Asking Permission

Did you know that the only thing harder than building a garage is getting permission to build said garage? Yeah, we didn’t either. This step in our garage-building journey took us six months and had us jumping through a lot of hoops. Every town and state will be different, but I’m sharing what we learned in hopes that it might help someone else—or at least give you a bit of a laugh at some of the ridiculousness we went through.

Our first step was to check with our town to see what was required to begin. They told us that we needed to start by applying for a county demo permit, then apply for a town demo permit, and finally apply for the building permit. The catch was that we couldn’t demo anything until we also had the building permit because they don’t want people just going around demoing things and not replacing them with anything. Makes sense I guess. I also wondered why we had to apply for two different demo permits, but I learned that the reason had to do with property taxes. If we didn’t get a county demo permit and built a new garage, we could be charged property tax on both our old and new garage since there wouldn’t be any record of the demo.

The first bit of confusion came from the county demo permit. Our town had copies of the application, so we had filled one out and mailed it in. Rejected! Turns out that we also needed to include a $200 check and a full asbestos inspection report completed by a licensed company.  We also had an outdated application.

Rejection Notice
Nowhere on the application itself did it say this. Back to square one. I found a link on our state’s environmental health department site that listed all of the licensed inspectors, so I started calling around. Some were very expensive, so it is a good idea to price this out. I was able to find someone local that only charged $150 for the inspection plus $50 for the report.

The inspector came out on a Monday and I was able to pick up the report on Wednesday. Since their office was close to my work, I left in the afternoon to pick it up. For some reason the storefront of the inspector’s office was completely covered with newspaper so you couldn’t see in from the street, and I had to enter through the alley entrance. I was a bit creeped out since I was alone, so before I went in, I opened my little utility knife and kept it in my hand in my pocket. It all turned out fine, and I felt a little silly afterwards. The things we do for asbestos reports… But seriously, if no one knew where I was, I wouldn’t have gone in. You don’t want to mess around in a situation that makes you uncomfortable.

Asbestos Inspection Report
Thankfully we were in the clear for asbestos, so we were approved for our demo permit from the county.

Now for the hard part: our town. Even though our town doesn’t have a whole lot of new construction going on, we have a large building and code enforcement department and they can be sticklers. When we came to them with our original application, they sent us home with a long list of things they were concerned about.  Jerm is apparently very passionate about exterior man doors.

Garage Checklist

Some of their main concerns were:

  1. The size – This was their biggest concern. When we designed the garage, we made sure that it wouldn’t be taller than our house, because that is one of the local codes. Our garage is set up with a two car parking section with a loft over it, and an open shop side for Jerm’s lift. Because of the square footage, they wanted to call it a four car garage, and four car garages are not allowed in our town. We found a number of pre-made garage plans online of a similar dimension that were labeled as three-car garages, so we presented those to them to plead our case. They finally agreed that ours was also a three car.
  2. The portion of our lot that would be covered by impervious area – Our town has a code that no more than 50% of your lot can be impervious. If we included the garage, the driveway, and the house, we would have been well over 70%.  We obviously couldn’t change our house, and we were unwilling to compromise on garage size, so we looked to the driveway to gain that space back. Jerm found permeable pavers as an option and started doing research and getting quotes. We learned that they are considered permeable because they are installed with larger gaps in between to let just as much water flow through as just plain dirt or grass would.  The problem was the price. From the two initial quotes Jerm got, it looked like we would have to drop $15,000+ on pavers… No thanks. On one of our Menards wandering trips, we stumbled on a similarly rated permeable brick paver for only $0.69 each. Our town ultimately decided to allow it, so we were able to get around that rule by being creative.
  3. The comparables – In the past, two other people that wanted to build large garages in town had to get variances, so to be fair to them, we would have to get a variance as well. I don’t think they have too many people that draw up their own plans, so I think they were worried that we hadn’t thought it through enough. They just don’t know Jerm, I guess, because they would be hard pressed to find a better designed garage in the town.

I guess I would rather have them be picky rather than allow anything to be built in town, but it sure was frustrating to go through this when all we wanted to do was start our garage before it got too cold out.

Have you ever dealt with your town’s building department before? Thankfully we had a much easier experience when it came time for inspections.

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