Friday, May 13, 2011

Pre-Construction Part 1

There is a whole lot of work that needs to be done before the first shovel gets leaned on while 4 others stand around drinking coffee and watching. In fact, I think just as much time is spent making the preparations than during physical construction. The list of preparatory tasks and details are long, but I'll try to cover some of the major and some often missed ones.

  Talk The Talk – oral foreplay leads to a good build-up. People love to talk and gossip. You know that sooner or later your project is going to be the talk of the town; you might as well talk to the Town.

Arrange to sit down and meet with the planning department. Find out what the zoning is and the setbacks and restriction imposed by those. Describe you plans for a building and they can tell you what you will need.

  Talk to the District. They are responsible for some of the roads and water and sewer connections.
  Talk to the local councillor. Find out what the sensitive issues are. Explain your plans and find out what the sensitive issues are.
  Talk to the neighbours. Not only for the juicy gossip, but for the dirt on the dirt. Your neighbours are likely to know what lies beneath. This is particularly important when building on the Canadian Shield, where what appears to be a grassy knoll is a big piece of schist or an abandoned septic tank under a Muskoka meadow (a lesson I learned the hard way on a previous build).

Inform them what your plans are. 
Learning that that vacant lot they've always known is going to turn into a semi-detached home when they receive a multi-page official re-zoning and variance application in the mail, or an excavator and dump trucks arrive at 7 am one morning, isn't very neighbourly. In our case we went door to door introducing ourselves and talking to the neighbours. We also gave a letter and invited them to contact us.

  Talk may be cheap, but it's valuable. 
With all this talking we learned:
• Our project was consistent with the planning objectives for the town
• We needed to have the lot re-zoned to allow for a semi-detached home, plus a minor variance because unless we demolished the existing garage on the lot we could be slightly over the allowable lot coverage area.
• Being on a District road, we were limited to a single shared driveway. On our lot this meant we had to shift the location of the building both back on the lot to allow room for parking.
• Because we were going to sever the property once the homes were built, we would need a new separate water and sewer connection.
 • In our case there was some major concern over a proposed higher density development in the neighbourhood. Re-zoning for a multi-unit dwelling could be a concern.
• While we would have to decommission an abandoned well, we would likely only encounter stones excavating the foundation, not bedrock.
• Some of the neighbours expressed an interest in volunteering to help with the build. With this information we were able to refine our budget and design and when it came to the Town Council for approval of our Re-Zoning and Variance, there was no opposition and unanimous approval by the councillors.

 ~Rob is a Habitat For Humanity Muskoka volunteer, director and Build Committee Chair.

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