This is what my neighbor said to me when expressing his disappointment about what our house does to their view.
Incredulous at their opposition to our plight, I asked if they wanted me to put a miner’s cabin back on the lot and their reply was “well, that’s what you bought.” Even if I tried, the city wouldn’t let me. The old house had 7ft ceilings and a shallow sloped roof that wouldn’t pass modern code.
Their view was such that they could just see the water over our old house, when standing at their window. Bringing our basement and main floor alone up to code is enough to alter their view. Here’s a pic taken from their living room window, you can see our dormer and their view which still includes plenty of sky, mountains, trees:
It’s been a rough year for my family. One thing after another. When my neighbor called at 7AM last week, I didn’t tell him that Meadow had fallen on her head and we’d spent half the night at the ER.
I also assumed he’d be human enough to have a concept of our overall situation since the fire burned our home and all our possessions: broke; descending deeper into debt; house-less; over-stressed; trying to navigate the wiles of the insurance company, bureaucracy of the bank and city, and overall complexity of new home construction. He didn’t. Our conversation began semi-civil and quickly devolved into confused emotional blustering on both our parts. We hung up unresolved. I got in the shower, and came out to find a voicemail from him in which he told me we need to “figure something out before push comes to shove”.
I didn’t return his call, but did do some research. Everyone I talked to, including officials with the city, said we were OK. We had a permit and were following all the rules. The city’s planning department issues permits for just this reason, to make sure everything is as it should be. Indeed our neighbor had gone to the city and reviewed the plans, told them of his concerns, and they turned him away saying there was nothing to be done since the permit was issued.
So instead of continuing pointless emotionally-charged “conversations”, we wrote our neighbors a letter. We tried to explain our family’s necessity for a proper house. We tried to appeal to them to put themselves in our shoes, and then make a gracious decision to let us continue.
We were relatively confident that nothing would come of it other than grumpy neighbor relations, until today when my builder informed me the city issued a stop work order on the “west 10ft of 3rd floor”. Our neighbor’s attorney had sent a letter to the city, causing them to go back over our house plans with a fine tooth comb. And… they found something.
As anyone would, Laura and I are trying to turn this lemon of a situation into lemonade. Our design calls for the addition of a long desired dormer to the top of the house. For financial and structural reasons this dormer will extend from the center of the house all the way to foundation’s edge in both the front and back. Our designed house is the same height, and our dormer the same style, as found on many other Basin Road homes, like this one:
As it was explained to me, the code for our area says you can build up to 35ft so long as you’re 10ft back from the front property line. It’s common for old downtown houses to be directly on the city property line, and the code (written decades after the house was built) says that if your house burns down your rebuild is grandfathered in at the same footprint. The code doesn’t address height very well, but as it was explained to me, essentially, the front 10ft of our house above what previously existed isn’t grandfathered.
When you want to do a “projection” on an existing/grandfathered house you have to get a Conditional Use permit. This is done through a public hearing where the Planning Commission hears testimony from the public, reviews evidence, and makes a decision to allow or deny.
The city failed to catch this when they reviewed our plans back in May. They stamped them and gave us a permit. Had they flagged it, we would have gone through the conditional use process months ago. But they didn’t. In the meantime we’ve been ordering and building in a tight deadline before winter. The windows are paid for. The custom trusses will be here in two days.
The city would probably have let the permit stand as is if it weren’t for the letter from an attorney. So I went to talk with my neighbors. At first it didn’t go so well. I tried to keep myself in check but my entire body was vibrating with rage and I may or may not have used some choice words.
What it boils down to for them is that they can’t just “roll over” and let their view be taken away. They feel they should’ve been part of the design process and that the neighborhood should have a chance to chime in on the dormer. Had the city told us this was required back when it was feasible for us, we would have been happy to oblige. As it is now this ordeal threatens our entire project. If the Conditional Use is denied our entire floor plan has to be redone.
I went back over to the neighbors this morning to plead with them to just let us have our house. They won’t budge. So, another chapter in the Pink House saga begins. Looks like we’ll be having a public hearing in front of the planning commission. I’m curious what the community and other neighbors will have to say.