After ten months of back and forth with the city, we finally received our permits to build the big house! And now that we are off the crazy rollercoaster, I can finally take time and unpack what exactly was happening during the last 10 months.
The past months have been so emotionally and mentally draining-I would be lying if I said it was easy. I won’t be saying what city we live in for security purposes, but our experience with the planning and development department was extremely frustrating. Below, I want to outline a rough timeline of our permit process, so that anyone reading this can be aware of our permitting journey, and can mentally prepare if they are considering building within city limits.
I will disclaim: our property is a rare find (5 acres with a pond inside the city limits of DFW), so since there are not a lot of properties that are like ours, there were several bumps with everyone figuring out the best way to navigate our situation, some we foresaw, others being complete curveballs due to lack of communication on the city’s (and hired professional’s) part.
You can follow along with the journey on Instagram: @theroostingplace
December 2020- First contact with the City Planning Department
We first contacted the city planning department in regard to requirements for permits. We were informed that because the proposed site location for the house was more than 600 feet from the main road/existing public fire hydrant, we were required to install a private fire hydrant on our property. In this correspondence, we were told we needed a pre-approved utility contractor to execute a 3-way contract and provide construction plans prior to permit release.
Okie no problem-o.
What we didn’t receive was a list of required documents to submit, so we started gathering all the obvious: architect sets and floor plans, window schedules, engineered foundation…etc.
January 2021- “Proper Procedure”
We were attempting to go through “proper procedure” to locate previously approved fire hydrant permits that the previous owners had applied for. This pretty much meant filling out forms and jumping those hoops for “public knowledge” documents that are in the city archives. We were hoping by using the same previously approved plans that would speed up our process. Newsflash to us, we don’t get access to those documents. *eye roll and one month wasted by going in circles*
Throughout this time we were also getting estimates from our sub-contractors to put together a budget to turn into our lender for funding. No official submissions just yet.
February 2021- “It’s on the website”
After reaching out to the city for a list of required documents (again), we were told all the information we needed was “on the website” in regards to what needed to be submitted. So we look online and try to compile all the paperwork and sets that we could find was required online. This included our architect plans and engineered basement plans, along with a couple other documents. The website was pretty vague on what to submit, as we could not find a specific list. But we did our best here.
During this time we started experiencing problems securing our loan due to changes implemented during COVID-19. So we were tracking down documents to secure that process. (Building loan into a traditional mortgage once building is complete).
March 2021- “I gave you a list!”
We submit our first rounds of permit sets through an online portal mid March and paid the first rounds of fees (half of the total) that were required to get the permit process started ($3,261.62)
Our loan was approved-we had funding!
We were informed we had submitted incorrectly and with inadequate paperwork/plans. They would not even begin to review anything until we completed the “Residential Submittal Requirements” that was attached in an email but should have been accessed online prior to submittal…this document was not found on the website. This was the first time we received a checklist for the process. So we began completing that paperwork/ contacting subcontractors who could provide the missing pieces.
What was required to submit: Site plan (check), Floor plan (check), exterior elevations, door and window schedule (check), wall/wind bracing method, energy compliance, engineered fondation (check), water utility application, park/roadway impact fee paid, and an SWPPP.
We had a difficult time clarifying some missing pieces and getting correct links to paperwork the city required.
April 2021-Finding the right people
We were still trying to receive the paperwork required to resubmit. We had to hire an engineer to show wall/wind bracing, contact our lumber company for a set of framing plans, and contact an energy code inspector to fill out our energy code compliance, all of which takes time. We also learned after doing our own research that we only needed to fill out parts of certain paperwork because this is a residential build and under a certain square footage. (It would have saved time had the city planners told us this, but they didn’t.)
The frustrating part about permits is that you cannot control how fast people work, and there are usually more people/projects ahead of you that have to be addressed first; so despite us reaching out quickly, things take time. That’s pretty normal and is expected during things like this.
May 2021-Time ticks by
We submitted again the first of the month, and received our correction report within 4 days. I will commend them in saying our corrections came back within 5 business days each time, which was nice.
What wasn’t nice was that our first correction report was 7 pages long. Some comments were easily fixable, like a window accidentally being missed on the energy form, or that one set of plans was missing a seal stamp. We were also told that our basement needed an egress, so we submitted to our architect to revise the plans.
