Good Neighbors

Good Neighbors

Opening the tattered manila folder, I carefully laid out the plans for my new garage addition across the counter for review by the City Planner. I’d gone through these same processes years before when I built my home shop, although now the rules had changed. Twenty years of progress had brought about restrictions in the size and number of buildings allowed on a single piece of property in my home city, regardless of the size of the property.

As I watched the Planner page through all of my documents, she stopped suddenly when she reached the site plan (a detailed account of the location of all of the buildings on the property.) Stabbing her finger into the page before her, she asked, “What’s this?” while pointing at the shop located near the back of our property. I began to explain that it was my hobby shop, where I store and restore my vintage cars.

At this very moment, the expression “eyes rolling back in their head” really meant something to me. By her tone and demeanor, I knew I’d suddenly lowered my social standing in the community by admitting I was, in fact, a “car guy.” I questioned her on the city’s need for such restrictive size limitations on garages. She replied, “We don’t want people running businesses out of their garages.”

I resisted the temptation to argue the point while she busily piled up the forms, checklists, and procedures that must be followed to request the variance from city code.

Seated at my kitchen table, I began to dive into my new pile of garage homework. I stopped frequently as the words of the City Planner kept running through my head. I struggled to think of other hobbies and home businesses the city would place restrictions upon.

Several of my neighbors run businesses out of their homes. Custom golf clubs are crafted nearby, metal is sculpted across the street, accounting is accomplished down the road, and daycare is provided from several homes in my neighborhood. What had the “car guy” done to warrant such negative attention from the city? I have little doubt there are those car enthusiasts who have pushed the envelope and tolerance of their neighbors further than it should be.

Good stewardship of our hobby must begin at home. A driveway or yard full of inoperable collector vehicles can be considered an eyesore. Choosing to hammer out that dent, or feeling the need to fire up that newly-built engine late in the evening (with open headers, of course) can all fuel the fire of those seeking additional regulations on our hobby.

At times, we can all get wrapped up in a project and forget about how our actions may be affecting others. A little common sense and common courtesy will ensure future generations will have the opportunity to enjoy our hobby as much as we do.

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27 Responses to “Good Neighbors”

  1. EN George

    I’m serious here: move to the deep South (of the United States). But not just anywhere in the deep South. Restrictions in counties adjoining Fulton County around Atlanta (Gwinnett, _et al.), for example, potentially are no better than typical ones up North. Get a house outside of any city limits, and preferably _well_ outside of them, in case the city has a penchant for gobbling up chunks of land outside of the city (an extreme example: Jacksonville, Florida, which somehow annexed the _entirety_ of Duval County, around her (my guess: made possible by the typical stupidity, and/or lack of foresight, on the part of lawmakers in Tallahassee), making Jacksonville technically the largest city in the United States!)). Check into the “grandfathering” clauses of any county or municipality that you consider moving into, so in case they make the laws more restrictive, you might not be have to included in them (FWIW–here where I live, and probably lots of other places too, citations (or whatever) for violations are complaint-driven, meaning the local government won’t go after you unless someone _complains_; get to know your prospective neighbors-to-be, and if you move there, stay on good terms with them (and with people who visit them), if possible.
    And there’s a very nice perk to auto restorers living in the deep South, too–there’s is less snow, and generally less ice, than up North. Most places in the Deep South (actually, none that I know of) put the bane of the existence of every car restorer in the North–salt–on the roads (however, living near the ocean, with its salt _in the air_, can be hard on automobiles, too).

  2. Lary Cook

    Courtesy is the key word here. People are starting to forget its meaning. Glad you wrote something on this topic. Really appreciate it! Thanks!

  3. Sidney

    I ran into th same thing
    Down the street there are several intermodal containers
    They would not approve one for me as the others had been grandfathered in although I had pictures that proved otherwise

  4. HDMania

    Easier to ask for forgiveness than permission especially if you live out in the country..

