An online journal documenting the planning and building process of our modern home from start to finish. It is intended to share our experiences throughout this project with all those interested in modern design.

Board of Appeals Hearing

The Board of Appeals (BOA) meeting was held today to see if a zoning permit would be issued. There were five variances requested by us:

1) to be within 20' feet of the south property line
2) to be within 10' feet of the west property line
3) to be within 50' of the centerline of the road or 17' from the right of way
4) to construct with a flat roof
5) to construct without overhanging eaves

The first three were requested in order to build in the same location as the existing building; the last two were requested in order to build a green roof. The Village Clerk went over the five variations as listed in our application and turned the meeting over to me.

I gave a PowerPoint presentation, similar to the last one I gave, only this time I concentrated on the reasons I was requesting the variations, and gave a list of community benefits including: strengthens dam embankment and foundation, provides example of green building techniques and construction/design methods, may improve utilities, improves the beauty of the area by replacing the deteriorating building with a beautiful structure, observatory will provide an educational resource for local schools, and continued use of property for residents to enjoy.

To make a long story short, the BOA members were not able to read and/or understand the maps that I had prepared for the project, the Department of Natural Resources threatened to sue the Village, and two of the BOA members didn’t like the idea of the project at all. Highlights include:

1) One of the BOA members was convinced we didn’t even own the property, even though an independent surveyor (hired by the Village) spoke and confirmed that we did!

2) Another BOA was concerned that our sewer connection would require disturbance of previously undisturbed earth. No matter how many ways I tried to explain that the sewer lines would run in the street/right of way in already disturbed areas, just like everyone else’s, he didn’t get it.

3) Two BOA members keep thinking the existing building was south and west of its real position. The Clerk provided the BOA members with an incorrect map of the area, prepared by the County for their GIS mapping project. Each time I explained it with all available maps including aerial photos, they kept forgetting and making references to the wrong location. During one exchange, after being told that the location of the mill building, “was most certainly not!” in the location I said it was in, one of the BOA members finally got it for a fleeting moment and said, “By golly, Annie, I think you’re right.”

4) They kept saying the property was zoned Conservancy, but it is really zoned both Residential and Conservancy, and the entire project would be considered Residential pursuant to the Village Ordinance. Because they couldn’t read a map correctly, they kept getting this point wrong.

5) The County Supervisor attended and was not in favor of the project. He said that it wouldn’t be allowed if it was in the County and that if it was approved here, it would go before the County and they wouldn’t approve it (too bad everyone couldn’t understand that the rules that pertain to Village are different than the County and he is wrong that it would go to the County for a vote).

6) The DNR had a letter read into the record, told the Village they would have to remove the dam if they allowed the project to move forward, said that they don’t want to “force the DNR’s hand” and make them sue the Village for not enforcing their zoning ordinance and finally said, “It is OK to vote no.”

7) Of course, our friendly neighbor, “Swede” was there, speaking out against the project.

On the good side, a few of the neighbors came and spoke in support of the project. But that didn’t matter. After the BOA heard that the DNR would potentially sue them and make them take out the dam, they didn’t really want or need to hear anything else. Without even questioning if the DNR even had the jurisdiction to do anything they were threatening to do, and without giving consideration for each of the variations individually and the reasons for them, in the end, the BOA members voted NO on the “project”.

They didn’t give any reasons until I pressed them for reasons. The most vocal BOA member said beauty is in the eye of the beholder and with a flat roof, four sides – that's a trailer, a crackerbox, and we don't want a trailer there (the existing building has a flat roof on half of they building). Also, there were too many variances all at once and just because someone thinks they can build a house somewhere doesn't mean they can. He also mentioned it is zoned Conservancy (it isn’t!), that there is no yard (there is more yard than most residential properties in town!), and we would have to go on private property to wash our windows (the property borders Public property, not Private!). It was too late for me to address these issues, and he hadn't asked about these concerns he had during the public hearing to make an educated decision.

One of the other BOA members said that she liked the building just the way it was (as if it was the Village’s building and a Village project), and didn’t want it to change. I said I didn’t hear any reasons pertaining to the three part test they were supposed to apply to grant or deny the variations and the Clerk said she’d come up with something out to it.

After the meeting, they decided to hire an attorney to draft a response. The meeting was not conducted like a typical public meeting – there were no rules of order observed and even though it went on for over two hours, it went by in a flash. I wanted to say so much and have them understand so they could make an educated decision, but I wasn’t able to get the message across.

Anne made the front page of the local County paper!!

A reporter for the local County newspaper, the Banner Journal, was at Anne's presentation and wrote a really nice article (on the front page no less) about our project. It was written pretty much correctly except for the fact that I am a pharmacist and not an engineer.