What we weren’t expecting was how many comments were involving our lack of fire hydrant plans-which we knew we didn’t submit yet, we were still tracking down a subcontractor to do all the paperwork. We became a little overwhelmed at the extent and even vague statements that were included. This was a whole other can of worms to dissect.
This was also when we contacted/hired a civil engineer to work on elevations, grading, and other issues addressed in our sets. We chose to go with the civil engineer that had worked with the previous owners for their project, because we assumed she was familiar with our property and would be able to expedite the process a little bit-we were very wrong. I try not to speak poorly of others, but as an honest review regarding her business methods: she was extremely unprofessional, rude, and unhelpful throughout the process….it seemed like she had just as big of a power trip as the city, and we hired her.
Hindsight is the best sight…but we signed a contract with her and got stuck…
She did get the job done in the end, and I’m sure she’s a loveley person deep down, but we did not work well together. I do not think she is used to working with people who have an idea how to read codes or do their own research regarding building when it comes to dropping major amounts of their budget…more on that later.
June 2021-Just move the house, dangit.
Civil engineer advised we move the house site back to avoid our flood drainage easement. Harley scheduled a meeting with her to discuss how much we needed to move the house-we really did not want to move it too much because the line-of-view would change by moving it back. We ended up agreeing (in email) to move it back to the advised location. Our civil then gets confused regarding our driveway design and hypothetical pool drawing on the architecht conceptual plans, so Harley calls her to clarify and tells her to move the house to her suggested location to be further from the flood plain.
Here’s where things get begin to get a little messy: She then proceeds to advise us on our fire coding, but because we read the codes we understood that because we were putting in a sprinkler system inside our home, we would not be required to build a fire lane. She was telling us that we would need sprinklers($10k), a fire lane (24′ wide of 6″ concrete) all the way from the main road back to our house (a 600′ driveway…imagine the $$$) AND install a fire hydrant ($45k job btw). We informed her that we read the codes differently…so she starts to fight with us…like a child throwing a fit, and just tells us repeatedly we are wrong and that we won’t be able to build without all three. This all could have gone more smoothly had she been willing to explain, or suggested a solution, but upon being questioned she immediately went into “defense” mode, and it was difficult to work with her from this moment forward. Oh-she did tell us to contact the fire marshall, but in a tone that was going to be a “I’ll let him tell you you’re wrong”…
She also sends us “new sets” but they did not have the revised house location. When we confronted her about it she tries to lie and say that Harley told her to keep it at the old location…when we have emails that clearly state otherwise. And her sets still show a full concrete fire lane even though we asked her to remove it. So we told her we did not want the concrete fire lane included because if that was “approved” then we were forced to add it-and we didn’t need one. At this time we also asked her to leave off fire hydrant plumbing because we had not confirmed the code requirements with the Fire Marshall yet.
In her response, in all red underlining, (this is a professionally licensed individual) I quote:
“I have a reputation for providing acceptable designs. You are asking a lot to ask me to change my reputation. I do not subscribe to the reputation of someone who tries to see “how much they can get away with.” I have invested so much time in your project that I will continue down this path with you for this submittal. However, you are trying to get me to take short cuts that are not in your best interest. At some point, you will decide the time is also of some value and the multiple reviews will start costing enough time that you will be willing to construct this as required. However, we can both spend a little time at the beginning if you recognize what you are doing.”
Yes…we hired this lady…and she just told us we were cutting corners, all because we wanted to check the code requirements with someone who knew it. (Civil had even admitted to not fully understanding the codes.)
An added note: When she says she “spent so much time”…she went on vacation for two out of the three weeks that we had been in contact with her…
I set up a meeting with the Fire Marshall to clarify what was required for our property to be within code.
July 2021- Invite the Fire Marshall over for drinks!
We schedule our meeting with the Fire Marshall after the 4th of July. He had hands down been the most helpful city official for us during this process. During our meeting he tells us that because we are having a sprinkler system, we only need to add a fire hydrant within a 600′ radius of our house-no fire lane required. *Everyone breathes with me: this man just saved us $200k worth of concrete we didn’t have in our budget*. Harley now has his personal cell and you better bet he is invited to our housewarming party when this thing is all over.
We get written statements from the Fire Marshall stating what was discussed in our meeting and send to the civil engineer so that she can give us our sets for submittal. Get this: SHE STILL REFUSES TO SEND US A STAMPED, OFFICIAL SET and tells us “I don’t think it’s going to fly but try this”.
