With their youngest child standing on the edge of the nest, ready to fledge, Sandy and Rick Sheldon were thinking about downsizing. But they never dreamed they would find a house that was almost a “Mini-Me” of the one they have now.
But that’s what they wound up with when they bought a 4,200-square-foot neo-Colonial that has many of the same design details as their current home in the Montgomery Village area only a mile away.
Their empty nest house is smaller but features the same grand front portico, classical columns and spiral staircase in the foyer. It was built by developer Hugh Codding in 1951, the same year that the late furniture store owner Grover Stone and his wife Mercy, built their family-size Colonial home off Montgomery Drive. What’s different is that the smaller house sits on a rare 37-acre parcel overlooking Spring Lake Park.
What they are giving up in square footage, they are more than making up for in acreage.
It was their fantasy come to life.
“We were thinking, if we could just take our house and shrink it a little bit and move it to a beautiful place. And then I found this,” said Sandy. “This is exactly what we had wanted.”
The couple plan to renovate the aging home and keep the rest of the land as open space. Their plan rescues from “the claws of a developer,” as Sandy put it in her blog, “Rock Haven Farm,” a large swatch of land within the city limits that borders Spring Lake.
“This is such a prominent ridge for that park. I thought people down there would look up and it wouldn’t be this beautiful tree-lined ridge anymore. You would see the roofs of homes,” Sandy said.
“I thought it would change the whole feel of the park. That’s why I thought buying it was so important.”
The property was being heavily marketed to developers when Sandy ran across the real estate listing last year.
“I had just a general idea of where it was. So I went searching,” she said. Her sleuthing took her to the trails of Spring Lake Park. She guesstimated where the property might be, hidden among the trees on the ridge, then picked a likely trail and started climbing. Eventually the Sullivan Trail took her to the home, an aging beauty with a sweeping front lawn and the grace of a Southern plantation.
Developers already had set their sights on the land, zoned for half-acre homesites. The Sheldons contacted their real estate agent and put in an offer, but it was rejected. Sandy however, said she couldn’t shake the vision of that old home overlooking her favorite park. She contacted her agent again. At the time, one big developer, she said, was eyeing it for a 60- to 70-home subdivision.
Given the challenging terrain, the site could more realistically accommodate 40 to 50 homes, Rick said.
The Sheldons re-entered the competition. They had an edge because they were prepared to go forward immediately with no contingencies, Rick said. They took possession of the property right after Christmas and are now preparing to launch into a major renovation.
But before the contractors descend, the couple will open the old house up and show it off to the community — as is — as a fundraiser for Petaluma’s Committee on the Shelterless. The party, starting at 6 p.m. today, March 11, is being organized by their son Vaughan, a volunteer with COTS who is mounting the fundraiser as a Service Learning project for Cardinal Newman High School.
What: Wild Cat Education and Conservation Fund
Owners: Barbara and Rob Dicely
Years in operation: 33 years.
Number of cats over the years: 45
First cat: Asali, the caracal, in 1985
Breeds: African leopard, snow leopard, bobcat, lynx, serval, ocelot, caracal, Geoffroy’s cat, fishing cat, mountain lion and cheetah
Private tour info: $95 per person, $50 extra for cheetah run
Tip: The annual open house event will be held July 21. Check the website for updates.