20 Jun, 2009
Master Soon and The Search for the Holy Permit
Posted by: Jason In: Uncategorized
Like I said earlier, we learned a lot from each builder and one bit of advice Woodbridge gave us made a big difference.
“File for you permits now , as the home owner and do a change of contractor when we sign, it will save you time in the end”
And we did.. Or at least we tried. In the town we hope to one day call home resides a planning board and permit office that is scorned by builder , architect and home owner alike. These fine folks server a valid community role. But, there is a big difference between keeping the neighborhood safe from instant trailer parks and the level of totalitarian dictatorship that is applied to the lovely folks who want to modify their homes. Applying for permits is a lengthy process including zoning permits, building permits, electrical permits, plumbing permits and now soil conservation and drainage permits (as of November 2008) . Yes folks, your dirt needs to be approved now ;) . And God forbid they be efficient. These permits must be issued and reviewed in a sequential order only - lest anyone work too hard. Upon submission Pandora ’s Box truly opens. Each group has 14-30 business days to respond to you- however at any point in that process they may snatch you by the ankle and attempt to drag you into the 7th ring of hell. They utilize this power by requiring you to respond to a formal question that is sent to you by mail. Effectively at day14 they open your file and misread something and send you a letter requesting you to state the obvious. Upon receipt of your letter the clock restarts.
Step 1: drainage
So on one lovely January Wednesday afternoon with 4 sealed sets of plans, 2 copies of surveys and check in hand Elaine marched to the permit office to apply for the permits to build our dream house. Thankfully she doesn’t have my 1.5hour commute and has a bit more freedom in her schedule - so she was elected for this joyful process.
Well, as luck would have it they added another step in the process. As of November 2008 you are now required to get a “drainage permit”. Nobody including the drainage permit people is entirely sure what it is but it does require a set of plans and an application. Oh and they cannot take your application for zoning and building until you have your drainage permit. Depending how much impermeable square footage you are building you are either waived (yeah right!) granted a minor permit or (please not that!) required to obtain a major drainage permit. Oh, they do have 30 business days to get back to you. After a few phone calls and several letters and faxes, about 45 days since we started the whole thing, we were given our minor drainage permit. All that was required was a check for $150 and a letter from Bill stating that we promise not to destroy the land around us (yeah, really)
Step 2: (and 3, 4, and 5) Zoning
With the drainage permit in hand along with our 3 sealed sets of plans and two copies of survey Elaine once again marched into the permit office. We filled out all the paperwork as homeowners just to get the process started because at this point we still did not have a contractor. After all we had to get through zoning before any technical building stuff was going to be reviewed and zoning has 14 business days to respond.
Master Soon is the warden of the 7th ring of zoning. Our house sits 57.3 feet from the roadway. The required distance is 60′. This house is about 60yrs old. You would think that if it doesn’t go any further out it would be ok - WRONG - FOOLISH MORTALS! In the front of our house the 2nd floor cantilevers about 18″ over the first floor . Our grandiose plan was to cantilever the first floor off the foundation to match so that with new siding it would appear to have a flat front. Sound nice right ? FOOLISH MORTALS! According to master Soon any change to the front would require the house now to meet the latest setbacks. Can we say oh crap! In fact the roof line changes, by the wardens’ mandate, would constitute such a change.. NOW What. Three choices, well actually four according to Master Soon : One: call the whole thing off (hmm tempting at this point). Two: make absolutely no changes to the part of the house that violates setbacks, and with no changes she meant NO CHANGES: no changes in the size of the windows, no changes to the roofline, no new dormer, NO CHANGES! Three: go to variance: since we are only doing this to beautify the house and are really not adding square footage by doing so she was almost sure we would be approved. Variance takes 45 business days to review your plans at which point you have to notify every neighbor in 1000 ft from your house of what you want to do. Then you go to the town meeting to present your case and hopefully if none of your neighbors object, the zoning board gives you their blessing… Oh don’t you know, there is a forth option: if you can demonstrate that “everyone else is doing it, you can too” - enter the worst form ever to come out a bureaucrat’s desk drawer - The prevailing setback form. I swear it looks like my daughter drew it. In order to show that everyone is doing it you must get measurements of 3 neighbors to each side and show they are as bad off or worse than you!
So my lovely wife who took care of all this madness (she is that good) begged the architects apprentice to go help her measure and they were off to measure the neighborhood. What was supposed to be a simple walk down the street ended up a run in the rain to more disappointment. Guess what - screwed again - no dice — no way — some rich guy was like 70′ off. Despite killing a few chickens and doing a voodoo dance there was no way to use Jedi magic to fix this. NOW WHAT? Back to Bill.
“ Umm Bill, we got to take out that flat front and push the roof down some.”
Two more weeks and back into the portal to Hell for another beating. And then it sat for a solid week - memorial day came and low and behold Master Soon called in sick on Thursday ,then came long weekend and then she was on vacation for a solid week! Her 14 days running out.. So we called and begged and found another weak mortal to take pity on us - in Master Soon’s absence we were granted zoning permits because some other graciously coursed soul was assigned the blessed rubber stamp for the day! We still feel that had she been the warden on duty we would have been singing hotel California for the next 30 years..
Step 3: building permits:
This was actually not that bad. It only took 2 minor plan revisions and a grilling over the wattage and heat released from the double ovens. (we were on addition 9.0 at this point) After about 1 month after clearing zoning - finally WE HAD PERMITS !!!!