When a homeowner first has the idea to add a cottage or office or art studio or addition of any kind, it is an exciting, creative brainstorm about how you can re-imagine your living space. The next set of thoughts aren’t nearly as fun. They are usually something along the lines of “do I have to get this permitted?” and “what am I allowed to do?”. The de facto assumption being that odds are stacked against you, someone’s going to make it a problem and the whole thing is going to be a nightmare. It’s a perfectly fair emotional reaction because there is a good deal to familiarize yourself with – zoning terminology, concepts, procedures…etc.
However it’s typically not as painful as the reputation would have you believe. We have always successfully obtained permits for our clients and have two recommendations on the approach to take. The first is to treat permitting as part of the creative design process. It’s the difference between telling the city I want to do “x” and having them tell you “no”, and telling the city I want to do “something like x” and having them help you figure it out. Many times a planner will have better ideas that what you originally thought of. They do after all, spend all day looking at hundreds of lots and building footprints and problem solving design proposals.
The second is to learn what exemptions requests can be put through and keep an open mind to the path of least resistance between a structure, detached cottage and an addition. In the grand majority of cases there is a way to get the functionality of what you had originally envisioned even if the form changes. If you can’t do a detached structure, you might be able to extend off the back but keep the feel of a detached space. Or if you can’t get as much square footage as you would have liked in the cottage, you might be able to make up for it with a shared structure between the cottage and the main home.
What we’ve learned is that 95% of the time there is a path through city regulation to deliver our clients what they are looking for and we’re most successful at getting there in a timely manner when we enlist the city as partners in the process.