  5. Diesel DAn

    In reading everyone’s comments here I think you all have missed a sure fire way to get the planners to allow you to build anything that resembles a garage , borrow or “own one” a huge boat and leave it out at the drives edge for a month or two , Ohhh when the neighbors are sent the variance approval for your “garage” and its titled “boat storage” they sign off on just about anything , and there’s no law saying you have to keep the boat for the new garage !! but I do side with everyone’s grief in getting there “hobby shop” built when there’s difficult neighbors or quirky city planners , but as my stab at humor above shows where there’s a real need there is always a way

  6. Larry

    I am currently in the process of having a shop built. I have followed all of the County rules and permitting procedures. I must say that the County has been very easy to deal with during the process. Once the framing was complete the neighbor across the street had issues with the building. She has made snide remarks about it to her family in a loud voice while they were in their front yard. She could see my wife setting in her rocker reading her Nook. Thinks like monstrosity and eyesore were mentioned. I received information that she had called the County about my building. She was politely told too bad for her. It has paid off well for me to have followed the rules:) She has now planted a row of brush of some sort in the right of way some 5 feet beyond her front property line. I guess she thinks that she is above the law of the land,lol. The moral of my story is to be sure and follow the rules that are in place at your location or it could co$t you.
    Me, I am a happy camper with a new shop being built that has a name for it now – Monstrosity Garage !

    • shopping

      You have every right to complain about the neighbor occupying the right of way, that’s property set aside for fire department and other government access

      If she’s going to demand everyone follow the rules then it’s only right she has to as well.

  7. David

    Thanks for sharing–I too went through the “process”, although I live in the County and not in a subdivision—so glad I did not have Covenants to deal with!! My issue was the planner grilling me about a “business” (she saw a 220 outlet on the drawing!), and about allowing anybody to sleep in the room above my garage. After a lot of discussion, we arrived at a solution, and I must say I have a great shop (large 3 car garage) with 12 foot ceilings that is insulated and sheetrocked to allow a 4th bedroom/guestroom above. The 12′ Ceilings allow me to lift my 67 Mustang to any height to work on, and I even park my Toyota under it during winter. My recommendation is to remain a “pro”, and gently ask lots of questions. You will find the one issue that will will limit you most–mine was the Fire Marshall–I spent time with them and professionally negotiated and good solution. I added rate of rise heat detectors, and connected those to my alarm system monitor–problem solved! Too bad it takes so much time.
    I also agree with your comments about reputation–one person can cause a lot of damage, which then results in more rules!!!

  8. John

    In this county of MD it’s ran as, “whatever” it seems. We live in a nice neighborhood that had covenants 30 years ago, that have completely disappeared, but county restrictions do apply. All the houses are Colonial with 1/2 acre or more, with two-three and the lucky ones with four car garages. Why is it the persons with a 4 car garages drive Subaru’s and could can less about cars or fishing boats for that matter. ;-) Several years ago two doors down the owner got the car bug and started doing big block Fords, did a real good job on them too. My self being a car guy and having one or more old cars in the garage had no problem until he started laying out his new four bay garage out back for his new adventure. He moved to the countryside shortly there after, bought a mansion with eight bays. But the rules apply to all (maybe) the house across the street was rented and I stood in my driveway and asked the owner, why they were unloading computer desk and computers one after another after another….he shrugged his shoulders and walked away. Didn’t take long to find out, the following week(s) we had 8 to 10 cars parked along the street, with another 4 in the driveway. The new renters were running their white collar business in the house, with the blessing of the land lord. Good thing rules are rules…no business mean, no business’ Now having rambled on…you can put any number of crapmobiles in your yard as long as they have tags. We have a local politician with his old ice cream truck on blocks, several Saabs, because Saab are collector vehicles according to him, and a 25ft box truck in the back that hasn’t moved in years, but as long as they have “tags” they can sit there forever. Likewise new neighbors moved in and have five junk Hondas, not enough to make one good car, but as long as those “historic” tags are up to date, no problem… Check all the codes for your area is the first thing to do…next house of mine is four car garage, attached house, and neighbors down the road ;-)

  9. xander

    I couldn’t agree more about the respect of those around you. Every action we take influences someone and what goes around comes around so if we treat others with respect we will get respect in return. Those values are born in the shop but they shouldn’t stay there, they need to be a part of the community involvement a shop (large or small) does. I wrote an article about the demeanor inside the shop here on my website, if you liked this article, give mine a quick read!

  10. Kyle

    I agree 100% with this statement why is it that are passion for cars makes us looked a pond as lower class people In are very own social community. We love what we do and we are no different from some of the others

  11. Phillip

    One way to get an approval, I found is to built the garage as a two story structure with a family room, recording studio or living quarters for family as mother in law with two to four car garage underneath.

