Love the locale; hate the house?

By Cathy Breitenbucher


In some locales, it’s not all that unusual to demolish an existing house to build a bigger one on the same lot. On the Northshore, lot sizes and home prices all but eliminate the teardown option.
William Raasch is one of three building inspectors in Shorewood.

Karl Ekman said his family “got the Whitefish Bay Blues” about eight years ago after moving from there to Mequon for larger quarters. Ekman, general manager for Sterling Hasey Co., a builder based in Glendale, began pondering a teardown in the Bay.

“I’ve looked for kind of junky homes to start over with,” he said. “We looked for a couple years at least for a home we could remodel or tear out, and the price was prohibitive.”

In the past two years, only one house has been torn down and replaced in Whitefish Bay, according to village building inspector Joel Jaster. A home was demolished last year with a teardown in the plans, but the design of the new one was declined by the village architectural board.

The owners first tried to sell off the 87 x 127 property as two single-family lots, then gained approval for a different new-home design and will build a $300,000 house.

The closest thing Shorewood has seen to teardowns in the last couple of years is the redevelopment by the village of the property on E. Edgewood Ave., formerly owned by Columbia Hospital. Seven homes are giving way to condominiums.

There simply isn’t much room to grow in Shorewood, notes Bill Raasch, one of the village’s three building inspectors.

Experts say a few teardowns have been done in Mequon and in Fox Point, particularly along the lake. But the narrow lots so common to older neighborhoods are preventing more teardowns.

“It’s hard for the builders, because there’s no place to put the lumber, or there’s limited parking for the crew, compared to the suburban areas,” said Ekman. “I bid on a teardown job once on the East Side, and it was on a 30-foot lot, with the house six feet away from the next door neighbor. It’s really tricky when you have that tight a space.”