Home improvements: screwed w/ or w/o permits (mild)

AKA “You can fight City Hall, but victory will cost you dearly.”

This is belated by a year, but I wonder how many people have to go through similar turmoil just because they want to improve their property.
Last summer, my folks and their next door neighbors decided to turn their asphalt driveways to cement, widen them, and split the cost of a wall that would separate the driveways. Fine and good. Then they decide to get permits, licenses, insured contractors, etc. so as to remain on the level and not have to tear all the stuff apart if caught doing it without permits.
That’s when the ordeal began. The city insisted that the first eight feet of the driveway (next to the street) belong to them and must be filled with “city mix,” which they had to measure and which cost more to put in. Also, the contractor had to have a million dollars in insurance in case somebody might fall and hurt themselves on the easement; the city did not want the liability. My parents have had this property for over forty years and nobody had ever fallen on their driveway except mom, and that was only because of her shoes. Okay, fine. They deal with this bit of code written long ago.
But wait, there’s more: the city inspectors say they must come out four times during the course of the work to check on things…but they take their good old time and drag out the process because there are very few of them available. Why? Because their colleagues all decided to go on vacation at the same frikkin’ time. Brilliant.
Hold on, we’re not finished yet! When the aforementioned wall was nearly completed, City Planner Guy (CPG) tells my mom and her neighbor V. that the wall must be painted so it matches the house. Mom and V. must have gone to this guy’s office more than half a dozen times. Here is a reconstruction of the conversation between V. and CPG:
V: Why does the wall have to match the houses?
CPG: Because it’s visible from the street.
V: Everything is visible from the street. Who makes up these rules?
CPG: This rule has been on the books since 1959.
V: Well, it’s stupid. The houses are two different colors. Do you want the wall to be blue-gray on one side and beige on the other? Or what if we paint the houses a year from now and then they don’t match the old wall color anymore?

CPG (after several more minutes of arguing): FINE! Paint it pink, purple, any color you want! I don’t care!

Mom and V. were able to leave the damn wall alone and unpainted, but only after a great deal of stress. Mom still says she wishes she’d never even bothered with permits. Of course, that would have led to any number of other problems with the city.

Is this the norm? I’m betting it is.

Geesh, unless there are utilities under where you want to build, the I can’t see any reason not to allow the driveway…

I’m reminded of the person who volunteered for my city’s board of adjustments so that there would be at least one reasonable person on the board. Back in the Eighties, the development and review department used to act as if their job was to say no to any and all development. Things eased up only after it became apparent that their obstacles were running all new development out of town.

The problem is that some people get involved with planning boards, or zoning, or construction laws for the sole, and explicit, purpose of putting up as many road blocks as possible to new construction. And, not all these people are complete idiots, or lacking in the ability to think, just so focused on their one point of view they can’t or won’t see any other position as possible, let alone meritous.

And, vivalostwages, your mother can be thrilled she and the neighbor didn’t have to deal with the regulations involved with historic buildings. :rolleyes:

Bureaucracies can be extremely frustrating with their endless and often contradictory rules, strict heirarchies, and nonwavering regulations.

Kind of like English and its teachers.


Easement is heavily regulated in every city I’ve ever done a project in. I guess because it ties in with the roads and all. Hey, their call, I just deal with it.

On the plus side, now whenever I complain about something in my line of work, you know what I is talking abouts. Unlikes me with yore Ainglish teachering stuffeses, don’t ya know. :stuck_out_tongue:

I wish my county would start saying no to developers. Houses are sprouting up like mushrooms after a hard rain around here, and the roads and schools can’t handle the influx. So what’s the solution in my county? Triple the impact fee on new home construction.

What’s wrong with just saying no?

Heh, try dealing with this crap every day. I prepare structural drawings and often have to deal with building/planning inspectors and, I assure you, this type of small-minded petty adherence to the letter of the law is the rule, not the exception. Making allowances for special cases just creates more work and opens them up to liability. I understand their reluctance to make accomodations but it can be extremely frustrating when their job is supposed to facilitate not obstruct. However, trust me, you don’t want to get caught doing this stuff w/o a permit. If you think it’s bad trying to do things the right way, they’ll make your life absolute hell if you get caught going behind their backs.

An anecdote: About 6-7 years ago a local businessman and well-known nutcase waltzed into the Mayor’s office one day and nearly beat him to death with a metal cane. The running joke for months afterwards was “Why the hell didn’t he go downstairs to the building/planning depts. and finish the job?!”

Who owns the land that is being built on? Do they get tax breaks for not developing the land? Or will they be expected to continue to pay full property tax rates? In many instances with growing metropolitan or suburban areas, the previous land owners have no choice but to sell because of the growing tax burden they face. I’m not saying that’s the case in your area - just it’s one potential cause of the proliferation of construction you’re talking about.

A solution being used locally was for the town to buy the development rights for properties still in agricultural use - thus the land is zoned ag use only, and the tax burden dropped to something the owners could afford, but that’s a solution for a forward thinking, and relatively well off town.

The problem I have with the zoning boards who are against ALL change/construction is when these same people complain because no new businesses are coming into the area - with the permit mess that the OP described, it’s easier for newer or growing companies to go elsewhere to build or renovate a facility to meet their needs. Taking steps to control, or manage development is usually a good thing, but the people who are opposed to ALL new construction and ‘improvement’ are at least as foolish as those who want to see all land covered with shiney new buildings, whether there’s a market for 'em or not.

No easy solutions, of course - just a futile wish that people in these positions would be a little more flexible.

The permit and license issue is a two-edged sword, IMHO. Without permits, licensing of contractors, and inspections, you have faulty, dangerous, and potentially disastrous construction practices taking place willy-nilly. When I find issues during a home inspection, the seller gets their back up about it, although the problem wouldn’t exist had proper construction techniques and inspections been extant.

The other end of the spectrum includes 3 sets of plans sealed by an Architect or Professional Engineer including plot plan to scale for building a 80SF storage shed. :eek: No exaggeration-I’ve spent half the cost of the shed materials in the permit process ($200) before nail #1 is driven, and the permit process took 4 months from application to yellow card.

Although it is a PITA, I always advise customers to do things legally, but I handle all paperwork on their behalf with the municipality. This way the customer and I are both off the hook when the final inspection is approved.

Aesiron and NoClueBoy: You are always so very helpful. :dubious:

I’m just dreading the day when mom finally decides to add on a front porch…Shudder! I wonder what sort of fresh hell she’ll face.

In our case, the outlying areas were getting the taxes and the city still had to pay for the infrastructure. Also, it was generating sprawl and city residents had to jump through hoops to do the most minor of rennovations to existing houses. I’m not pitting (actually, I feel much the same way about my region as you do about yours), I’m just explaining why things weren’t working around here.

I forgot to mention that if you build such a wall around here but it’s “decorative,” it does not have to be colored to match the house.
First, what does “decorative” mean?
Second, I note while driving around that half the walls are colored and half aren’t, so I don’t see what the big fuss was all about down at the City Planner’s office.
(Yeah, I know…Bureaucratic petty dictatorship.)