My Observatory Odyssey – Part 2

Harry Keller 80By Harry Keller
Former ETCJ Science Editor
& President of SmartScience

This was to be the first of many skirmishes with the county officials.

May 4, 1:35 PM. You discover laws, rules, and regulations in strange ways sometimes. Property in the mountains of San Bernardino county has a number of rules. One set of rules has to do with it being in a FS-1 zone. That FS stands for fire safety, and one is the highest danger. We are tasked with removing weeds and low branches every year to comply.

We installed our rather plain and unassuming tool shed up near the top of the property so that it would not bother the neighbors.

All weeds must be less than four inches in height. All plant debris, such as leaves, must be no more than two inches thick. Trees taller than 12 feet must have all branches below six feet above the ground removed. You must gather up all of this debris and remove it. As you might imagine a wild 1/4-acre lot has plenty of this stuff. We decided that bringing our tools up 95 miles for every trip was silly and purchased a tool shed made from UV-resistant plastic. 

We installed our rather plain and unassuming tool shed up near the top of the property so that it would not bother the neighbors. One neighbor had no problem with it. We checked. The other was a timeshare, making checking rather difficult. We were very pleased to have a place to store the tools we used very often on our new land. The work involved in cleaning up the land was great exercise out in the clean mountain air. Things were wonderful in our little slice of heaven.

Then, we received an official notice from the county. We were not allowed to have any structures on our land. That tiny shed was considered a violation. We would be fined if we did not remove it right away. Of course, I called the county for “clarification.” I pled ignorance and explained that I lived 95 miles away and simply wished to keep some tools there. They were oh so sympathetic but refused to budge, although they did give me an extra 30 days to remove the shed. The problem seems to be that I did not have a building permit.

… even an approved building permit doesn’t count. It must be issued.

Let me explain that I had applied for a building permit, but that wasn’t adequate. It had to be issued. If you work in this area, you know that even an approved building permit doesn’t count. It must be issued. This was to be the first of many skirmishes with the county officials. I eventually learned that they don’t even always agree on the rules, but more of that will come later on.

If they objected to that tiny tool shed, what would they do with a 10’x10′ observatory? How did they even notice the shed in the first place? It was far from the road and way up the hill. I asked about that. Someone had complained. Really?!  This town is known for its laissez faire approach to life. It has an active barter economy, and most sales are in cash. People just do not bother other people unless they do something truly egregious, and then they usually take it up with the other person first. I never found out who the tattler was.

The notice contained pictures of the shed from close up. I asked how these were obtained without trespassing. The answer was that there were not any “no trespassing” signs on the property. The local hardware store provided the necessary signs, which we quickly installed. A few weeks later, some had been torn down. The locals do not like these signs. So, we bought some more and brought along a ladder this time so that we could nail them much higher up. That did the trick. The signs also help you in the event of people hurting themselves on your property and deciding to sue. (I warned you that we would encounter detours of detours.)

So, we gathered our resources and negotiated purchase of a second lot.

In the meantime, we are pushing forward with our building permit, and the lot next door comes on sale. We were struggling with the siting of our cabin and saw that adding that unbuildable lot would make our problems much smaller. So, we gathered our resources and negotiated purchase of a second lot. We now had just short of 1/2 acre, but we could not build anywhere near the boundary of the two lots unless we merged them. Okay. Sounds easy. Well, we had to have the land surveyed and a plan for merging submitted. We also had to pay a seriously hefty fee and wait for the country bureaucracy to turn its wheels.

You may recall that we are working on a building permit for our cabin so that we can put up our observatory before the cabin is finished.

To be continued in part 3.

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