For years, no one could figure out how to build a house on this tiny north shore lot. The answer was to go up.
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Photography by Dave Rezendes, Photos courtesy of Long and Associates
If you’ve been a regular on the North Shore for more than five years, you may remember seeing a little empty lot on your way to Waimea Bay—one of the lone undeveloped properties along a stretch of highly desirable beachfront homes. About the only use it got was as a footpath for surfers looking for beach access.
Why would such a hot spot stay open for so long? The main obstacle turned out to be its tiny size—a scant 50 feet by 114 feet. The property had changed hands several times in the past couple of decades, but no one could figure out how to fit a house onto the postage-stamp-size piece of land, especially given the 30-foot shoreline setback requirement.
But when the current owner saw the “For Sale” sign out front, he saw only possibility. An independently wealthy Japanese national who is an avid surfer, the owner had been searching for a property close to some of his favorite surf spots. (His last Hawaii home had been on Diamond Head, for the same reason.) Here was a conveniently empty lot just minutes away from some of the best waves in the world.
After buying the lot, he approached local architectural firm Long and Associates AIA Inc. to design something for him.
Jeff Morrison, the project architect, says it was a daunting assignment. “I started looking at the site plans, and was like, OK, setback, setback, setback—you want to build how much house on it?”
But Long and Associates had a lot of experience with the ins and outs of Honolulu city and county’s building codes, gained from previous oceanfront projects—setback limits, height restrictions, exceptions to the rules—that allowed Morrison to draft up a surprisingly spacious floor plan.
“What the city and county does is, if the shoreline setback requirement reduces the property to an amount that’s not viable for building, they’ll give you back 30 feet,” Morrison explains.
Spacious in this case is a relative term—the house’s footprint is just 25 by 38 feet—and so the architects decided to go vertical to get a livable amount of square footage. Here again, they were able to turn code restrictions into advantages. Because of the property’s oceanfront location, it’s subject to something called the regulatory flood elevation; no habitable rooms are allowed below that level, in this case 18 feet above grade. But those feet taken away at the bottom are given back at the top—a builder can add them to the total height limit for the structure (25 feet for residences).
And although Morrison couldn’t put any habitable rooms below the flood elevation, he didn’t let those 18 feet go to waste. In fact, he went subterranean, digging down deep enough to fit a full garage and a storage room.