Speaking up on visual impact
Having spent between $40,000 and $50,000 first mitigating and then presenting my case in court, I probably have a better right than anyone to speak about the Visual Impact Regulations.
The biggest lie that has persisted until now is that the county gave me a non-conforming Certificate of Occupancy. The county, at their attorney's suggestion did attempt to do so and in fact reported to the paper as such. As soon as I learned of their intentions, I demanded they follow the judges' ruling. He basically said that even if he didn't necessarily feel the house conformed to the VIR intent, the fact remained that the county had given me a building permit and I had built in reliance to that permit and the county must give me my Certificate of Occupancy.
The truth is that my house was a test case and the county didn't know themselves how to interpret their own regulation.
The building inspector (Max Clark) did not make the final interpretation of what represented the skyline. In a meeting with Max, the county administrator Pat O'Donnell and myself, Max said he didn't want to make that interpretation and he was frustrated because no matter what he did, someone was going to be unhappy.
O'Donnell said up until now the consensus had been that if one tree was higher than the building, it was considered the skyline. I told them I did not have a natural tree higher than the roofline and Pat said "plant one." I asked what kind and he said he didn't care.
We planted seven large clumps of aspen, a total of six large blue spruce, a large ponderosa pine and three native pinions.
Prior to this and at the county's direction, I had moved the location of the house 50 feet closer to the escarpment (my sloped lot lowered the house as you moved toward the escarpment) and dug down 17 feet on the southeast corner for the foundation. This put the front of the house as much as five feet below grade and required retaining walls front and back as well as a series of walks and steps costing about $20,000.
The fact is, we did not fight the county and in fact did much more than they required us to do.
I have a few comments on the VIR today. First, I believe it is almost criminal to continue to spend thousands of hours and thousands of dollars to keep changing the regulations without consideration for the people who bought their property under one set of regulations and may find now that they cannot build their dream house as they had planned and perhaps not at all.
Secondly, although I believe the original idea and purpose was good, it is in fact a joke.
After the county and the landowner spent countless time and money conforming to the regulations, there is nothing to prevent the landowner once he has his CO from cutting every tree, brush or sage from his property. We constantly see "view windows" opened up discreetly a tree at a time or more aggressively as "fire mitigation" or in the case of one home, totally stripped at one clip.
In that case, 100 percent of the roof shows and what is the recourse?
Jim and Cindy Sink