03) Fighting Town Hall For Our Log Cabin
When we decided on the particulars for the log cabin kit we wanted to build, it was time to take our blueprints in and work together with the town hall for permits and such. We innocently enough assumed the town employees were there to help us increase their tax base by working with us in building our new home. We were in for a rude awakening!
The small town mentality seemed to be one of discouraging new construction in the town. They couldn’t say that, so we started getting mixed messages. Verbally we were encouraged and told how welcome we were. But every step of the way, there were obstacles.
We needed a wetlands permit to build. The previous owner of the property had already pulled the permit that he had assured us was transferable, but the town couldn’t seem to locate it. They spent weeks hunting for it while we waited. Nope, couldn’t be found and so they determined the prior owner must have been mistaken and it had not been applied for. This is when it is helpful to have kept good notes and remained civil with the person who sold the land to us. I called him and not only did he insist he got the wetlands permit approved, but he had a copy of it that he was more than happy to provide me! When I picked up the copy of the permit, the prior owner mysteriously recommended that I keep careful copies of all records and conversations with anyone in the town hall. I tend to do so anyway but it gave me the extra edge I needed to work my way through the town’s labyrinth.
When I got to town hall with the proof of permit, the wetlands authority seemed surprised that I had come up with a copy of that document. At that point, they were compelled to approve the transfer of it to me. “So we’re ready to build now?”, I asked. Then we were informed that even though the former owner got permission to locate the septic tank across the street, the town decided that we needed to get a variance (permission to waive an ordinance) to do so. Even though approval to build should only be given after going under the road had been deemed acceptable, the zoning commissioner found it necessary for me to go through those extra steps — hence more meetings and more time wasted.
So we went through the steps to get the variance. Then there were other obstacles. I felt like I was being tested but there seemed to never be an end. Finally, out of desperation, I scheduled a follow-up meeting with the First Selectman. I didn’t tell her I wanted a gripe session but made it sound like I was just stopping in to say hello. I wasn’t expecting very much from the meeting anyway.
When I got in, I had notes of all the stuff we had been through. All the lost documents. All the stalled permits. I expected excuses but suddenly she cleared her schedule and started taking her own notes. She seemed very concerned with what I was telling her. She was asking all the right questions. She called in the zoning and planning person to our meeting in a very sharp tone. The zoning commissioner confirmed much of what I was telling. The Selectman then asked the zoning person what else I needed in order to get started. She was told that finally everything was in order pending the variance being approved. The Selectman asked again if there was anything else needed. The zoning commissioner assured both of us that everything was in place. The selectman dismissed the zoning person but not before sharply reminding her that we both expect that to be the case.
Suddenly everything came together. We got our variance quickly. We got all of our permits in place without further ado. It wasn’t until later that I learned that the town had other pending lawsuits for just that same thing — stalling, discouraging new homes, etc. I had no idea that the first selectman viewed me as a person setting her up for another lawsuit. My volumes of paperwork and my notes on phone conversations and meetings was all that was needed to start another expensive suit that the town did not need.
Finally we were able to accomplish our immediate goal to start the building process, two years after starting to doing battle with the town. And I learned that my habit of keeping careful notes on everything was very useful. Alas, we were finally on our way to building our log cabin!
Next entry: The Foundation
To be continued…