Put simply, our problems are that the house is sitting “in a hole”, below the level of the land in front, and the driveway access is short and steep. We caused part of the problem by putting the house too far up the hill, where the property tapers to a triangle, which leaves us little room to adjust the slope by spreading out. (The core problem is that the property itself is steeper than we expected.)
Alessandra’s plan is to put the parking area at the very top of the property and put three terraces down to the house.
This does open up the front of the house and make the slope close to the house less severe, but I wonder if this isn’t causing other problems:
Making the driveway even steeper
Squeezing the parking area so it’s hard to turn around to go back up and to have enough room to have a “running start” to attack the driveway.
My knees are also asking about carrying stuff down from the parking to the house. (They don’t mind up as nearly as much as down.) Is the plan to just have a steep path or stairs? Can we do something more gradual?
Realistically, I don’t think we have many options other than this one of Alessandra’s — since we can’t buy more land, at least right now — but I’ve sent my thoughts off to Kevin.
Kevin got back to me with diagrams that addressed my questions, but I still wonder about that sloping driveway!
Here, he indicates the path they have planned. My guess is that it will need to be extended to reduce the slope further.
The next step is to get a reasonable estimate for the earth moving front and back. Francisc is getting bids from smaller suppliers, as their prices should be less than the bigger companies,
Late in the afternoon of the second day. we went off to meet with the farmers who own the land that surrounds our property. We needed to discuss two topics: get their permission to have an electrical connection pole put on their property, and explore the option of buying some additional land to address some of our land slope issues, particularly those on the front of the house.
Kevin wanted to meet at the property some we could discuss the options on-site, but the farmers, who are brothers, said we needed to come to their main house, about 20 minutes away.
A few weeks ago, Kevin had approached the brothers about the electric line and pole topic. We need about 1-2 m2 of land on which to put an electrical pole that will carry the line from another pole on their land. We won’t own this small square of land, just use it. From this new pole, we’ll have a line buried along our driveway to get to the house.
Kevin’s original attempts to get the brothers to say yes to the pole have gotten snagged on the brothers’ complaints about some olive trees that they said have been damaged by the equipment arriving at our house. (The piece of land they own to the south has a scattering of olive trees on it, but it looks like they haven’t been tended in years.) Further, they felt they had already been more than accommodating by letting our contractor put some supplies and materials on their land and to allow us to reshape the connection from the road to the driveway.
So now the brothers apparently wanted us to pay up. They wanted €2,000 for their permission to build the pole and dig the connection. Kevin was flabbergasted by this number. At €1,000 per m2, a hectare of land (10,000 m2) would cost €10 million — $4 million an acre — clearly an outrageous amount for use of, not even ownership of, a small piece of unused land.
Kevin had gotten them down to €1,500, but they wouldn’t budge from there. He thought that maybe if we were there while he negotiated further, they might soften up and we could get the price down to a more reasonable level. So we were standing by their barn, not saying anything but trying to look friendly, while Kevin went after them again.
Unfortunately, no dice. They weren’t budging. (Anne said later that maybe I should have tried. They might have taken pity on the foreigner trying to negotiate in Italian.)
We had an equal lack of success on the potential land purchase question, but for different reasons. Since the land is agricultural, the brothers receive some sort of subsidy from the European Union to leave it that way. They have an agreement through 2018, so they couldn’t sell any land now. Maybe they’d talk about it in 2019.
Of course, 2019 doesn’t help us in our desire to reshape our land right now.
When we left, Kevin repeated that he thought €1,500 was outrageous. But as of now, we’re left with no electricity to the site. We’ll probably just have to pay up.
This process went on for two more months before Kevin finally got the brothers to sign the paper.
After discussing the slope situation in front of the house, we move to the back and the slope there. Our group includes Kevin, the geometra Jimmy, the general contractor Francisc, and a landscape designer Paula.
The first thing we discuss is the size of the flat area behind house. It’s rather small, with not much room before there is a steep drop off to the levels below. We had designed it this way to try to save the nice fig tree that sits fairly near the house.
Moving down the hill, we can see that the fig is very close to the current level behind the house, making it difficult to extend the level area.
Moving down the hill some more to the garden level below the house and looking back up the hill, it’s easy to see the drop off we have now is too severe. Based on the original land diagrams from Jimmy, we had planned on four plateaus: parking, house, garden, pool. Now we decided needed five, with two rather than one between the house and pool: parking, house, garden 1, garden 2, and pool.
It became pretty clear that the fig’s position was limiting our options. We couldn’t extend the house plateau and have an opportunity to make the slope more manageable without removing it. Paula said that maybe it can be moved, but it’s uncertain if it will work and it’s probably expensive. Trying not to feel too bad about losing the tree, we reminded ourselves that in the current position is does block some of the view and that, as we learned when we lived in Raleigh, a new fig tree will grow pretty fast.
To build these plateaus on the hillside, we will need some sort of earth retention. One option is to build retaining walls. Jimmy proposed a system that is less expensive. It’s built using horizontal grids of iron, which are layered with a level of earth on top of each grid. They stabilize the soil over time as it settles and compacts. Plus, the iron will eventually decay, making it more earth-friendly than the other option using pvc grids.
