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PMP Associates Blog

Archive for February, 2009

Townhouse Condominium Projects, are they still a good housing alternative?

Saturday, February 28th, 2009

Was it just a few years ago when small scale Townhouse Style condominium projects provided an alternative to single family houses?

What happened to this branch of the housing industry?

Let me first  tell you the story of the Cushing Mithcell Condominium, which is located on Central Street in East Bridgewater, MA.

The rambling, 6 bedroom dwelling at 90 Central Street was destroyed by fire and was too far gone to rebuild. Thankfully no one was hurt in the fire. The owner was not interested in replacing the building. A local developer, during his negotiations to purchase the property had P.M.P. Associates, LLC perform an initial due-diligence study to establish the various constraints to re-developing this property (Zoning set-back requirements, local groundwater protection requirements, need for new sanitary wastewater disposal “septic”  system, an existing driveway access  easement and the location within an historic area).

Since the property had a six bedroom dwelling, six bedrooms could be reconstructed on the property. However, only a single structure could be built and it needed to fit within the general footprint of the destroyed building.

After several concepts and alternatives that were developed by the project’s architect and civil engineer, three, two-bedroom townhouse units with a connecting two-car open front garage/carport were selected. To maintain the historical nature of the property, the front unit was rotated 90 degrees to face the street and the stone wall feature on the abutting property was extended along the front of this property.

Here is the final engineering site plan that was approved for the project.

Site Plan Drawing

Site Plan Drawing

This is a narrow lot that did not leave much room for the septic system. The right side of the property has a driveway easement for the abutting property, which had to be maintained. The site design took advantage of this requirement and combined it into the driveway access for the three units and guest parking.

Here is the engineering plan for the septic system.

Septic System Engineering Design Plan

Septic System Engineering Design Plan

The Town of East Bridgewater has a requirement to provide for groundwater recharge. To meet this requirement, the roof drainage was collected and directed to a recharge system that was designed specifically for the soil conditions at this property. The recharge system had to be located away from the septic system as well as the building foundation.

Here is what the completed complex looks like from the street.

Cushing Mitchell Comdominium - Front Unit

Cushing Mitchell Condominium - Front Unit

The other two units face the driveway and each unit is separated with an open garage / carport.

Cushing Mitchell Condominium - Units 2 & 3

Cushing Mitchell Condominium - Units 2 & 3

Before the first unit could be sold, P.M.P. Associates, LLC prepared, the condominium unit plans and condominium site plan for the Developer in conjunction with his attorney.

At the present time, one unit has been sold and is occupied.

These units are well built and located in a desirable location. The asking price appears to have been adjusted to the current real estate market conditions. So why are there two units still available?

Has the sub-prime mortgage fiasco and today’s banking institutions totally destroyed condominium sales?

Maybe I am an optimist, you know, the glass is have full kind of guy.  I firmly believe that the smaller condominium projects are going to play a  vital part in the recovery of the housing industry. These projects provide an affordable alternative to a single family home. As local agencies continue to increase the cost of land development through increased regulations and fees, developers need to have a more cost effective housing alternative.

The Cushing Mitchell Condominium is being marketed by:

Heritage Home Real Estate

36 North Bedford Street, East Bridgewater, MA02333

Telephone 508-378-8100

Septic System Design by a Professional Civil Engineer

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

Why do you need to hire a Professional Civil Engineer to design a Septic System?

How many times have I heard, “The man who pumps-out my tank said he uses a guy who can do the design for him directly and he can give me a design & construction deal that will save me money.” Does this sound too good to be true?  Have you ever heard the quote, “There’s a sucker born every minute“? (P.T. Barnum or David Hannum, you decide who said it first, but as a Tufts U. graduate, I vote for Barnum)

Everyone wants to save money. A recent “Close to Home Cartoon by John McPherson caught my attention.

WHEW! Let me guess: You\'re the guy who died in the septic tank explosion

When it comes to a failed Septic System, you need to get professional help.

While the man who runs the pumping truck has working experience regarding the “contents” of a septic tank, unless he is a Registered Sanitarian or a Civil Engineer, he is not qualified to prepare a septic system repair design in most States.

A qualified professional will be able to provide you with design alternatives and assist you in the selection of an installation contractor when you get price quotes based on the design plans. A qualified professional will work directly for you, not work for or be paid by the contractor (Does the phrase, “conflict of interest” mean anything?)

Please download this Free Pamphlet – “Valuable Information on Title 5 Septic System Perc. Testing,
Soil Evaluation & Design Engineering” by Michael E. Perrault, P.E.

This pamphlet was specifically designed as a checklist to assist you, as a property owner, in the steps needed to have a replacement septic system designed, etc.

Is new housing construction still alive in Southern New England?

Saturday, February 21st, 2009

I’m sick of hearing and reading all the negative news about “the housing industry”.  Every day there are more and more articles and news stories blasting out “doom and gloom” predictions with so-called experts lamenting about the “crisis” in the housing market.

