Some projects take longer than others.
Different cities have different cultures.
I think everyone will agree to those two statements, and I, too, would’ve agreed when we started the Bob Cat Run project more than a year ago. I just didn’t realize how much the second statement could affect the first.
When we purchased Bob Cat Run in September of 2014, everything looked great on paper. We approached it from the standpoint of a homestead flip for Sue Ann and me. (I’ll explain the concept of homestead flipping in a future blog post. For now, the important consideration is that we planned to make Bob Cat our primary residence for at least two years.)
There was only one small problem. One small corner of the house protruded into the utility easement, and the back porches overhung it.
Everywhere else I’ve worked, this would not be a big deal for a house that was built in the 1980s and stood vacant for more than a decade, especially since it was built in an unincorporated area. Most county inspectors (where they exist at all) would simply have noted the encroachment on the paperwork, and we would have moved on. At worst, we would have paid some kind of “fee” or “fine,” and that would have been the end of the problem. I have never seen this kind of problem take longer than a few weeks and a couple of thousand dollars to work around.
The real problem started when the City of Austin annexed the subdivision. It got much worse when Austin implemented a Geographic Information System (GIS) a few years back. As one city employee put it, “Until then, we knew that these problems existed, but we didn’t have a way to track them. Now, we have to do something about it.”
Well, when a city decides it has to “do something about it,” havoc ensues. The easement “belongs to” 13 separate city departments. Twelve of them looked at the degree of encroachment, not even enough for a closet, and agreed with us that it was no big deal. The water department, however, went into a tizzy and stopped the permitting progress. We have been negotiating with the city ever since. In the interim, we have accrued more than $12,000 in additional holding costs, almost all of it in city taxes. We were literally paying them to screw us over. And let’s not even think about opportunity costs.
A city manager who is part of this process explained it thus, “We know of thousands of people in the same boat as you are. You are just the first ones who have gone all the way through the process legally to enable us to develop a procedure for handling it.” Great. No good deed goes unpunished.
But, in the gripping hand, my dad used to say, “If it was easy, everybody would do it.” Persistence really does pay off…eventually.
The good news is that yesterday, we signed paperwork with the city that should bring this nightmare to an end. I would like to thank the team at the city who have been working with us to resolve this issue. I hope I will soon be reporting on the progress we’re making on Bob Cat.