illustrator Albert Staehle or Forest Service artist Harry Rossoll back during World War II?
The most popular image of the ursine mascot warning us to prevent forest fires was created by a former Arlington resident, I’m assured by Arlington Historical Museum Director Mark Benbow.
A small exhibit at the Ball-Sellers house tells you about postage stamp artist Rudy Wendelin (1910-2000). After retiring from the Forest Service, he did a lot of work for the Arlington society, “including,” the curator says, “creating the image of the Hume School we used for years on the cover of the Arlington Historical Magazine.”