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We take the plunge to build a new house
Our hurried house plan submitted for review included engineering drawings to deal with bearing walls and the basement. We planned to take the requirements to give up 20% of our little 5000 sq ft lot to an appeals board.
By April we hired our second attorney. This attorney at first said he could definitely help. After reviewing our information he told us "ADA is king." I was mad. How could an attorney tell us the city had a reason? What I didn't understand at the time but later came to believe is that you can fight anything but ADA requirements for 5 foot wide sidewalks. You could definitely fight greenspace (trees and grass between the street and sidewalk) and boy did the city want a ton of that.
With our first plan review results (after 2 weeks), the city lowered their requirements from 20% of our lot to 14%. Obviously they could move on their requirements. We had some hope so we began to get bids on demolition and excavation. I was surprised that E.D. Hughes came in very low.
I had to get past the issue of making a rectangular home on top of a footprint that is not rectangular. Although the new house had a smaller footprint, the land development code was interpreted as either you build a new house within the old footprints or get a variance for anything outside the footprint. Apparently they used this interpretation for many years. But if you read it:
Where the use of a structure is permitted by the applicable zone but the structure is nonconforming, an alteration, expansion, or relocation may be Ministerially approved if the improvement, evaluated separately from the existing structure, would be in compliance, and is not within a Vision Clearance Area as defined in Chapter 1.6 - Definitions, and/or as determined by the City Engineer. 1.4-2 LDC December 31, 2006 For structures in existence prior to December 31, 2006, reconstruction of structures (both residential and nonresidential) may occur consistent with how the structures previously existed in their nonconforming state..
I argued that the code above is not an either/or, A or B. Fortunately, I won that argument.
It was down to one last issue: the taking of a 5 foot swath of 2 sides of our small lot. In the beginning of April we finally met with some of the city employees to see if we could come to an agreement. We could see that they realized this was a tough situation but we were not willing to give up our land under the 5th amendment:
..nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation
Apparently the city of Corvallis thought that their Land Development Code, passed by council, superseded the Constitution. Our pleas went nowhere. We even offered $10,000 for them to redo the sidewalks. This was more than the amount needed. The problem was that the city employees wanted our land in case the grant to rebuild the sidewalks into the street fell through. I actually got up, thanked them for their time, and left the meeting early. My husband was left to apologize and wrap up. I just couldn't stand anymore of the stonewalling and impasse. The next day I made an appointment to see a local attorney with land dispute experience. I was hoping the third attorney was a charm.
At the same time we were waiting on the engineer to fix some of his mistakes caught by the city plan reviewer. It took 2 weeks. Some things just take time - I guess.
Finally by the middle of April I made an initial appointment with a local land attorney - my last ditch effort at finding effective, legal help. We met with the attorney who promised he could help. We were hopeful again!
I submitted additional info to the permit department by the middle of May. It took some extra time because the engineer was on continual vacation. Apparently you can't switch engineers without starting all over as their "stamp" covers their work. It took 2 weeks for the city to review any changes so each submittal took valuable time.
The attorney informed us that the city attorney wanted to avoid protracted battle that would cost the city money. So did we. By this time I assumed the city attorney and the city employees were communicating. I wrote up our third submittal for plan changes to appease the city permit department. In it I wrote that the city needed to talk to the city attorney about the unconstitutional taking they were requiring in order to issue the permit. I asked that the sidewalk issue be taken out of the permitting phase and dealt with separately. If needed, they should deny the permit. Probably not the smartest move on my behalf but it got the city off their butts. Actually, Ken, the head of Development, certainly got off of his butt and outright denied the whole application. Not sure how legal that is (I call it bullying), but we went back to them to hash it out.
Finally Ken sat with us at a meeting with another proposition. That they would conditionally have a 2.5 foot easement only along one side of the property and assurance that we would build new ADA sidewalks if the street was not updated by the city. Finally, they were getting reasonable. They only wanted to illegally take 7% of our lot even thought the original lot size was not large enough for current zoning requirements. And it only took 6 months to get to this point.