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Permitting for waterfront house addition

Wood Guy

I've done a lot of waterfront projects, mainly home renovations and the occasional new home, so I'm familiar with basic requirements. I am probably too honest for my own good but I hate gaming the system. That said, an elderly family member is in poor health and wants to expand their house to provide a first-floor bedroom suite. According to the state's and municipality's rules, they can't expand their footprint because the house is too close to the water and they already expanded it once, to the maximum allowed, 35 years ago. If they can't expand, they will have to sell and leave their home that has been in our family for 100 years.

I'm posting here as a long shot, but does anyone have any creative suggestions for how to get an expanded footprint permitted for this kind of situation?  

 
Sep 10, 20 11:16 am
randomised

Hire an architect ;-)

Sep 10, 20 11:30 am  · 
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randomised

But seriously, I would first try to work within the existing maximum footprint, reshuffling functions, rooms or spaces, maybe there is something to be won like that by transformation rather than addition...Although you probably thought of that already.

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Wood Guy

Touche. Especially since I'm a designer and not an architect ;-)

My backup plan is to look at the interior, but it's not a big place--they would have to give up most of their living space. They have been asking me about this for over a year and every time I say they can't do it. It's getting to the point where they have to do something so I told them I'd look into it more closely. By that, I mean crowd source some ideas. 

1  · 
SneakyPete

Maybe take cues from tiny houses with regards to space saving methods and integrate the elements of the "bedroom" into the larger spaces. Things like manually lowered Murphy beds would be out, but perhaps there are ways to have it such that the new "Bedroom" looks like a living room when it's not being used for sleeping.

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Wood Guy

That's a good idea, Pete.

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x-jla

why are they expanding?  What do they want to add?

Sep 10, 20 11:31 am  · 
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x-jla

I see it’s a br, never mind...

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x-jla

Maybe build a boathouse first, and then convert that to a livable unit after it’s been approved as an accessory structure?

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Wood Guy

Interesting idea. Boathouses are not common here but everyone has a dock. I don't think a new boathouse would be allowed but I'll look into it, thanks.

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Non Sequitur

WG, if there is one AHJ I don't want to trample over it's the water-encroachment people... We have dealt with this on the St-Laurence and adjacent water/conservation areas and they are 100% inflexible.  My family and colleagues with cottages have experienced the same.  Some of them have the entirety of their property in no-build zones due to reassessment and change of regulation.  

The alternative is to remodel within the same footprint without touching the existing foundation wall outline... unless you can get a team together and produce an environmental assessment that concludes what ever increase has no negative effects on the waterline and convince the AHJ.  Or, build the mother of all cantilever and use ample skyhooks.


Sep 10, 20 12:06 pm  · 
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Wood Guy

I'm a staunch environmentalist and support environmental protection, so I really don't like being caught in the middle on this. But it's a unique situation, being family and an heirloom home. If there is a silver lining to the current federal administration here, and our state's previous governor who was a proto-Trump, it's that our DEP is the weakest it's been in my career. Good idea to call on a land planning team--my projects are usually too small and simple for that, but I have worked with a couple of firms at my old job.

1  · 
JonathanLivingston

Look into the application of a zoning variance in your jurisdiction.  Sometimes these can be requested due to hardship, modification that is necessary to accommodate a disability could apply?  You may also be able to create some trade off with another zoning requirement such as reducing impervious surface or lot coverage elsewhere on the site. Can you remove something in order to add what is needed?  

I would start by requesting a pre-application meeting with a planner who would be the reviewer of a potential project.  They are often willing to help think of creative solutions when you approach the issue constructively and might help you understand your options. But this does alert them to the potential project 

Finally there is always the option to build the thing and pay the fine afterwards. In which case I wouldn't alert the planner having authority. 

Sep 10, 20 12:13 pm  · 
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Wood Guy

Good ideas, thank you. The owner suggested "medical hardship," which I don't think will work but it's worth asking. There is a garage on site that they recently shored up; I'm sure they would resist tearing it down, and while it's within the shoreland zone, it's not within the shoreland setback as the house is so I don't think it's a solution. But you're right about a preliminary meeting--I always try to get on AHJ's good side early on.

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Jay1122

It is all about working with the local AHJ, but it is unlikely they will allow it.Why not work with existing house? How about build a residential elevator and some wall knock down to make the existing house more accessible? It is a lot cheaper than expansion. Unless your goal is to have more bedrooms for extra people.

Sep 10, 20 12:18 pm  · 
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AS WG said - the house has a small footprint and the client has poor health that requires a main floor bedroom suite. I'm not certain a residential elevator would cost less than an addition. A decent residential elevator will run around $6K, not counting the additional work the foundation and structure. Typically you'll want to have some type of tube steel structure separate from the house structure for these types of retrofits.

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SneakyPete

It's a long-as-hell-shot, but maybe see if their insurance could help defer the cost.

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Wood Guy

An elevator is an interesting idea. I've used conventional ones but I haven't tried the new pneumatic ones yet. The house is pretty small and the existing stair is too narrow for a stair chair, which we just put in my mom's house for similar reasons. Price isn't a big issue; they just want to stay in their home as long as possible.

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SneakyPete

This sounds like a really rewarding albeit frustrating project. I don't have any solutions, but I'd be interested in updates as you proceed if it's appropriate and you're willing.

Sep 10, 20 1:15 pm  · 
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Wood Guy

Thanks Pete. I don't know about rewarding, because they are kind of frustrating, entitled baby boomers, but they are family so I need to at least try. I'll post updates if we get anywhere.

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SneakyPete

You're a good man.

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apscoradiales

Two solutions that I see.

