While long and tall and narrow, the 532 Mowbray Arch house's dimensions and proportions are similar to those of many of the older neighborhood houses built on the long, narrow, single urban lots that were platted for old Ghent:

House Size

House sizes in the 500-532 block of Mowbray Arch:

Mowbray Arch Address
Finished Living Area
Street Number
Square Footage
500
4571
502
4417
504
2302
506
2688
508
3498
512
4638
516
3602
518
3572
520
3121
522
3760
524
2608
526
2657
530
4405
532
3388

At 3388 square feet, the 532 house's living area is smaller than the average (3526 square feet) of the rest of the houses on the same block.

 

Lot Size

The 532 Mowbray Arch lot is roughly the same size and width as most of the other 100+ single lots with houses in the dense urban neighborhood of lower Ghent (south of Olney Road). The 532 lot, with a 27 foot frontage and an area of 2,536.32 square feet, meets the City of Norfolk's minimum buildable lot requirements.

 

See Map of 100+ Houses in Lower Ghent Built on Single Lots

 

 

 

House Length and Width

Single-lot houses in the 500-532 block of Mowbray Arch

(most built before modern-day setback requirements could crimp their dimensions):

Street Number
Length of House
Width of House
L/W Ratio
500
132.4
22.1'
6.0
502
87.1
20.6'
4.2
504
69.0
18.0'
3.8
506
76.1
20.6'
3.7
508
84.2
24.5'
3.4
516
87.5
25.0'
3.5
518
85.5
25.0'
3.4
520
77.0
21.5'
3.6
522
92.5
22.0'
3.6
524
74.5
26.0'
2.9
526
76.0
23.5'
3.2
532
92.5
19.2'
4.8

 

The Tudor-style house at 500 Mowbray Arch was built in 1901 on the corner lot at the opposite end of the block from 532 Mowbray Arch. This lot is similar in width and shape to the 532 lot. However, the original 500 Mowbray Arch house, built before the current setback rules and lot coverage limits were instituted, is considerably larger (over 53% larger in area, over 43% longer, and over 15% wider) than the 532 house, which was built according to the current City Code:

 

Lot Coverage

The City Code limits the lot coverage of all new houses in the Ghent Historic District to 55 percent of the lot area, even though many older houses in the neighborhood, especially those built on long, narrow, single-house lots similar to the 532 Mowbray Arch lot, cover much more than 55 percent of their lots. Take for example again the traditionally built house at 500 Mowbray Arch, which appears to cover close to 90% of its lot.

The City has confirmed that the 532 Mowbray Arch lot coverage (which does not include things like roof overhangs, privacy walls, and uncovered entry stairs) falls within the 55 percent limit. During construction of the 532 house, a licensed professional surveyor precisely laid out the brick point marks that would determine the size of the footprint to insure that the house conforms to its designated size.

The pink area below represents the setback area (or the minimum yard spaces required by the City Code) for 532 Mowbray Arch. The Code explicitely allows the front porch to project 8 feet into the front yard; no setback from the property line is required for the rear privacy wall; the chimney is allowed to project as much as 18 inches into the side yard:

 

 

Setbacks

The City of Norfolk encourages architecture appropriate to the historic neighborhood, yet it has enacted rigid one-size-fits-all rules that are both unreasonable and unfair. While a case can be made for side-yard setbacks for infill houses (built between existing houses) to allow for construction and maintenance activities, why should the three-foot side-yard setback rule apply to the street side of a house built on a corner lot — as the house at 532 Mowbray Arch? For example, why should the new house on the corner at 532 Mowbray Arch be set back farther from the street and sidewalk than the much larger house on the corner right across the street at 542 Mowbray Arch?

 

The house at 542 Mowbray Arch

 

The house at 308 Fairfax Avenue

This house built in 1990 on a narrow corner lot right across Mowbray Arch from the Chrysler Museum appears to have no side-yard setback on its Mowbray Arch side:

 

The house at 500 Mowbray Arch,

with no apparent setback on its west (left) side.

 

Concerening setbacks, isn’t the idea supposed to be that new architecture in the historic neighborhood blend with the old?

 

 

 

House Height

Due to the potential for flooding, the first floor of the 532 Mowbray Arch house has been placed nearly as high as allowed by the City Code while still allowing the house to have three livable floors. The City Code specifies that the 35 foot height limit for a gambrel roof is measured to the midpoint between eave and roof ridge from grade.

The highest roof peak of the 532 Mowbray Arch house is approximately 43’ above grade, while the midpoint of its roof, between eave and ridge, does not exceed the 35 foot limit above grade. The City Code does not specify a height limit for ancillary mechanical equipment, cupolas, chimneys, steeples, flagpoles, rooftop penthouses for elevators or stairways, and similar architectural features — including turrets.

After construction began on the 532 Mowbray Arch house, the City of Norfolk, which seems to be starting to take sea level rise seriously, finally got around to changing its height limit rule — which was ridiculously unfair to owners of properties in low-lying areas prone to flooding. Heights are now measured from the higher of either a property's grade or the city's new standard elevation, which happens to be about 5.5 feet higher than grade at 532 Mowbray Arch (see City Council action, November 26, 2013).

In other words, under the City's new rule, the midline roof height (between eave and roof ridge) of the house at 532 Mowbray Arch could have been 5.5 feet higher. So, thank you very much, Norfolk politicians and bureaucrats, for your less-than-prompt attention to the welfare of the citizens you "serve" and whose taxes pay your salaries!

 

Flooding

Extent of lot flooding during Superstorm Sandy

October 29, 2012:

 

The 532 Mowbray Arch lotis roughly half under water:

 

 

See More Flood Photos

Will Norfolk Drown?

New Floodplain Ordinance

Norfolk Passes New Flood Regulations

North American Vertical Datum of 1988 (NAVD 1988)

Norfolk Flood Awareness and Mitigation

New York Times: Jan. 13, 2014

 

SmartVents, a good idea for any house built in a floodplain:

 

 

Turret and Spiral Fire Escape

Turrets are an integral, and plentiful, part of Ghent. Spiral fire escapes, examples of which are also found in Ghent, are arguably more pleasing to the eye than rectilinear varieties:

 

 

Entry Stairs

The City of Norfolk finally relented and allowed the entry stairs to the 532 Mowbray Arch house to encroach on the three-foot Mill Street side yard setback. Though why the City was a stickler on this issue is a bizarre mystery, since many, many other houses in Ghent, both older houses built before the modern-day ordinances and many houses built after the new rules took effect, have been allowed to encroach on the setbacks as well as extend their entry stairs even into the public right of way. For example, in the photo below the property line lies roughly four feet inward from the sidewalk, so not only the entry stairs, but even the house itself varies from the setback rules:

 

 

Vacant Lot For Sale

April, 2012:

 

www.532MowbrayArch.com