Thursday, November 5, 2009


Part Four: The Great Cottage Renewal

Our histories are filled with the lore of buildings, whether great castles or log cabins. Can you imagine trying to build one of those today, whether castle or cabin, without the permission and the endless forms of countless officials? If only....
There used to be jokes about how the Old Testament would play out with today's bureaucracies. Now you would have to get an environmental impact study first before you parted the Red Sea or dropped the walls of Jericho. As for the great pyramid, for get about it.
But back to my stupid idea that since I now knew what I wanted and I actually had cornered an agreeable contractor without an escape route that the rest would be simple.
As a reporter and editor, I have covered every level of government and sat through endless hours about rules 'n' regs and bylaws and codes. Decades of a ring-side seat watching red tape snare us all.
Since I had raised the roof on my modest home in 1979, I knew a trifle about the process. But I had been aided by my architect being friends with the building commissioner and my contractor being a friend.
I was not prepared for what loomed ahead. It was the best of times and the worst of times. Just when I was prepared for an official to growl at me and say no, he was nice, and just when I thought clear sailing was ahead, there was another fee and frustrating form. By the time my phoenix rose from the past, there had been nine major forms and too many drawings and calculations.
Turned out that even if my contractor Steve Buchanan could do everything himself, and we were just building a big room, that wasn't minor enough for the municipal and provincial bureaucracies. I needed real official plans, complete with the BCIN number of an architect or architectural technologist or engineer who would guarantee the building wouldn't collapse about my ears.
I understood the basis for that, to reduce the shoddy, dangerous construction that you could see in old Canada or now in parts of the modern world like Turkey or China. Some of those buildings don't need a lot of help from earth tremors to collapse.
But my cottage could have been transformed safely by Buchanan without a peep from any official. But oh no, you can't build a castle or a cabin or a room without the almight approval of every agency that wants to stick an oar into your project. I even hear rumours about experienced builders without that BCIN who find someone with it to stamp their plans. In effect, renting the number.
Since I had heard horror stories for years about the tyrant building inspectors in cottage country, especially when you didn't use locals, Buchanan, Mary and I booked a preliminary discussion armed with Steve's sketches.
Turned out to be brief and pleasant. Dave Rogers, the chief building official of Trent Hills, gave us advice, thought our plan was feasible, and steered us to call first on the Lower Trent Region Conservation Authority. And he slew the $25,000 dragon for me. He wasn't bothered by the fact that the old cottage "floated" without a real foundation or that we didn't plan to put a foundation under the addition. He said he wouldn't have allowed us to do that in case the two structures twisted at different rates from frost.
I anticipated no problems with the Lower Trent because a few years before, I has asked the authority for preliminary approval. Mike Lovejoy, billed as the Hazard Lands Program Coordinator, had measured the difference between the high water mark and the bottom of the cottage and said an addition was doable.
So I called Lovejoy again, and paid a $200 fee. There was a bit of a glitch because he was annoyed at something I said. And then when he entered into a Dick-and-Jane explanation of conservation authorities, I pointed out that I had been a member of the Toronto conservation authority (and reeve of its Black Creek Pioneer Village) so I knew what they were all about.
I thought we would have to appear before a committee of adjustment because one wall of the old cottage was 40' from the river instead of the municipal setback requirement of 50'. And we were extending that wall. Because the point has an irregular shape, another addition corner would come close to water too.
Except the design's thrust was out the centre of the point. And it was plain it was old river bank and not landfill that happened after the Trent-Severn international waterway was constructed in 1880. The front of some properties are landfill, and expanses of water are actually flooded farm land. In the old days, Burnt Point Bay on one side of my cottage was called Mud Lake after the flooding, but that was dropped because farmers wanted to sell some land..
Lovejoy visited again and gave his approval. I didn't realize how crucial that was until Rogers said he was guided by the conservation officials and if what I was doing was OK with them, it was fine with him.

Now I had to fight with the 2006 Ontario Building Code that insisted I needed drawings stamped with that BCIN.
So I turned to Nigel McLean (McLean Architectural Technologist, Whittle Rd. Mississauga) who grew up on the next street to my city home and had been a pleasant member of the gang that my middle son Brett kept bringing to the cottage to compete in various games, including chugalugging, with a second pack of friends led by my youngest son Mark.
Not only did I not have to explain the cottage and the point to McLean, I figured he owed me for all my rods and lures that he had mangled over the years. And McLean and his staff set to work, armed with Buchanan's sketches and my ideas.
It took six months before the final drawings were accepted by the conservation authority and municipality. Some of the problems just baffled me. For example, the code required a heat loss figure. I reminded Trent Hills it was a seasonal cottage now heated only by a little space heater. But I was putting in a propane fireplace, I was reminded. So I took some whispered advice and dropped the fireplace from the plans, which is easy to do when computer graphics produced such drawings,. The savings for not getting that calculation was around $400 because McLean or Buchanan would have had to hire an outside expert.
I was grateful for any savings because by the time the building permit was issued on June 12, 2007, at a cost of $660, I had paid out $869 for permits and $2,104 for drawings. (And that was a break because McLean gave me a "family" rate. Some professionals will charge 10% of the cost of construction.) Yet there was one hopeful sign. Just when complexity threatened to swamp me, I found McLean or Buchanan had solved a problem with an official without involving me. Thank heavens for small mercies.!
(Next: Hurry up and wait):

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