No, I have not been trapped there, but it has been chasing me.
The three-month long journey in pursuit of permission to repair my front porch entered the home stretch last night. Anyone would think I had been trying to build an abortion clinic on the grounds of a cathedral, honestly. A simple proposal to demolish a structure increasingly held together by paint and Rockite, and replace it with something a tiny bit bigger framed in durable damp- and freeze-proof materials, turned into a farcical collaboration between Franz Kafka and Monty Python. The drawings I submitted had to go back for three revisions. Late in the game, a handbill went up on phone poles around the neighborhood, advising people that Your Neighbor Sledpress wanted permission to build a “side porch” closer than regulation distance to the public right of way. A frantic call and e-mail to the Zoning Office extracted the information that “The porch is considered a ‘side porch’ because on a Corner Lot the true front is that which has the smaller street frontage. Even though your porch is the considered the front entrance to the home the Zoning Ordinance considers this your side.”
Clear as mud, right?
So for this dickery to conclude, there had to be a public hearing in the County Boardroom last night. At this point, Your Humble Correspondent had turned into a nervous, snarling ball of apprehension and hostility, fully expecting some sort of last-minute gotcha game. “I’ve been working with people who’ve been trying to get their screened porch rebuilt ever since the derecho,” one of the zoning planners had told me gravely, while going over and over my drawings to get every last hemorrhoidal detail correct by the madly arbitrary standard book.
The Cute Engineer drove me down to the government center, which was a supreme mitzvah because I am the world’s timidest driver to begin with and the parking lot there is suckalicious — someone should have had the Building Codes people take a closer look — even for people who are not barely contained bundles of nerves. I never forget that I did publish an outrageous comic roman a clef portraying a lot of people who remain highly placed in the County Government, breeding permanent grudges among the irony-impaired; I’d do it again, but still, people can be vindictive.
Here is how this type of thing works: you come into the board room, which looks like a particularly severe Protestant church with wooden pews and a speaker’s lectern at the head of the central aisle in front of the pulpit, I mean dais, which accommodates five Board members — in this case, the Board of Zoning Appeals rather than the County Board of Supervisors — with space at either end for lawyers, advisory staff and other spearchuckers. Every application for a permit has been reviewed by the Zoning staff and you pick up your staff report off a pile on a table by the lectern. They call your case numbers out and either neighbors bicker or they don’t. It looked as if no one else had taken a copy of my report, which was a good sign.
“It looks to me,” said a Board member, “as if the porch that’s going to be replaced is on the front of the house, but I see the report says a side porch?”
I was oddly comforted that these people didn’t seem to know their business any better than I did.
We cleared that up and they voted to pass my project, 5-0. I had made it down two floors to the lobby before I had to sit down on some architectural eminence and deep-breathe until I stopped having dry heaves.
I’m letting the contractor deal with the goddam construction permit.