Ask the Architect

‘Is this a typical situation?’

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Q. We’re wondering why it takes so long for a renovation to our home and to put a pool and deck in our yard. We started the whole thing well before winter, and it’s taking forever. First we hired a contractor, who started with a drafting service, but the plans weren’t complete, and the building department rejected them because we needed an architect or engineer. So the contractor got an engineer who looked over the drafted plans and put his stamp on them, but that took many weeks (six). Then the building department said we were rejected unless we want to get a zoning variance, which nobody guaranteed. Now we’re starting a zoning variance, which is going to take at least three more months, and we’re stuck with no pool or deck for the summer. The whole thing has really been disappointing, and we wouldn’t have even considered doing this if we knew it would cost so much and take this long. Is this a typical situation, or could we have gotten this done differently?

A.It all depends on whom you ask to start the work as to how the project unfolds, from start to finish. First, you needed to understand what each party you hire could actually accomplish for you. Second, you needed an explanation of the process, and honesty can’t be underrated. Sometimes people just want to hear positive things instead of honest ones, and think they’re saving money by excluding the architect or engineer.

The most efficient way for you to have handled this situation would have been to have each party do what they do best. The contractor builds and prices the job. The drafting service can draw the plans, but since they can’t seal their own work, an architect or engineer must be involved. From my perspective as an architect, it would have been the same or less money to hire the architect or engineer at the beginning.

The zoning analysis should have been done in the first meeting, determining what the issues would be for side yard, rear yard, lot coverage and percentage of rear yard that you were proposing to cover in that meeting, using your property survey. That way you would have known what you were facing. If anyone was being upfront and honest with you, they would have told you the length of time it takes to get an application reviewed, a zoning variance application prepared and submitted (which is an entirely separate process), a public hearing and what the outcome could possibly be.

Nobody can guarantee the outcome of a zoning variance. Typically, without all the time it takes to hire people you either tried to avoid or didn’t think you needed, the process can be quite lengthy, up to nine months, depending on the size of the jurisdiction and their schedule. Expect to be in your pool next summer, since it sounds like that’s more reasonable at this point.

© 2019 Monte Leeper. Readers are encouraged to send questions to yourhousedr@aol.com, with “Herald question” in the subject line, or to Herald Homes, 2 Endo Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, Attn: Monte Leeper, architect.