Overall, to go with our unresolved situation in front of the house, we don’t have a solution behind the house, either. However we resolve these problems, a lot of soil needs to be added and moved by heavy equipment. The costs for this work is unknown, but I’m sure it’s not in the budget.
To get us moving to find some solutions, Jimmy will provide a survey showing the five plateau concept. Paula is to develop a proposal to design a long-term landscaping plan that deals with these immediate issues but which can be completed over time. We’re going to give Paula an idea of the types of plantings we’d like to see.
Now it’s time for lunch. Were we and our little rental car stuck at the bottom of the slope?
Fortunately, I was able to get the car up the driveway. I got a running start in first gear and, though the car whined and threatened to stall, we made it. A bit of flat and then another steep section on the access road. You need to keep your speed up the whole way to the top, even around corners, so we’ll need to install some mirrors to make sure no one is coming the other way.
Kevin says the road and driveway will be improved after construction is complete, but the slope will still be there. I’m now concerned about access for guests in their little rental cars. Plus, what do we do when it snows? We’ll have an unplowed driveway and road, uphill and unpaved for the first 1km. We may find ourselevs trapped until the snow melts.
We need to consider having a 4wd vehicle, but then we run into two other issues: without being residents, we can’t own a car and they are expensive to rent, like €300 a day (!). There is a leasing option that works for trips over about 3 weeks and the way to do it is to pick up the car in France.
I guess we just need to consider all of this part of the adventure of Casa Avventura.
Our first morning here and our first chance to see Casa Avventura. Today, we’ll have a chance to evaluate the progress and make some decisions that have been on hold for us to be here in person.
We’ve got two big topics to discuss today. First, there is the land and terrain, specifically the slope, and second, a number of design decisions to make and potential chances to consider.
Since the land and slope is the first thing we see, I’ll write about it first and cover the house-related topics in another post.
Kevin said to meet him at the site at 9am. Not only will this be our first viewing, it will be our first time driving to the property on our own. We set off in our Lancia Ypsilon, a “supermini” class car.
As the site is out in the countryside, there is not really a street address. Fortunately, I had a pretty good sense of where the property is from our previous visits and I had gps coordinates I identified from Google Earth. The only thing I wasn’t sure of was the turn off the SP129, the road from Colmurano to Urbisaglia.
The turnoff was actually easy to identify. We started down the hill on a paved road for about 1km, where the road splits. We went right, down the so-called strada bianca (white road), a fancy name for gravel.
When we arrive at the end of the road, where our property access/driveway begins, I hesitate. We look down the slope of the last 100m and I can see it’s steep, steeper than I remembered. I’m worried that once down the hill, our little Ypsilon with the 1.2L engine won’t get us back up. I’m also starting to wonder if we haven’t picked too hilly a hillside.
Getting down to the temporary parking area near the house, we look back up the hill. Hmm.
I think we had overlooked the driveway steepness problem because the drawing we had seen of the land profile didn’t include the driveway. It just showed the level in front of the house.
The “final” parking area is planned to be in front and above the house. Certainly above. Right now it’s about level with the top floor, with a fairly steep slope down to the house.
And to have enough flat space for cars, there is an area dug out of the slope.
How can we make this better?
Here to try to sort this out are Kevin, the geometra Jimmy, the general contractor Francisc, and a landscape designer Paula, who we hadn’t met before. We start outlining the problem and possible solutions.
Currently, since the property is triangular, the house is close to property lines on each side. Plus, it’s high up in triangle, leaving little room for parking above. And our access via the driveway is just a narrow strip, which we don’t own, but on which we have the right of access.
One solution might be to buy some land from the adjacent properties, so we have some room to move the steeper slopes away from the house. That would require some land on the south side of the property.
And/or we could buy some land on the uphill/east side, where we might be able to move the parking and let the driveway curve down the hill and be less steep.
We have a meeting set for tomorrow with the farmers who own this adjacent land, so we’ll see if we can make something happen. (We also need to get them to agree to let the electric company build a pole on their land so we can get electricity to the house, not only for us in the longer term but for Francisc and his crew. Right now they are using generators.)
Paula, trying to be optimistic, thinks that there are some ways to make the slope in front of the house not be too much of a problem — maybe even an advantage — through some plantings and stairs, and the the house being low makes the first “reveal” more exciting. Features rather than bugs. I’m not sure I’m buying.
This work was done, but there is still a bit of a problem on the south side (the left side when viewed from the front) of the house. It leaves the house in a bit in a hole here, as I wrote about earlier.
The best solution would be to make the slope more gradual in this side, but the problem is that we’re already fairly close to the property line. There isn’t enough room to do the reshaping we’d like to do.
Also, the electrical line needs to enter our property on this side of the house. The best route needs to cross the adjacent land and the landowner wants to be compensated. (There is also apparently some issue about an electrical pole as part of the line installation.)
One possible resolution to both issues would be for us to buy some land on this side. It’s a plot of olive trees, so Anne would like to have the land for that purpose, as well.
Of course, we’re not in a particularly strong bargaining position, as there is only one place we could get the land we need.
Kevin has us set up to meet with the landowner. I hope we’ll be able to reach a reasonable deal, either with or without land purchase.