Thursday, November 12, 2015

Permissions #2: Black Eyes and Feathers in my Cap

The last time I posted about my process developing my land, I had just submitted my application to approve the proposed location of my driveway.

It was a case of putting the cart before the horse, I'm afraid.

As I have already shared here, some wonderful friends had been available to help me cut trees off my land before the application went through. But, when I got the application back, I learned that the Department of Transportation doesn't want my driveway to meet the road at the point where we cut down the trees. They have determined that the lines of sight will be better if I move my driveway from the middle of the lot to one side of the lot – and as luck would have it, it's the opposite side of the lot from where I want to put my home.

Since my lot is about 300 feet wide, we're talking about having my driveway be an extra 150 feet long. 

A picture is worth a thousand words:

The area outlined with the pink dotted line is where we've already cleared the trees. The path outlined in green indicates where the department of Transportation wants my driveway to intersect with the road – and the most reasonable path for me to get from there to the area where I want to live on my land – a sweet little knoll with elevation and privacy which backs onto a south-facing slope for gardening and solar gain.

When I first learned this, it felt like a major setback. A "black eye" in Catch-22 parlance (vs. a "feather in my cap").

My friends who helped me cut out the trees are now too busy to give me more help this fall and at least one of them, if not both of them, are going to be away for much of the winter.

I have other wonderful people I can engage to help me with this work. But with this response from the Ministry of Transportation, I felt the wind go out of my sails. I felt disappointed and overwhelmed. I felt self-judgmental and stupid for cutting out those trees before I knew for sure whether I would be allowed to put my driveway there. It went from feeling easy to feeling like it is too much to do (and too much to afford) before winter.

I called my driveway contractor to let him know about the hitch and that I would have to do the driveway work next spring instead of this fall.

Put some ice on that thing (recovering from a black eye)

Fortunately, time is a great healer – and so is trying to be kind and understanding toward oneself after making a mistake. A couple of weeks on, I have gained a better perspective.

My land is entirely mature forest and needs more diversity, so cutting out a stretch of trees and letting in more light is not a bad thing. Now, instead of covering that swath of land with shale and trying to discourage re-growth, I will have the fun of watching natural succession take place along that corridor.

I have decided to view the Driveway that Shall Never Touch the Road as a practice driveway, a folly, and a symbolic path, like in a Japanese Zen garden (such as the Nitobe garden on the UBC campus which contains a Dead End of Teenage Rebellion). Mine shall be more of a symbol of the sanctuary I seek to create on my land, one that will not always connect with the busy world of cars – the Dead End of Comfortable Seclusion.

And it may well also be the path for the power company to bring power on to my land. They will only come in 92 metres for free, and traveling along my new, less-direct driveway may well be longer than 92 metres.

So, I can see advantages to my "mistake" and ways to view it as a more of a "happy accident".

How about a feather in my cap?

In the step-by-step approach to my land development process, I have been procrastinating about the next step: contacting engineers to discuss an on-site sewage treatment solution, also known as a septic system. I think I have been scared of getting more bad news. I've heard that even with a composting toilet, one still is expected to have a system for greywater treatment, and there is no legal option for that except a septic system. I'm not against having a septic system. It will be a definite asset if I ever want to sell my land. It will make it easy for me to – one day – have hot and cold running water. It will keep the powers-that-be happy and make it easy to get building permits and an occupancy permit. I want this to be my home – insurable, legit, etc.

Back in the spring, I contacted my Grade 7 boyfriend, who is now a "Qualified Person" (that's the title given by the Ministry of the Environment to engineers who are accredited to design and inspect/approve septic systems). He was unfortunately too busy to help me; or perhaps he is still harbouring some resentment from Grade 7, or maybe from the one other date we went on in our early 20s. I was not exactly a delightful person when I was 13 and probably even less so when I was 21.

Since he was unavailable to help, I resolved to contact one of the larger outfits around here – one which had been recommended to my by a couple of different people. But I had been seriously procrastinating about it. I use Google calendar as a way of scheduling tasks and events and the "Call engineers" task has been dragged forward from week to week to week. For months now.

Finally fate took a hand. Lately, I have been trying to walk more and drive less when I run my errands. This is easy to do in Lunenburg, where I'm living for the winter. Unless it is raining, I just leave my car at home. And even when I need to drive to Bridgewater, I now try to park in one spot and walk to my various errands. This serves three functions: I get some exercise, the world gets a little less carbon and, while one of Bridgewater's two bridges is closed for construction, I don't have to waste my time sitting in stupid traffic waiting to cross the river.

Last week, while walking from the grocery store to the optical store to get my glasses adjusted, I walked right past the office of the engineers/surveyors I had been meaning to call for months. So, I went in and chatted with a staff person who took my number. One of the "Qualified People" called me the next day.

Many people had told me that hiring engineers would be brutal, that it was exorbitantly expensive, etc, etc. And I have my own reasons to be wary of engineers, having spent far more time in their company that anyone should have to – at least anyone who is not an engineer themselves.

However, I've had an excellent experience so far. The whole cost for a septic assessment, design and inspection is a thousand bucks all in and the permit is good for 3 years. But, since I'm not sure of my timelines to install a system, they were able to do a site inspection for a couple of hundred bucks and the news is good. My topography is appropriate for a cost-effective, small footprint (only 40 feet instead of 120 ft), gravity-fed, sand filter system. I have to dig a test hole for a drainage assessment, but they did an assessment nearby last year and anticipate favourable soil conditions.

Yay, good news. 

Also, they have staked out where the septic system would go, so that even if I decide not to install one for a number of years, I now know where not to put anything else – and most importantly, how to position my well so that it is far enough away from my septic system that it will not become contaminated.

So, one Black Eye and one Feather in My Cap.

I am quite content with that.

Now if only I could shake this darn autumn cold and get some sleep – but that is another story.

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