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I need to vent

 
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I am glad I read this thread.  I have 20 acres in the La Minerve, Quebec area.  I now need to do some research on how my land can be used.  I have owned it for a very long time.  It is just 20 acres of forest.  No road, none cleared, just forest.  I guess my brother and I have owned it for 40 or more years.  It has lake frontage too.  Great fishing.  It is not developed but the zoning use may have changed considerably since we acquired it.  I have just made sure the taxes were paid over all of these years and haven't even visited it since the 70's.
 
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Dave Bennett wrote:
I am glad I read this thread.  I have 20 acres in the La Minerve, Quebec area.  I now need to do some research on how my land can be used.  I have owned it for a very long time.  It is just 20 acres of forest.  No road, none cleared, just forest.  I guess my brother and I have owned it for 40 or more years.  It has lake frontage too.  Great fishing.  It is not developed but the zoning use may have changed considerably since we acquired it.  I have just made sure the taxes were paid over all of these years and haven't even visited it since the 70's.



Dave, I hope that gives you access to some forest to garden. 

I bought land and especially loved the wide swath of trees on either side of the county ditch that runs through one corner.  Fruiting black walnuts were interspersed with wild apple, oak and maple.  That is, I loved it up until the time the county sent a contractor , without notifying me of the action, who "brushed" the ditch sixty feet from the bank for the entire 800+ foot length.     There were a few cottonwoods left at the bend near the road and a 50 foot section of one bank had to be shored up after the timber was torn out of that space.  The small amount of wood left behind didn't include that walnut I know was there.  The cuttings that didn't disappear were then covered with the sand dredged up from the bottom of the ditch.  I've had hugelkulture for years and only recently knew what it was called!

My building plans keep getting set back just "one more year", in part due to my sister's poor health last year and because of concern over the types of restrictions and disapproving looks I figure I'll get from the planning department.  How I wish I could find it all written out instead of the basics (new home must meet or exceed 1000 sq. feet) with a lot of personal discretion on the part of the department head in how those basics will be met.  I don't think the county has had a lot of experience with elevational earth sheltered homes.  I hate to think of how they will react to a desire for strawbale or earth bag construction, composting toilet and gray water system.
 
Dave Bennett
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Lolly K wrote:
Dave, I hope that gives you access to some forest to garden. 

I bought land and especially loved the wide swath of trees on either side of the county ditch that runs through one corner.  Fruiting black walnuts were interspersed with wild apple, oak and maple.  That is, I loved it up until the time the county sent a contractor , without notifying me of the action, who "brushed" the ditch sixty feet from the bank for the entire 800+ foot length.     There were a few cottonwoods left at the bend near the road and a 50 foot section of one bank had to be shored up after the timber was torn out of that space.  The small amount of wood left behind didn't include that walnut I know was there.  The cuttings that didn't disappear were then covered with the sand dredged up from the bottom of the ditch.  I've had hugelkulture for years and only recently knew what it was called!

My building plans keep getting set back just "one more year", in part due to my sister's poor health last year and because of concern over the types of restrictions and disapproving looks I figure I'll get from the planning department.  How I wish I could find it all written out instead of the basics (new home must meet or exceed 1000 sq. feet) with a lot of personal discretion on the part of the department head in how those basics will be met.  I don't think the county has had a lot of experience with elevational earth sheltered homes.  I hate to think of how they will react to a desire for strawbale or earth bag construction, composting toilet and gray water system.


The only problem we have ever had with the county is that we requested our tax bill in English on multiple occasions.  That has never happened though.  They come written in French.  I have an easement so when I do go there I have access to my property.  They are in reality 4 - 5 acre lots that are stacked end to end. 
It is entirely possible that my son and my brother's daughter will wind up with the property before anything is done with it. 
I would love to go live there but have not given it much consideration until recently.  "Life was in the way."
 