  12. delbert johnson

    This is going on in every neighborhood , privacy fence has been the life saver here , but is expensive to install and maintain,lawyers for the citys are busy trying to figure new ways to get new revenue ,from every tax payer,they are heartless,and have no compassion for any land owners,when we was in the root of a recession as a country the local property taxes were still going up, what happened to taxation with representation,as taxes go up but never come down,every school dist, is wanting millions when they have apropriate facilities at present, they always want more,new stadiums, new bldgs,endless wants,this brings on the regulations and taxation in small rural communities ,my opinion !

  13. Mike Unger

    I have a lot of thoughts about this. It’s amazing the number of possibilities that could explain the eyes rolling back in her head, and to me, that may be a dismissive gesture. I would go back to her and say, you made a facial expression in the room when you saw my out building that I did not interpret, what are your thoughts about my proposal?
    We should be proud to be mechanics, and you going the distance to detail your property and ensure safety and the conscientious wish to hide an ongoing project from view is admirable. If you were my neighbor, I’d be impressed by your level of dedication and passion for what you do. If someone works on cars, and actually ‘fixes and improves them’ it’s an immediate trend up on my social mobility score. There are a lot of boring people out there that do not have a passion for anything, they go through life bored, empty and their only power may be in saying ‘no’ here and there at work. I’d say follow the rules, be courteous, and be genuinely curious about her non verbal behavior. Heck the next time you see her she may say “sorry about that, it wasn’t you, my ex boyfriend and I had just broke up a few days before that and he was doing a similar project.” (reminded her of something totally not about you). You rock man, keep up the project, and move it from a tattered manilla envelope to the real deal!

  14. FRED

    You mentioned that this “city planning” was progress. I am sick of these government types telling us what we can do with our property. We are already paying them rent called Property Taxes for the privilege of owning it. I fight this any way I can. Someone just has to say no to their demands and fight them. I find most times they will turn tail and run. Just my opinion.

  15. J D

    I ran into pretty much the same thing with a city planner a couple of years ago. I needed to build a garage to house my 3 old cars but I told them I wanted to build a storage building not a garage. I was not going to be running a business, just a place to keep and store my vehicles and tools so I could restore them since I am retired. Nope, I would have to go for a variance to do this. In my city a variance is a gamble of a $500 non-refundable fee win or lose and 4 out of 5 panel members agreeing with you. Wow, so many restrictions! Any thoughts from anyone on another plan of action?

    • Customer Service

      The fee in my City was $1,000! That was to be used for notifying neighbor’s city fees, etc. and also no guarantee should the city rule against you. The city reassured me that any unused money would be returned to me. You guessed it, when all was done and over, less than $20 remained of my $1,000, but I guess I saw that coming, and it took weeks before they returned those funds.

      The fee would likely have upset me more if the council had not ruled in my favor and allowed me to build. The advice I have for others is to do your homework WELL, be aware of other instances in recent years similar variances have been approved and or denied and learn from their successes and failures. No two cities are the same, so there is likely no single recipe to get the job done.

      Before laying down your hard earned cash for a variance, make a few calls to elected officials, let them know what you would like to do and see what there position is on requests like yours. You’ll likely gain a good understanding of what criteria you’ll need to meet in order for your project to be approved.

      Wrench Safe, Mark

      • Tom

        You are correct…anyone living in a Democrat controlled area will have endless problems as the mantra is you need permission for anything except painting and paper hanging…used to live in Jersey now live in rural Ga. a live and let live area and love it.
        Car guys are respected here unlike larger urban areas and all you need is a building permit and adhere to proper building codes…ne need to say “may I”

    • clementsapartments

      I intentionally moved into a highly restrictive subdivision because of the lax rules in my previous subdivision. Knowing it was so restrictive when I decided to build my home shop I simply had the architect design and lable it as a 2200 square foot RV shed. No problem what so ever with HOA or city. Turns out that once I installed a four post lift and my three restored CJ’s there’s simply no room for an RV – good thing I don’t want one.

  16. Charles J.

    Yeah, it is funny how certain people in a subdivision can ‘operate’ a business out of their homes while someone who adheres to the CITY PLANNER guide lines gets nowhere. I agree that several inoperatal cars in a driveway is a eyesore for a subdivision and needs to be dealt with accordingly. However, someone who does follow protocol and city guidelines should be have their ‘day’ in court. I reside in a subdivision outside a large urban city and I observe infractions constantly that are not cited while others receive letters demanding something be done about their bag of grass setting by their house awaiting pickup on Monday!