Hello! I am planning to buy a few acres of rural land and build some cob houses and permaculture designs on it. I'm considering the states of Georgia, South Carolina, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Would the laws of any of these states (or counties within them) be more conducive to my project than others? By that I mean construction and building permits (cost, time to attain and how restrictive they are), local culture, and markets to sell organic produce. Other concerns include pesticides due to conventional agriculture, soil pollution and erosion, and water contamination. Any feedback or experiences would be greatly appreciated!
It has been my experience that counties are often a greater influence that state laws. Municipal governments can also factor in. Even if you are several miles outside the city limits, there might be an impact. The community I live near attempted to extend their zoning laws well outside the city limits by citing an obscure law. It was only shot down because some very large farmers got involved.
"Good decisions come from experience. Experience comes from bad decisions." ... Mark Twain
All this is a personal 'to do list' that evolved through the past ten-ish years. A process of elimination to find where I will be most comfortable. Certainly not exhaustive and I am no expert by a long shot. Also, what looks like a red flag to me might not concern someone else at all, but rather be a bonus for someone with different ideas. Your 'to do list' will evolve according to your interests and vision.
There are not many links to information sources here because each set of property research kind of develops in its own way and specific to its county. Learning how to find the land you want to live and grow with might feel a little overwhelming, or maybe not. Maybe you're an information junkie like me? :) Either way, the lifestyle you're interested in will require no less effort and attention so this is great practice that can be beneficial in a multitude of ways. A vital first step in being on your way to live out your dream.
So, while researching for myself it seems cob can be used in most places as long as the foundation keeps the structure dry and breathability is kept in mind. Thickness of walls and energy / plumbing needs will surely vary somewhat. I wouldn't build with cob in an area prone to mold. For me, that would rule out a wet and humid climate in a flat, low lying area. Not to say that can't be done, only that would not be appealing to me.
I would focus on unincorporated areas because those tend to have fewer restrictive zoning and building codes compared to towns and cities. Then I would contact each county in the areas I'm interested in to speak with the Zoning and Code Compliance offices. That can be tricky, however after a few calls it's easy enough to figure out what they do or what kind of assistance and information is available. They probably want concise, clearly stated questions that pertain to what they do and won't want to hear about my adorable critters and family stuff :=) Some can be chatty, but most are busy and necessarily direct. And before calling Zoning or Code Compliance, I would look up everything I can find online in order to form questions specific to their county.
I would make a trip to the GIS office to learn as much as possible to look at maps, ask questions, and learn as much as possible about topography and geography of a property and surrounding area. If possible, I would get a map to walk with as a guide through a property.
When I get to that point, I would talk with locals to get the scoop on 'what's up' with whatever personally interests me, or to find out about things I would like to avoid.
Then there's the Tax Assessor's Office to check out property values, who owns what where, liens and such. False hopes are avoidable with sufficient homework. Doesn't make sense to go through a lot of effort to find a property only to discover it can't be transferred with a clean title in its entirety.
And, The Bureau of Land Management for federal land conveyance records. It will help to learn something about rights specific to federal, state, public, and private land.
I wouldn't want to be on land through which a highway is scheduled to be built in 5 or even 25 years (Zoning). (I don't know how far in advance Zoning can plan. That would be a good question to ask. Maybe that varies between counties?)
Nor in a location where building restrictions make my plans unlikely or impossible (Code Compliance). There is good reason for Code Compliance. They are not bad guys, though a lot of grief is written about them. The problem seems to be most often related to not having established codes that include building certain structures. Though cob is an ancient buliding technique, often there are no building codes. However, not having building codes for cob can also become an opportunity to help get those established if Code Compliance staff are interested and feel a building plan is viable. Most I have talked with make it clear they are not engineers and some don't want to have those discussions. Others are very interested. One explained that if an engineer was consulted to produce a solid 'no brainer' building plan, they would consider working with me to establish codes. (Unfortunately :( that property turned out to have a superfund site nearby.) Next up is a possible challenge to find an engineer who is willing to sign off on building plans for a cob home. So, it becomes important to get that worked out with both before attempting to move forward.
Nor in a pie pan depression (GIS) that at first glance appears to be suitable during a dry spell but fills up with water, in which case water might be going up steps or the foundation, or having critters getting thrush from standing in water or mud.
I would want to know something about adjacent properties. Where property lines are, which would also lead to a trip to Tax Assessor's office for data. How parcels are laid out, flag lots, right of ways, and other surprises can be inconvenient, or useful. Sometimes a county's Tax Assessor's office has online maps.
About property rights. So far I've found information about rights specific to mineral, air, water, soil, and eminent domain. Even if 'all the rights' to a piece of land were owned 100+ years ago, those can be mowed right over via eminent domain for a pipeline, or by an airport as happened with a long established community that was obliterated to make way for the Peotone Airport in Illinois. Not a legal source, yet still informative: https://geology.com/articles/mineral-rights.shtml
There are also areas with restrictions protecting endangered species, wetlands, and wildlife habitats. The EPA's website has a current database for endangered critters and plant life, and those about to be listed as endangered.
Being permaculture minded, I would drive around and be on the look out for signs of big ag, CAFOs, manufacturing companies, dumps, tailing ponds, old or active mining, and check out the water shed and water running through an area. Sink hole potential, especially if close to the coast though there are some notorious sinkhole areas far inland as in Illinois.
There are a lot of things I'd want to learn before deciding to stay somewhere permanently. Really depends on what tends to occur in an area. Seems like building with consideration for most natural disasters can be achieved in varying degrees with the exception of tsunamis. So I have no inclination to build on a coast where land is shallow, unstable, or near large bodies of water such as in Florida.
Speaking with locals, I'd hope to get a feel for an overall mindset to determine if it's a good fit. Or learn about areas reputed to be heavy in drug activity (even in rural areas, perhaps especially so ) or KKK kind of concerns. I would not want to be surrounded by ATVs or snowmobile trails, though snowmobiles are unlikely in the areas you mentioned :.)
Websites like http://scorecard.goodguide.com/ that show location of superfund sites, pollution, contamination, worst polluters, air quality, etcetera, can help weed out undesirable areas quickly. That said, I would look for several such sources because certain data might be found in one place while other data might be found in another. And sometimes the only way to get certain information is by speaking with county offices or residents because perhaps for tourisim purposes or lack of funding, or outright avoidance, there can be nasty surprises. There is a blink and miss it town in Wisconsin with a superfund site that was not reported in online sources when I lived there. Only local residents knew and I only found out after asking a local business owner why no one had built there.
I would speak with local CSA contacts and read local newspapers to find out what's currently working or not working in an area. A good way to discern if there's room for what you want to sell and what the going prices are. Also where to source materials and find out about shipping availability, if that applies to what you want to do. Perhaps talk with a nursery who sells to that area to learn what typically grows there, what is indigenous, and particular needs or tendencies.
There really isn't a one stop place to find all this information. However when you plan to stay somewhere, I don't think the word 'plan' can be overestimated. It's a lot of leg work, yep. However the more effort put into the research, the more likely it is that the most suitable place will be found. And where there is passion, the effort required is not really work. I think it's part of the journey to make a dream come true, yeah? :.)
Hopefully others will add what they've learned through experience.
Victoria: here in central Missouri ( cooper county) there is good land, decent climate, affordable (?) land, and very little zoning. Plus a few folks already or getting ready to live in a permie style. It’s not far to the crapital city nor to the “ edumication “ capital, Columbia. Can’t say much for the political scene here- we have the “commie-style” one party system...
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