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Patience pays off when dealing with building

Money Today Johnson

Jeff was excited to start his new building project. Two years had passed since he and his wife moved off the home farm, allowing his son to take over his operation. They had purchased an acreage just a few miles away with a nice house and a few small, outdated buildings.

Although the new place was just across the county line, the layout was perfect. With 4 acres of land, Jeff had more than enough room to build a nice shop and anything else his imagination came up with.

During the winter, he had worked out the plans in his mind for his new shop. He drew out the plans on paper and then took them to his contractor to get his input.

The shop would be spacious. It would have a large heavy-duty hoist on one side and two tall, wide doors large enough to accommodate his combine without the heads. It would be long enough that you could get a semi and trailer parked inside. There would also be a good-sized office in one corner that would serve as a man cave. Jeff decided it should have in-floor heating with several large windows to let in plenty of sunlight.

With excitement and plans in hand, Jeff and his wife, Sally, grabbed a long tape measure to mark out the corners of the building. A little bit of spray paint was used to outline the walls and orange posts marked the corners.

Jeff also planned to put in a second driveway and run a water line to the building. Since there would be a bathroom, he would also need to have a new septic system. With Sally’s help they laid out the driveway perimeters and marked a likely spot where the septic tank would go.

The next few weeks were occupied with planting and fieldwork as Jeff assisted his farming son. After things slowed down, Jeff was anxious to return to his new project. The first step was to remove the fence along the property line, which was no more than a few steel posts and strands of barbed wire. There were a few trees in the fence row, so Jeff made quick work of them with his skid loader.

As he was finishing up, the owner of the land next to him pulled into his driveway.

Much to Jeff’s surprise, his neighbor was quite agitated. He accused Jeff of taking out his fence and trying to build on his property. He told Jeff that the property line was actually 20 feet past the fence line and was ready to fight in court for his property rights. Their discussion was very one-sided and became an extremely heated conversation. It ended with threats to lawyer-up.

The neighbor’s visit left Jeff in shock and unsettled for the rest of the day. When he purchased the acreage it was already split off from other farmland, but no one had come out to survey the corners. His parcel had its own legal description and Jeff assumed the fence line was the property line. Had he been wrong, or was the neighbor just trying to jerk him around?

The next morning Jeff made a trip to the courthouse in the new county to figure out what was going on. It was clear from the legal description that Jeff owned his land, but exactly where it started and stopped was uncertain. He would need to get a surveyor to mark the corners.

One of the supervisors in the county was a person he had known for many years. Before he left the courthouse, he stopped at the supervisor’s office and had a visit with his friend. As they visited, the supervisor informed him that there were additional zoning ordinances in the new county. In the old county, there were minimal zoning codes, and you could generally build where and whatever you wanted. Jeff learned his new home had a myriad of zoning ordinances, due to a larger city on the other side of the county. Whether or not he liked it, the codes applied to him as well.

As they talked, it became apparent that Jeff’s second driveway for the shop would be problematic. There were rules as to how close he could build to the property line. That were also rules on what type of building, its size and purpose, and how close it was to his home. The requirement for a second septic system was also very detailed.

Jeff went home discouraged but decided he would continue on. He spent time on the county website reading all the zoning requirements and thought he could fulfill most of them. He also discovered that a fiber optic line ran in the ditch in front of his house. The second driveway would go right over this and there were some new requirements he had not anticipated.

After hiring a surveyor Jeff was pleased to find out that the property line was actually 10 feet past the old fence line into his neighbor’s field. His neighbor was far more agreeable after this announcement. Even with the additional ground, the shop needed to be moved another 20 feet away from the property line. The front also had to set back from the property another 30 feet. The fiber optic company came out and marked where their line ran.

Jeff returned to the courthouse and applied for the appropriate permits to build the shop, put in a second driveway and put in a septic system. He also applied for a variance to build closer to the road. His nextdoor neighbor came to the variance meeting and objected to it being too close to the road. But the variance board sided with Jeff and gave him the permit.

It took several summer months before work began on the second driveway. A couple weeks later an excavator showed up and started digging footings for the shop. In the middle of the afternoon the excavator brought up some suspicious looking dirt and something that looked like bones or some type of burial plot. Everything came to a grinding halt and Jeff tried to make sense of what was underground where he wanted to put his shop.

Jeff’s best guess was that the bones came from a family plot of pioneers. He had never seen anything like this before, and the excavator was reluctant to keep digging. An expert would need to be called in, which was quite frustrating to Jeff. All the shop materials had already been delivered. Trusses, steel, and lumber were setting in his yard. He had already paid for a contractor to put in the new septic system and ran the underground wires over to the building site.

After patiently waiting a few days, someone from the state arrived to examine what they found. Everything was photographed and mapped, and several samples were taken from the soil. It did not take long for the expert to determine that they had dug up some animal bones and perhaps the leftovers of an old outhouse. With a sigh of relief, the building project resumed.

Other minor challenges presented themselves over the next few weeks.

At the back corner of the shop the excavator hit some sort of spring with quicksand around it. They also came across two nests of bees in the ground, stinging several people before they were able to get them under control. There also were some change orders regarding the man cave in the shop. Jeff wanted a kitchen area so there were ventilation codes to follow.

It was just after Thanksgiving before the project that Jeff thought would be done in midsummer was finally completed. It had been a learning experience and gave Jeff an increased appreciation for the old days when he could build unsupervised.

He understood the purpose of the rules and was glad to be on good terms again with his new neighbor.

Farm life can teach you how to work hard and how to be persistent. While Jeff had learned those principles over his lifetime, he also knew sometimes the only option or choice you have is to be patient.

Bob Dunaway and Associates offer estate and retirement planning. Gary Johnson can be reached at 563-927-4554 or by emailing him at

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