The first time I went in person to the County offices to secure permits for rebuilding my front porch, which has achieved a state of dilapidation rivalling the Coliseum or Glastonbury Cathedral, I was stopped cold by a minuscule functionary of the Zoning Department wearing a size-two dress and an impatient mien, who scribbled a list of requirements on a standard size Post-It note, shoved her card into my hand and shooed me away, clearly eager to get to her lunch.
The issue seems to be “encroachment into the setback.” Since the porch steps I have go exactly as far out toward the street as the ones I want to build, this seemed perplexing, but no, if I tear down something that was grandfathered into the new building code, I have to get permits.
I sent her a couple of e-mails. She said I ought to come in and talk to “a planner.” The planner looked about twelve. She was, however, courteous and patient, and told me that the drawings I had extracted from my builder — following the directions on the Post-It note — looked fine and that the County wanted me to get evidence that my neighbors were OK with this, which no they didn’t have a form, you can just make up whatever you want, and oh we need a floor plan. Floor plan? It’s a porch. Do you want a picture of a rectangle? I can do that.
I went and knocked on all my neighbors’ doors, like a vacuum cleaner salesman. I met people I hope never to meet again. I barely escaped with my life from a catastrophically friendly woman in a nightgown and bathrobe (at 6 pm) who wanted to tell me all about her newly delivered furniture and the ugly McMansion two blocks down which she would gladly show me, we can hop in my car if you want, and you can put fucking penguins on front of your house, I don’t care. I met a nice cat.
I returned this afternoon with the demanded new property survey plat (tote up $350 on the register, jocko), onto which I had drawn at some pains the microscopic change in footprint created by extending my porch one English foot toward the street and about two and a half feet on each side. I also had to specify the difference between the footprint of the new porch and the eaves of its roof, which amount to an additional foot. Try drawing that on a foot = millimeter architectural scale. I had to take off my glasses and squint to inscribe these changes on the survey, which showed, among other things, that my backyard neighbor gave me three feet of her lot when she relocated her fence. I’m not telling. I had calculations of the change the porch would make to my lot coverage — .1%, if you want to know. I had a drawing of the front of the porch I want to build. A drawing of the roof, from above. A drawing of what it looked like from the side.
“You need a drawing of the other side,” said the nice young lady who had taken my ticket, after conferring with her supervisor.
“It’s the same as this side, only backward,” I said. “How hard is that?”
Nope. I have to flip the image (goddess love Microsoft Photo Editor) and copy all the dimensions onto it, in reverse. And I have to convert every measurement my builder made into feet and inches because inches alone are not acceptable. Also on the floor plan, I needed to mark where the screen doors will open, and the position of the roof supports, and the position of the screens, which is fine except that two previous functionaries had just raised their eyebrows and shrugged when I asked, “Floor plan? What do you want, a rectangle?”
“Do you need anything else?” I said. “A baby elephant? My baby elephant is in the wash. A box of crackers?” To her credit, bureaucrat #3 broke down in giggles in spite of herself. She did try to find a way to get the whole business in shape to submit the application today, but there were just too damn many baby elephants. Oh, and after it’s done I need to pay for another survey to show the finished work comports with the requested permits. I wonder if they have a frequent-flyer discount?
I will gladly appear with pencils sticking out of my nose and underpants over my head, like Rowan Atkinson in the last episode of Blackadder, if that’s what anyone needs. Just fucking tell me so I can have the pencils and the underpants on hand.