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-Alexis

I'm so sorry to hear about your land! Please tell us what you decide to do.
I would worry as well about other 'infractions'. Once you have one authority coming out to check on things they breed like bunnies. All of a sudden you'll have a yard full of expensive officials running in circles holding clip boards. Ever read the hitch hikers guide to the galaxy?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cbN1NaQ7yQI&feature=related

Although building codes should be straight forward they seem to be randomly enforced in the city even. My house in the city was 'built to code' except an addition that was built without a permit!!!
so for them to prevent you from doing something holistic to the land is insane!
 
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Here's how the codes prevent you from building a $20,000 house:
-In the county where we live now (not where our homestead is, thank God), the building permit for a new house runs $10,000
-Utility connection fees -sewer, water, electricity -have a blanket fee of $10,000, plus inspection fees.

So, you are out $20,000 before you ever break ground. Then there are these gems:
-All plumbing, electrical, and septic work has to be done by a licensed contractor, even if you know what you are doing.
-Owner-builders have to get all plans stamped by a professional engineer.
-Owner-builders have to have 4x as many inspections (at hundreds of $ each) as contractors.

The code is just as restrictive for existing homes. We had to replace some drywall in our bathroom last year; we were legally supposed to get a $200 permit and get our plans approved. The law applies to any home repair more extensive than replacing a sink trap.

And God forbid your home gets declared historic. An older friend of mine is having to sell the home she's lived in since the 70s. Why? It just got declared historic, so it's now under the jurisdiction of both the planning board and the historical preservation committee. She is supposed to restore the home to its "original looks," which means tearing down the porch that's been there since the 50s, replacing the fence with something "period appropriate," getting rid of the shed she built 20 years ago, and replacing some windows. The work required is extensive enough that it would count as a remodel which would, you guessed it, mean she'd have to bring the whole 100+ year old house up to modern building codes. The cost of these renovations would be tens of thousands of dollars. She would have to take out a loan on a place that's been paid off for 15 years and she's about to retire. The committee has the legal power to force her to do this.

So, she's selling. She's being forced to sell the house where her children were raised, where her partner died, where she planned to live until her death, by a bunch of code enforcement officials who want to make things look better.
 
Bella Donawitz
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I gave up on buying a large bit of land with others due to building regulations. The land had old (100+ yrs mostly log cabins) on it. To buy the land I would of had to demolish the cabins to make it safe......like the cabins could sneak up on you and then collapse. They've survived 100 years and by law you have to rip them down.
If you don't conform you risk losing everything.
I'm buying in a permit free zone. Winlaw BC!
 
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The only problem we have ever had with the county is that we requested our tax bill in English on multiple occasions. That has never happened though. They come written in French.



They'd be just as likely to comply with your request if you asked for your tax bill to be done in Danish, Quebec is a unilingual French province.

My solution to the permit issues have been not bother getting them in the first place, and/or not bother with the follow-up inspections. They tend to give up after awhile. I know the majority of my neighbours have never got them, so I figure they'll go after the guy in the Typar-covered trailer before they come after me. I have personally dealt with three building inspectors, and none of them knew as much about building a house as I do, so screw 'em. I realize there are some jurisdictions where this attitude wouldn't fly, and I guess I would probably moved if I lived in one of them.
 
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Location: Vermont
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I understand your frustration. I had a similar experience here that cost me ten thousand dollars to fight and it's still costing me. It's not exactly the same thing but the similarity is with the passive aggressive adversarial nature of small town government. They say they want to preserve the rural character of the place and be evironmentally sensitive but they don't let you know all the rules and regs up front and you get trapped. They let you buy a piece of property and get a building permit and then when you're dug in they come around with this whole bag of rules they didn't tell you about up front and fine and penalize you if you don't comply even when you're doing your nest and know more than they do. It's very discouraging when the stated intention is one thing and the rules encourage completely different and very bad things like suburban sprawl.