In 1938, Orson Wells, presented an adaptation of H.G. Well’s novel, “The War of the Worlds” on the CBS Radio Network and caused thousands of listeners to panic. Seventy years later, our media outlets have perfected the science of creating panic. For example, when a New England weatherman is predicting a 1″ to 2″ snowstorm, they hype it up to sound like the second coming of the Great Blizzard of ’78! On those days I stay away from the local supermarket in fear that I would be seriously injured by the little old ladies clearing the shelves of bread and milk.

Tell the truth! Do the “media” people have any idea what happened to all the general contractors, carpenters, electricians, plumbers, etc. that work in the housing industry? They didn’t just vanish, did they? No!

In direct contradiction to the naysaying media, I say that there is new housing construction in Southern New England.

As a civil engineer involved with land development design, I get invloved with different types housing projects, right from the very beginning when a builder wants an evaluation of the development potential of the raw land. Before a single board can be nailed on a new house, the raw land has to be converted into building lots, which involves a permitting process that could make your saintly grandmother swear.

When you consider the cost of the raw land, engineering, permitting, local & state fees, roadway & utility construction costs and then the actual house construction with the lot improvement costs, it is no wonder why new housing costs have been so high.

Just last year I had the opportunity to design a five duplex-lot residential subdivision in Bridgewater, MA. My client was experienced in house construction and with my assistance, received an education in subdivision design and permitting. Upon approval from the local planning board, he proceeded with the roadway construction and then the development of the first of five duplex units.

Definitive Subdivision Plan

The construction of the new duplex house is allowing this developer to keep his crews employed during the slow winter months. One of the units will be used as a combination temporary sales office and model unit. The developer is incorporating “green” components into his construction and plans on having a variety of options available to customize each unit to the buyer’s specifications.

Since this location in Bridgewater (off High Street, just west of Route 18) has a public water supply but not a municipal sanitary sewer system, the individual lot designs needed to include an on-site sanitary wastewater disposal system (commonly know as a Septic System). The developer has elected to have each unit in the duplex served by their own individual system (Septic tank and leaching system).

Here is a photograph of the duplex unit that is under construction on Lot 3.

New duplex house in Bridgewater, MA

The developer is Mr. Michael Cochrane with Home Town Construction Co., 204 Court Street, Plymouth, MA 02360

These two units are now being listed and shown by  Keller Williams Real Estate. The developer is planning on starting the next two units this Fall.

Spring is near! Time to repair the old Septic System

Friday, February 20th, 2009

What a long cold winter! The snow is finally melting and I can actually see some lawns.

How do you know that Spring is near?   The Red Sox are in Ft. Myers?   The St. Patrick’s Day decorations are available in CVS & Walgreens? The pot-holes in the street in front of your house resemble the Grand Canyon?

I know that Spring is near when septic system contractors start constructing replacement septic systems. All those designs that were completed before the ice-age hit last December became “shovel ready” over Winter. Homeowners living with a failed septic system just want to get it fixed so the yard will be normal come Summer. The same applies for those people trying to sell their homes. They want to get the new septic system installed and the yard restored thereby eliminating last minute construction before the closing.

Checking the Excavation

Just this week construction started on one of our septic system repair design projects. The septic installer coordinated the construction with our office and the Board of Health to confirm that we would be available to perform the multiple construction phase tasks. For example, once the excavation is completed, the design engineer has to visit the construction site to observe and confirm that the unsuitable soils have been removed and that the excavated hole is ready to be backfilled with sand. The Health Agent also performs his own observations as the work progresses. The contractor had already installed the new 1,500 gallon septic tank and 1,000 gallon pump chamber in order to provide a temporary holding storage while the replacement system was being constructed.

Vented Distribution Box

Once the sand had been placed, the septic contractor installed the leaching chambers, distribution box and connecting pipes. Since this system will use gravity flow from the distribution box with a pump chamber to lift the septic tank effluent to the distribution box elevation, the distribution box and the chambers are designed with vent pipes. To help reduce the overall construction cost, our design used a chamber system that does not require any washed stone according to the State approval documents. The completed leaching area is also covered by a geotextile filter fabric. The State Sanitary Code requires the design engineer to observe this construction, make sufficient measurements to confirm that the components were properly installed and then prepare a plan showing the constructed system (This is called the “as-built” plan). The as-built plan is submitted to the Board of Health with a letter signed by the professional engineer, which states that the system has been installed in accordance with the approved plan.

Now that I have proof that Spring is near, what proof do you need?

How about some good news?  The cost of replacing a failed septic system is low. The slow down in construction has increased competition and reduced the costs. So now may be the best time to get that failed septic system replaced.

Is there bad news? Yes, be sure to investigate the qualifications and reputation of the “lowest price” contractor and carefully read the contract for items that are not included.