Presentation to the Village Board

Earlier in November, Anne was back in Merrillan to give a presentation of our (intended) project to the Village Board. Although it wasn't tied to any formal decision regarding some of the legal matters needed to be made, it was really more informational. Many people had been talking about it (small town gossip) and we really wanted to clear the air and to show everyone just what our intentions were. Anne put together a PowerPoint presentation with some history of the Mill building and then went on to show what we had in mind for the structure that would replace it and how it would be designed. Overall, it went really well - people from the Village (except one, see previous post) seemed really positive about it and she got some good feedback.
We both will be back in Wisconsin in mid-December to give another presentation to the Village Zoning Board of Appeals to who will decide on the fate of the variances that we will need to move forward. Here are the before and after mock-ups that I made for the presentation.

Pissin off the neighbors (well, only one)

Our nearest neighbor (to the Mill property) on the North side Mr. Johnson has written a couple letters to the editor of our local County newspaper. Even after we tried to explain the situation to him, he still does not understand what is going on. The Mill actually is not in the flood plain, and we have not asked the Village to move the road, but rather just to correct a legal description of the road right-of-way which currently describes the road as being a right angle "L" intersection. The existing road is actually a curve and has been that way since it was built going past the Mill (one of the first buildings in the Village) in the late 1800's. Our property description says we own up to Mill Street (on the North side) but because the ROW is incorrect, it cuts into our property and in fact goes into the existing building. While our property is in reference to the road, his (opposite side of the road) does not mention the road and is described as rectangular. He would not be losing any property in correcting the ROW but is still stubborn anyway. See what he wrote:

His first letter to the editor:

His second letter to the editor:

a fun wedding and serious research

On lucky 7-7-7, we made another trip back for Anne’s sister, Kathy’s wedding. The trip was a great chance to get some great pictures of the dam and mill building while the water on the lake is still down. You can see the two “plugs” on the dam – one is a three foot culvert running under the dam on the north side, the other is a concrete "box", approximately foot feet by six feet in area. During this trip, we had a great time, enjoying the weather (it actually rained!) and family, making the idea of moving back to the Midwest more real than ever.

Since that trip, we have gotten serious with preliminary planning for the project. We’ve got a copy of the Village’s ordinances, along with the appropriate Zoning and Variance applications for our project. We also have the as-built locations for water and sewer in the vicinity of the site. Both sets of survey data, along with the water and sewer information, have helped to develop a better site map (here). Anne has been busy researching and doing her own hydrology studies for the region. Anne’s sister, Karen, was also able to find some cool, old blueprints from the last time work was done on the dam in 1975 through the local engineering firm she works for. Soon we will be making our first submittals to get the project permitted – stay tuned!

Good-bye San Diego! More forward progress…

On June 8, 2007, we officially sold our San Diego condo. The market in the area had slowed over the last year, and properties hadn’t been moving, but we managed to sell it ourselves without getting a real estate agent involved. Thanks for the staging advice, HGTV! This was a big step for us getting un-tied from California.

Surveying: The perfect family bonding experience

In March 2007, I took a trip home without Joe and decided to do some more surveying to pick up on details in the area. Since the November 2005 survey, the Village installed a new culvert and rock outlet, and the brush clearing revealed more terrain that wasn’t as easily accessible the first time around. Anne’s sister is also a Civil Engineer and they had fun surveying with modern equipment w/ built in GPS. My other sister, Kathy, a schoolteacher, even got in on the fun, holding tree branches out of the way so Anne and Karen could get some hard to get shots. The weather was great, so the whole family - Mom and Dad, and the cutest nephew in the world, Karen’s son (Michael), and Karen’s husband (Darrick) stopped by to hang out while the surveying went on.

The Oakwood Lake Revitalization Project is still ongoing. The plug is still “pulled,” so the lake is down. While I was home, an intense storm happened, and the lake filled up temporarily, taking her parent’s boat dock from it’s location about a ¼ mile upstream, and floating it down to the dam. My Dad and brother ended up getting it back home, eventually.

There Goes the Waterfall!

The Village of Merrillan has been working on planning a project, “The Oakwood Lake Revitalization Project,” to remove built-up sediment from behind the dam for years. In fall of 2006, the stars aligned, all permits were issued, and a public works project to remove approximately 29,000 cubic yards of material was let. The project involves “pulling the plug” on the dam and draining the upper pond before the winter, with removal activities happening during the winter months after the bottom of the pond had a chance to dry up and freeze up a bit. Also included are installation of a handicapped fishing pier and non-motorized boat ramp. The project was awarded to Hoffman Construction in January 2007. The pond was drained in January 2007 and a majority of the excavation work was completed in February 2007.