A couple months ago my husband and I sent in a variance request to the board of appeals of the township that our land is in. It read:

To the Board of Appeals,
My wife and I are writing to you to request a variance from the Code of General Ordinances section 10.0303(e) (4) pertaining to the minimum building size of 1000 sq/ft. We have developed a 770 sq/ft house plan that works for us, and we don’t want to build something that is bigger than we need. We have lived in larger homes and we have found that we don’t need all of the extra space. We would like to keep the house small to help keep building and maintenance costs down and also to minimize utility costs in the future.
Thank you for your time and consideration on this matter.

We have all the permits required for construction. If we had wanted a 1000 sq/ft home we could have already started construction, but because the code states that any single family dwelling must be more than 1000 sq/ft, we had to file for a variance, allow 6 weeks to notify every bordering property owner, run a notice in the paper of our intentions, and attend a public hearing in front of the board of appeals and any of the locals who wanted to see or be heard on this matter. Tonight was the hearing, and it was a real eye opener.

It started out with the five individuals of the board going through their official motions and seconds, reading minutes, then asking us to present our case. We came armed with floor plans, detailed construction plans, copies of the codes in question, and a verbal plea for our desire for a smaller home. What we didn’t come with was the expectation that we would be blindsided and thrown into the middle of a bullseye about our alternative methods of greywater and waste disposal. Keep in mind that our unique sanitation system was given the go-ahead by the county already, and that we had all the necessary permits for our waste water treatment before this appeal.

They whispered together. They stood up in the corner hovering over our plans talking about our bathroom and our outhouse and our lack of a conventional septic system. They immediately derailed the hearing from the subject of our 770 sq/ft house to our unconventional composting toilet and branched drain for grey water. They quickly decided that we needed to be able to produce “in black and white” our sanitation permit and talk to some professional septic installer… even though one of the men who had a hand in granting our plans the go-ahead was sitting right in the room ready to argue our side! One of the board members even made a motion to deny our appeal until “this mess” could be sorted out.

That was when the people came into play. Let me tell you, I wasn’t very impressed with the supposed ring-leader of the appeals board, but that person’s spouse and several other locals stood up and were outraged that the board dared tell us what we could or could not do with our sanitation AFTER the county already cleared us. They were indignant that the meeting that had started out as a hearing for or against the one topic (the size of our home) nearly crashed and burned right on top of us because of a detail that had absolutely nothing to do with the one topic it was supposed to be dealing with.

My husband and I were like deer in the headlights as the board discussed our waste disposal and water systems. We were caught unprepared and unawares. If we had known it would come up, we would have been more than happy to bring all those documents and give a presentation on the subject. But we didn’t know. We had no way of knowing. So we sat there helpless while the board debated denying us, wasting our $250 for a variance, and making us not only hold off another 6 weeks on construction but also contact a septic specialist who could tell us what we could and couldn’t do with our water and waste.

Thank you, concerned citizens, for taking the time to come to this meeting and for standing up for us when we were nearly thrown under the bus. We appreciate it so much more than we will ever be able to tell you in person, especially since our nerves were so shot that I don’t think either one of us will recognize you if we ever see you again. We appreciate that the community we are moving to has many individuals who are willing and able to stand up to even the most minor of tyrannical outrages. We are thankful that our new neighbors can distinguish the difference between the law and personal beliefs.

After the public vented against the atrocity that had become our hearing, the board went behind closed doors to debate. When they came back, the supposed ring-leader wasn’t too happy looking. They agreed to grant us our variance so long as we agreed publicly that they (the board) could not be in any way held accountable if something about our sanitary system halted the building process in any way. We absolved them of all responsibility gladly. Of course we would. It’s our land. Our house. Our sanitary system. Only a looter and a cad would hold accountable a stranger in a position of control for something of such personal weight.

This is me stating publicly, for a second time, that I will be held responsible and accountable for any and all decisions that are made in the construction and occupancy of our future home.

Anyway, we got the variance. Even though two of our neighbors down the street (who each own less than an acre with no improvements) sent letters stating that their property might be negatively effected by any building that small. That was laughable. Any improvement to our land, apart from perhaps a factory hog farm, would only add value since it was raw land before we started. After that meeting was adjourned, we met with our inspector who was sitting in the wings ready to defend our building plans. He knows the painstaking work we went through researching all the applicable codes in order to satisfy everyone involved that not only our construction but our sanitation system was spot-on. He only needed the variance to pass in order to sign his name on the building permit, so now we will be meeting with him and starting the digging for our foundation in the next few days. Yay!

Ah, the ups and downs of building a house.

Driveway: check.
Sanitation permit: check.
Electric: check.
Well: check.
Variance: check.
Building permit: pending.

Look for pictures of our foundation being dug in the next installment…

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