But we submit again with requested corrections. And get another correction report. Shocker… we work to correct any comments made…some of which were duplicated due to lack of official stamps…when we sent the report to the civil engineer, she made the comment that “we must have forgotten to include all the pages”. So clearly she doesn’t like to admit she’s in the wrong.
We are also trying to get our fire hydrant contract from our sub-contractor during this time.
August 2021- Fire hydrant from h***
We had to switch companies regarding our fire hydrant…we got ghosted. At this point, there were no more comments regarding our build, just a few left on the fire hydrant and the civil sets. Since we were still having issues with the civil sets anyways, we did ask the house to be moved back once more- I knew this was not going to be taken well by the civil, but she works for us and we were extremely nice about it. (She didn’t like it of course but complied).
Because our foundation crew had availability in their schedule, we ask our project manager at the city if there was a way we could get a partial permit to start digging the basement. The city then responds and states that they will not issue any permits until the fire hydrant is INSTALLED and functional…may I remind you this is not what was stated to us 6 months back. You bet your booty we called the Fire Marshall. He then called the city for us and told them that all he required was a working contract with a finish date and we could receive permits. THIS MAN IS AN ANGEL.
We submit our plans again with corrections. And receive comments regarding our civil sets…we inform our civil engineer to fix the issues.
September 2021-Oops, must have missed it.”
The civil engineer calls an engineer at the city who is making comments. She is then told that our cover sheet (which is our conceptual architect drawing) does not match the civil plan therefore the engineer WOULDN’T EVEN LOOK AT THE CIVIL SETS. Y’all. In 4 months this woman hadn’t even looked at our plans! But never told us all we needed to do was draw a big “X” on those sets and state that during our build we were using the civil sets…
So I draw a giant “X” on the conceptual drawings and resubmit…hoping that’s all. What else do they want?
Despite the small movement forward, we are still having issues getting a hold of city engineers regarding questions about our 3-party fire hydrant, which we are trying to submit. We were told that this was all we had left to receive permits…
Until the biggest curveball of all: on September 30th, we were told that our civil engineer was not “aware there was a basement” and the city “must have also missed it” because we couldn’t build our house as planned with the basement, due to a code that stated that areas in a special flood zone can’t have an elevation below a certain point. The issue with that statement: we aren’t building in a flood zone.
We set up a meeting with city engineers, our hired civil engineer (I wish she didn’t have to be there), building officials, the city project manager, and our basement expert to discuss this outrageous claim. Why hadn’t this been mentioned before? Why was it being mentioned at all, it doesn’t apply? There was no way the city engineers “missed” a basement design plan with multiple engineered documents…unless they haven’t been doing their job this whole time?
October 2021-Emotionally drained
This meeting was a crapshoot. We walked out feeling belittled and infuriated by engineers who assumed we had no idea what we were talking about, even though we are well versed in the city’s codes and the FEMA policies regarding flood plains. This engineer even had the audacity to throw his degree around…the room was split between the people who were haughty and power-struck, and those who realized there had been a huge mistake and the city was liable. Their excuse: “oh, the computer system must have not transferred our comments over”. It took me visibly having tears in my eyes (I tried so hard to hold them back but I was so angry they leaked out of me) for them to change their tone and realize we were coming from a place of confusion and absolute devastation.
In the end, we were left with nothing but brokenness. They told us they had to talk to some other department that oversaw the flood plain committee…sounds like they should have been in our meeting too. So we went into the weekend and waited.
One week later we received the email: “based on the grading plan, Floodplain Dept. can approve this layout…[as long as] a floodproof door is installed and approved in basement egress.”
PRAISE. THE. LORD.
We submit all the required fire hydrant contracts.
Because this has been a recount of events over the last 10 months, I cannot even begin to replicate the rollercoaster of emotions that were felt. There was anger, then there was a glimmer of hope at progress, then heartbreak when we had to yet again add/change something else. I had lost the ability to be excited when we heard the good news because I felt like there was something bad that would follow. It seemed that every one of my and Harley’s phone conversations started with “do you want the good news or bad news first?”. But by the grace of God we made it. We get to build our home. I truly believe that God has big plans for us through this house because I can see His hand in every step of the way, guiding us through. He made us wait and now lumber prices are down. Crews are available to work. We are able to see the blessings in the waiting, and though this past year was tough, we are stronger in our faith and in our marriage because of it.