Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate link(s) through which we may earn a commission on purchases at no additional cost to you. See full disclosure on legal page.
“Is it International Choke a Bureaucrat Day? …Because it sure feels like it” was my first thought when the bureaucrat at the county office told me that if we put a 12×12 addition on our cabin for a bathroom it would no longer qualify as an “accessory dwelling” according to the county zoning ordinance. That would mean we would have to take it down or alter it so it was no longer a dwelling in order to build another primary residence. After more consideration, this became an opportunity to “be subject to the governing authorities” (Romans 13:1).
Our biggest goals for this summer were to add a bathroom to our cabin and join the rest of the modern world with the convenience of running water. We planned to accomplish these goals by adding on to our cabin with a 12×12 addition containing a bathroom and utility room. We got an email from a county government bureaucrat asking us about our building permit application. I called her to discuss it and found out that we could do the addition, but we probably shouldn’t. What we proposed to build now would be allowed under the zoning ordinance, but it would cause what we eventually want to build to not be allowed. The rules don’t make sense.
Apparently, in St. Louis County, zoning laws don’t allow “accessory dwellings” larger than 700 square feet. That means if we build the bathroom addition that we were planning we won’t be able to turn our cabin into a guest house when we build our house because the bathroom addition would bring it up to 816 square feet. We only have one parcel of land which is not big enough to subdivide in our zoning area so we can only have one “principle dwelling”. What this means is if we build the bathroom addition how we had planned it would make our cabin so big that it can only be a “principle dwelling”. This would prevent us from being able to get a permit to build our dream home in the future.
Although it didn’t seem like it when she was telling us “you can’t do that” – she was probably doing us a favor by telling us now. Knowing now and being able to adapt our plans is better than us finding out after we put the addition on that it would affect our future plans of building a house.
MY RANT ABOUT RESTRICTIVE ZONING LAWS:
Government overreach is frustrating and this case of it has brought the frustration home for me. I understand the desire for a zoning ordinance against building a landfill next to a residential area or a steel mill across the street from an elementary school. I even understand having reasonable setback requirements, but I don’t understand why someone can’t have a guest house because of a slight difference of opinion on what a reasonable size is for a guest house.
The part that gets me the most is that other very similar things that I would think ought to be viewed as equivalent would be allowed. If our cabin with its addition were part of the house that would be fine since there would only be one “principle dwelling”. But two separate buildings of the same combined size are not allowed. Also if we built a separate building of the same size as our proposed addition that had no bedrooms or kitchen it would not be a dwelling so it would be allowed and our cabin would remain under the 700 square foot limit so it could still be an accessory dwelling and we could build the house as a principle dwelling. With all the same combined size one building is allowed, three buildings are allowed. But having two buildings is not allowed. What we want to do with our land fulfills the spirit of the law, but not the letter.
In my mind, what this boils down to is property rights. If we own the land, not the government, (this is debatable because if we don’t pay our property taxes – aka rent – the government will take the land) why do we need their permission to build on it? (assuming that our building doesn’t harm someone else.) Unfortunately, we live in a world where our government thinks that they need to take care of us by making unreasonably restrictive laws about what can be built where. Then bureaucrats enforce them to the tee whether it actually helps anyone or not.
THE CHANGE OF PLANS:
In the end, we decided to submit to the government regulations and change our plans to add a bathroom without expanding the footprint of our cabin thus remaining under the 700 square foot limit. The only place we found to put it was where our wood stove and chimney were. They needed to be removed and we will need to put in new ones elsewhere in the cabin. We will also have a smaller bathroom and no room for a washer and dryer or extra storage. This wasn’t what we wanted, but it will do. We didn’t want to jeopardize our long term goal – our dream-house by meeting our short term goal – the bathroom. We will be able to build our house in the future and won’t have any trouble with zoning for a “primary dwelling”.