1. Threaten a lawsuit against the town/region/municipality/city for infringing on human rights.

2. Build an elevator or a stair platform/elevator thingy.

I reckon solution no. 2 would be far cheaper and less of a headache than no. 1.

Sep 10, 20 1:23 pm  · 
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SneakyPete

The old adage "Don't shit where you eat." comes to mind. Wood Guy also strikes me as someone who isn't much of a litigation type.

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Non Sequitur

Using this as a human right issues is an insult to real human right issues.

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apscoradiales

No, it is not. Human rights includes many issues people face on a daily basis. By denying the ability to someone to live a relatively normal life is an infringement on that right - unless you provide other means to the person so could lead a normal life.

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Non Sequitur

This is not a human rights issue. 

You cant say: "well, I'm too old to use stairs anymore, so I'll just build beyond the setback rules and anyone against this is impeding on my basic human rights."  

Again, saying so is dismissing real human rights issue.

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apscoradiales

So, you would confine them to a place where they no access to a bedroom or a washroom?

Either that or send them to a nursing home?

Or force them to build another house?

How do you think a judge would view that?

 ·  1
Non Sequitur

This is not confinement either. How dense are you? The individual is free to move houses. This is unfortunate, but zoning and enviro setbacks are not impediments on human rights.

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apscoradiales

You are the one that's "dense".

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Non Sequitur

nope, it is you.

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Ok apscradiales - please list the human rights in the United states, then list which one(s) you think are being violated in this situation.

1  · 
Non Sequitur

Chad, some people tend to think any inconvenience is automatically a HR issue. I see this constantly when dealing with federal gov fit-up projects.

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Wood Guy

That's an interesting approach. I can get pretty worked up about actual human rights violations but I believe environmental protection is very important, and stake much of my career on it, so it wouldn't seem right for me to make a big stink about it. Nothing is preventing them from buying or building a perfectly good house that would work for them; they just don't want to leave the family property. That doesn't seem like a true hardship to me, considering what others have to face.

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I'm still waiting for apscradiales . . .

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apscoradiales

Stair lift...


Sep 10, 20 1:53 pm  · 
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Wood Guy

We recently put one of those in my mom's house. Unfortunately the stairs in this house are very narrow so I don't think it would work. But I'll look more closely.

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atelier nobody

In a very similar situation many years ago, we combed through the zoning ordinance and discovered that "bays" could project up to 3 feet into the required setbacks - this didn't give us much, but by adding 6 feet (cantilevered) in each direction gave us enough to squeeze a little more into the floor plan. Of course, we had to threaten to take it to court before they would approve it.

Sep 10, 20 3:11 pm  · 
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Wood Guy

The variations in local zoning ordinances are always interesting, if you can dig deep enough to find them. I have not researched the specific requirements extensively yet but will keep an eye out for this kind of thing. Thanks!

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awaiting_deletion

cantilever just high enough above grade.

claim to find old foundations, or maybe they exist.

get a lawyer (doing something very similar and this lawyer is a shark, as he says "Don't judge me, it's what I do, we find the weakness and then squeeze their balls."

Sep 10, 20 8:04 pm  · 
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Wood Guy

Thanks. I'm not interested in lying or in using a sleezy lawyer. I am interested in legitimate work-arounds I may not have considered.

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BulgarBlogger

Define footprint. The key lied in the interpretation of the definitions and zoning.

Sep 10, 20 8:50 pm  · 
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citizen

Nothing brilliant to add, I'm afraid.

But do think some suggestions already made are worth pursuing, given all the constraints you catalog, Wood Guy:

  • The elevator: so many reasons not to do this, and yet it opens up so many possibilities.
  • The creative code search (lawyer not included): definitions and allowances (building footprint, architectural projection, cantilevered bay, accessory use, modification, etcetera) could add precious square feet.  Put on that sleazy-builder hat and pore over that code with new, evil eyes.  (If you've ever read The Screwtape Letters, let that be your guide.)
  • The pre-application, informational meeting with officials: this is a crap shoot, because it depends on the attitude of the individual you happen to get.  (You could try sussing out who seems reasonable and helpful by visiting and watching at the counter, or asking a fictitious question.  At that point it's intrigue, I guess.)  But I've met with planners over the years who really tried to help, and suggested useful ideas.

Regardless, I wish you well on this and thank you for posting.  This kind of thread is what makes A-nect interesting and worth coming to.

Sep 12, 20 1:40 pm  · 
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Wood Guy

Thanks citizen, all good tips. The elevator may be the answer, if we can find a space for it. When I was younger I would often get the code officials to help me by playing dumb. Maybe I still can, thin white hair and all...

1  · 
citizen

Maybe a glass elevator facing the water? ;O]

1  · 
awaiting_deletion

.

Pneumatic Vacuum Elevators Europe - The Official Website

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SneakyPete

Looks like the tubes from Futurama.

1  · 
awaiting_deletion

as we always say on Archinect, get a professional.

in this case, Lawyer, Doctor, etc...

Sep 12, 20 3:54 pm  · 
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citizen

Or just a "pro" if things get too stressful and you need some distraction.

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awaiting_deletion

as much as I "hate" lawyers, I also "love" them, a "pro" in cases of shit you want to happen in possibly "gray" areas, you need a "lawyer". A real douchbag, but a gem, he'll shit on your lake community as anti-old people, discrimatory, yadada, even get a dumbass journalist (they all are) on this subject. Bury them with Twitter hype, whatever...you become that millenial entitlted prick, but you WIN!

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Wood Guy

I'm not going to invoke bad karma by engaging a lawyer on this, but if I can't find a legitimate work-around I'll suggest it to my clients. (There are no Millenials involved--I'm solidly Gen X and my clients are Boomers.)

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awaiting_deletion

Gen X. respect (on my end, a real generation ;))

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