Though the house had only four small rooms, Tim Keough and his wife fell in love three years ago with a quaint bungalow in the Maywood neighborhood and decided to make it their first home in Arlington.
Built in 1923, the 700 square-foot house is a modest Queen Anne-style cottage, with an impressive front porch buttressed by Tuscan columns. The one and a half story house, which still retains most of its original architecture, is part of the Maywood Neighborhood Historic District, created in 1990.
Space was at a premium in the house, because Tim, a computer consultant, worked from home and used one of the four rooms as his office. Then last year the Keoughs had a baby, and soon there was no longer enough room even for a proper dining room table.
"We had to eat most of our meals on the couch," Keough recalled, while laughing.
The adjacent house and the one across the street are both three-story bungalows, built in similar motifs to the Keough’s house. The family assumed it would be easy to add another layer.
"We loved the existing house, we just wanted to add on so we could keep our family there," said Keough, who plans on having additional children.
Instead, the process turned into a year-long ordeal that ultimately led to the Keoughs moving out of a house they had no intention of ever abandoning and proposing to demolish the historic structure.
THE KEOUGHS hired an architect, who drew up plans to add a floor to make it resemble the neighboring houses.
"All we wanted was to build something that looked like the other houses on the street," Keough said.
The family then submitted their designs to the review committee of the Historic Affairs and Landmark Review Board, which has to approve any changes to houses located within the Maywood historic district.
The board decided that adding a full second floor would not fit the character of the neighborhood, but suggested to Keough that if he needed more space he could place an addition on the back of the house. Adding a second story on the house would rob the structure of its historical significance, the board members told Keough.
"We were very clear with our communication… that if he put it on the back it would receive our approval," Kevin Vincent, chair of the HALRB, said during a County Board meeting in October.
But the Keoughs felt that an appendage on the back of the house was impractical, and didn’t understand why they couldn’t add a second story when most of their neighbors had one. The adjacent houses had either originally been built that way or added a second floor before the neighborhood historic district was established in 1990.
The two sides met several times, but neither was willing to budge from their vision of what the house should look like.
The board’s decision was completely arbitrary, Keough said, and did not take into consideration what was best for his growing family. "They have no concern for what the citizens need, just for what they like," he added.
Board member Lynn Alsmeyer-Johnson countered that HALRB had been willing to work with the family to find a compromise addition that all parties could agree on, but that Keough was "inflexible."
With their plans for a larger house seemingly thwarted, the family moved out and began renting the cottage to a family friend. They said they could no longer afford to keep paying architectural fees for such a drawn-out process.
KEOUGH THEN took the dramatic, and unexpected step, of applying to the board for the authority to demolish the 83-year-old house. If there was no structure on the property, the HALRB would not be able to prevent Keough from building the two-story cottage that he so desired.
"My preference is not to demolish the house," he said. "But I’ve exhausted every effort and resource going through the design review process."
It was the first time anyone had applied to knock down a house in the Maywood historic district, and the HALRB members were shocked by the proposal. Not surprisingly, the HALRB in February rejected the proposal.
"It would be a breach of our duty to the citizens of Maywood if we enabled this to go ahead," Vincent said.
The family appealed the decision to the County Board, which decided that the HALRB did not abuse its power in voting against the proposal to knock down the house. The County Board did not have the authority to rule whether the Keoughs had a compelling case to demolish their home.
Under the zoning rules the Keoughs now have to put their house on the market. If someone is willing to purchase the property and preserve the structure as is, the Keoughs are obliged to sell. But if no one comes forward in the next year, the family will have the right to demolish their house and build the 2-story home they want.
Keough is optimistic that the Maywood house can still serve as the place where he can raise his family.
"We really like the house and the neighborhood… so hopefully we can still proceed down that path."