Anticipation (is making us wait)

December 22, 2016: View towards bay, after demolition of old cottage 1. Photo by Art Hultin.

Now we’re cooking, at last. Just before Christmas, Art and his crew cleared Kingsbury Shores cottage 1 (aka 45A Longstreet Lane, if you’re following along from the Eastham town offices) off of its foundations. In the space of a cold Cape Cod week, they cleared the site for work, removed the old frame structure, and laid three new courses of block on top of the existing poured concrete wall. Making the house sit two feet higher on the site solved two key problems with the old building: first, the wood frame walls were at or slightly below grade at points along its east side, putting the structure at risk of decay; and second, it set the house in a depression that protected it a little too well from cooling summer breezes. The new house will sit higher to capture more air, more light, and improve the view.

It’s remarkable how variable the pace of construction can seem from a distance. At times, progress can seem glacially slow, especially near the end, when painstaking finish work takes ages, apparently. By contrast, we’re now in a phase when progress is clearly and satisfyingly evident on a weekly basis. This is especially apparent after nearly four-months taken to secure approvals from the town. I have been around enough building projects (and served on enough city boards) to have been prepared for this but nonetheless, getting our building permit tried my patience more than I’d like to admit.

Ours was a special case, so on top of the ordinary permitting review by the building inspector, we needed approvals from both the Zoning Board of Appeals and the Conservation Commission (or Cons Com, as it’s called by those in the biz). We needed a Cons Com public hearing because our project falls within 50’ of a “coastal bank,” a formal designation for an environmentally sensitive shore area. The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection wants to ensure that building projects don’t do any damage to critical natural resources or habitats along the shoreline. So do we, so we took care to minimize the disruption to the site—reusing the existing foundations to avoid digging a new cellar hole and replacing any disrupted native vegetation in kind. We’re also taking the opportunity to reduce the proliferation of invasive vegetation all across the site, not just in the area disturbed by construction activities.

The town took great care to ensure that we were being good stewards of our little part of the Cape, so the approval process was lengthy, requiring two separate hearings and the hiring of an additional contractor, the very capable, responsive, and thoughtful Lindsay Strode, of Cape Organics, to handle the transplanting of native vegetation during the project and re-landscaping at the end. Lindsay stepped in at a moment’s notice when we learned, just before our hearing, that we needed to develop an inventory of plants that would be affected by our project and how we intended to mitigate any disturbance of native vegetation. Proposing to plant beach grass across the site was not enough.

We filed our application (a Notice of Intent, in officialese) on September 9th. I had hoped that this would be soon enough to begin demolition at the end of October, after our last tenants were out. At the 9/27 hearing to review the project, the Cons Com requested much more detailed information about the project and a second hearing to review this material. This was when we recognized that we needed professional help and brought Lindsay in. Our second scheduled hearing was for October 11 but this was deferred because the Commission didn’t have a quorum; mercifully, we had our continued hearing on 10/25 and secured approval, subject to a final, on site review.

Finally, full speed ahead, right? Not so fast. Massachusetts allows any aggrieved party to appeal the decision of a municipal board, including any property abutter or any 10 residents of the state. So we had to wait for an appeal period of 10 business days—beginning not on the date of the Cons Com decision but on the date that it was recorded with the town clerk, and that didn’t happen until 11/30. So now our start date was no sooner than 12/15, long after our goal of getting underway in early November.

But no matter, because we also needed approval from the Zoning Board of Appeals—in this case, because we have a property that doesn’t conform to the current zoning ordinance, with two small houses on a single lot. Because we weren’t increasing the degree to which we are non-conforming (not building a third house and retaining existing foundations), we made it as easy as possible to approve the project but the ZBA could still theoretically deny our application or delay us if they determined that we would be using the site more intensively or in a way that wasn’t compatible with nearby properties (about that, and the modern history of this part of the Cape, more in a later post).

So we submitted our application to the ZBA on October 4, after a review by the town building department finding us out of conformity with the zoning ordinance (we had submitted the building permit application, if you’re keeping score, on 9/28, so this was a quick decision, thankfully), as expected. I came up for the ZBA hearing on November 3rd, and made our case for the project while anxiously trying to read the facial expressions of the board members—were they skeptical, indifferent, supportive, grumpy, or just sleepy? It was a 4-1 vote to approve our project and a quick decision, though the one no-vote, by a member who clearly didn’t understand the application, remains puzzling.

With another regulatory hurdle cleared, we had once again to wait for an appeal period—20 business days, this time. This expired, finally, on 12/8.

With all appeal periods exhausted, all on-site meetings complete, and all drawings approved by the building inspector for their adherence to building and energy codes, we finally, mercifully, got our precious permit on 12/16, my sister, Meghan’s birthday (and Beethoven’s). An auspicious day, all around.

And so, to recap, and bring us up to date, here’s the schedule thus far:

  • 9/9        Application for Conservation Commission Review (Notice of Intent Filing)
  • 9/27      First Conservation Commission Hearing
  • 9/28      Application for building permit
  • 10/4      Application for Zoning Board of Appeals Review
  • 10/11    Second Scheduled Conservation Commission hearing, cancelled for lack of quorum
  • 10/25    Third and final Conservation Commission hearing, approval
  • 11/3      Zoning Board of Appeals hearing, approval
  • 12/8      Expiration of ZBA appeal period
  • 12/14    Expiration of Cons Com appeal period
  • 12/16    Building permit issued
  • 12/21    Demolition of cottage begins
  • 12/22    Demolition of cottage complete
  • 12/28    Construction of new block wall on old foundation complete

Now, here’s the really amazing part, which is that Art still thinks he can get the house finished by the beginning of June, if the weather holds! We’re on pins and needles.

Happy New Year, everyone!


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