John F Meshna (owner)
Dirt Works LLC
1195 Dog Team Road
New Haven, Vt 05472
http://www.dirtworks.net
http://www.newenglandnatural.com
http://www.clovercompostables.com
802-385-1064
 
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This is a great discussion. I have experience buying a house in a country with few to no building codes or inspections. The result was a house with horribly unsafe electrical wiring, plumbing that leaked, drain pipes clogged with concrete, concrete door frames that literally collapsed on us, and I could go on. I also have experience building my own homes in the US and have dealt with power drunk inspectors, overly complex or confusing codes, and poor understanding of green building practices. You have to take responsibility to educate yourself, find resources that will back up your arguments, and be prepared to spend extra time educating and advocating for yourself. Apply for variances, cultivate friendships with inspectors, and always remember that you catch more flies with honey. We also find that if you design and plan carefully you can complete more controversial projects after you have your certificate of occupancy and eyes are off you.
 
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Building codes are very much intended to support the current, existing industries and trades. Many states have laws that do not allow homeowners to do their own work, often directly connected to powerful unions or trade groups. Code enforcement and zoning officials can be decent, great people. Although many police now have to take complex psychological profiles to weed out nasty individuals and power-trippers, most city enforcement agencies are at least 50% or more composed of people who enjoy power over others and have sadistic tendencies. Beyond this, bribery is extremely common. Where I built, many custom builders would use "transparent" billing - the subs bill the general whatever they want, the homeowner pays, and the sub kicks some of the extra charges back to the general contractor. The general contractors give gifts, vacations, and cash to their pet inspectors. On a single home, I spent over three months fighting with a psychotic zoning department, seven grand of engineering fees and plans, plus I had to build a ridiculous turnaround for a the fire department on the two lots I owned at a cost of around ten K. The code officials wanted me to build 30 feet BACK from a theoretical utility easement, thus making the 70k lot I had worthless. Illegal and petty, I was allowed to build up to the easement by law. And, literally right next to the home I eventually built, a bigtime builder was allowed to build over 35 feet INTO the utility easement. No zoning meetings for him, when they pulled up the file on this house, the only thing listed relating to the subject was a small note written by an unknown code guy, just these two words, "LEGAL NONCONFORMANCE." What this means is that if you are bigtime and bribe the officials enough, you can do whatever you want whenever you want.

When I followed the actual rules, I was denied a permit illegally. When I pursued my options by appealing to the zoning board, the eventual result was that they denied me twice, paid more engineering, jumped more hoops etc. On the third time around, they voted to deny me again. My engineer and I refused to stand down from the podium, and the zoning board called security. Before they got there, a city engineer who was very reasonably afraid of a lawsuit managed to convince the zoning morons that they would get sued and I would win, so they switched their vote. At around the same time as all of this, several very large companies entered the housing market and began building scabbed trac homes under the same code guys. The code guys would sign off on these homes without visiting the sites, with the eventual result being that the local home inspectors banded together to expose many defects, resulting in over a dozen homes being condemned entirely before they were ever occupied. Most of these houses lacked a second top plate on interior walls, no valley waterproofing of any type with the tarpaper streched across the gap. Because of the financial advantage for them, pretty much every scum realtor in town jumped in with these scab companies and began badmouthing legitimate small companies, resulting in 30 generals and 60 subs going belly-up, also harming the few legit realtors who had any real integrity.

One of the best options with inspectors is to be informed and take a stand IMMEDIATELY! Do not jump through random hoops to make someone happy. You need to be firm, have a rational debate, and stand your ground. Find someone in your local office who is not insane and make a friend. Do not be confrontational, divert and conquer. If they point out something that you do not want to fix, point out a few other code violations that are easy fixes, things that will be done anyway as you complete the work. skimpy post and beam may make straw bale, cob, or other houses code ready - call the straw or cob "siding", prop up some 4x4 and headers and remove later etc.

Direct opposition often creates a braced opponent - so pick your points of opposition to control how your enemy braces themselves - in judo, you apply pressure in the opposite direction that you intend to throw, and use leverage, fulcrum, and balance to win. At the highest level, you can easily create a smokescreen part of your project in many cases - something that no code inspector can pass up. Under a good smokescreen you can easily slip many unusual things into your building because, just as in a magic act, when the attention is diverted, so is the eye.

Good luck Alexis
 
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