Tuesday 10 July 2012

Garage Wars: A New Hope

When we purchased our house nearly two years ago we knew that the garage and carport both needed replacing. Our house is on a corner block and we have 2 driveways into the property. The detached single garage in the backyard has a driveway onto one street and the carport is attached to the house with a driveway that exits exactly on the corner. Both are in poor repair - the asbestos garage has cracked panels and the door doesn't work well. The carport roof is rusting and falling apart. What we didn't know was it was going to take over 6 months just get council approval to replace these - let alone build anything.

The old garage
Being a good procrastinator I did not start doing actual work on this until several weeks after Timothy was born. It was then I discovered I needed council approval to demolish and construct a garage - I also discovered that council would not give yes or no based on questions over the phone or in person, they really wanted me to submit a development application (DA). Fortunately the shed company we chose would (for an extra fee) provide all the documentation for council.

We decided not just to replace the carport and garage. This project would include a replacement, stencilled, driveway going all the way to the road (the current one is old, cracked and ends at the property boundary not the road) as well as a water tank connected to the laundry and toilets. This was also important as we discovered (after moving in) that the storm water all drained into a pit under the backyard and this was not working well as the drainpipes overflowed in heavy rain. As both our street levels are higher than most of the property this required a pit - it is most likely 50 years old and full of silt which is causing the drainage issues (especially with the wet summer in Sydney in 2011/12).

As the carport is right next to the house we decided to replace that with a single garage first and demolish the asbestos garage later in 2012 - so we could get a large backyard. The new garage was going to be a very wide (at 4.2m) single garage as a double garage else would not fit next to the house. The first DA went into council just before christmas and it was picked up by council in on 3 Jan 2012 (first one they looked at by the DA number). Shortly afterwards council asked to modify the plans. They had two concerns. One was the driveway onto the corner was not in compliance with Australian standards (and therefore dangerous) and the second issue was the drainage plan was not complete.

Plan A - Simple...until council was involved
It is clear we (or the shed company) needed to update the drainage plan - this was relatively easy as we just added the new water tank and the connections to that. The fix for the driveway was harder. The council suggestion to fix this was to turn the garage around and use the other driveway. However, we did not like this as this would have replaced one corner with a bad corner in the backyard - it would have been legal for a turning circle but a real bugger to back out of. It would also have ruined our backyard by taking up about one third with the driveway. I was rather annoyed by this as the driveway was not on the original plan and we were not told of the driveway non-compliance when we purchased the house.

I did speak to the council contact to try and understand their issues and suggest a few options so to hopefully save time. The guy from council was most unhelpful and said he had only just been given the project and he would never commit to any answers. A co-worker suggested turning the garage to go directly out to the street (90 degrees instead of 180 degree turn). This seemed a better option. I called council again as I was concerned removing the tree would be a problem but they said it was generally ok to remove trees but would not commit to an answer about moving the garage 90 degrees. We submitted again to council on 18 Jan.
Plan B - Just move everything 90 degrees
Council did not get back to us until 13 Feb which was only several days before we were due to leave on our three week USA trip. They indicated there was not enough room between the garage and the property boundary for a car to fit (unclear from my phone calls and buried in their council rules). They also did not like the tree to be to removed without a aborist report - something else they did not indicate to me in their phone call. On top of this they asked for us to reply in 2 weeks or we would have to cancel the DA. 

At this point we realised we needed to go away and dream it all up again. After a chat to Mum & Dad (who were visiting just before we left for our trip) we came up with a basic redesign which was to replace the old garage and demolish the carport and old driveway. However, there was no time to do this before we left so I asked for an extension. Council refused saying that we had already had done one change (this was the third thing they had not indicated in their previous communications). So I tried to get things organised in the day before we left. In the taxi on the way to the airport council indicated that the changes we were proposing were "too large" and a new DA was required - though they would refund most of our DA money. At that point I gave up and decided to enjoy our holiday. To say I was pissed off at council was an understatement - luckily our trip to San Francisco and Seattle was a welcome distraction.

The distraction only lasted for a time. After 2 weeks in the USA I started thinking about the garage again and decided to start enquiries with the shed company and get the new plan (Plan C?) underway and to (hopefully!) learn from the lessons of the past 2 months. This new plan involved doing most of the work in one go instead of several stages as originally planned. We would demolish both the garage and carport, replace the garage with a double tandem garage, put the tank where the carport was, remove most of the concrete of the carport slab and the old driveway, extend the side fence to go through to to near the front door and remove the fence on the patio. This plan also meant a lot more money (probably double the first plan's $15K).

Plan C - just make the project bigger
After getting back from the USA I was also able to work out with our plumber that the tank could drain out to the street via a pit and this could also be used for the garage. The new DA was submitted to council on 19 March 2012. Council took until late April to get back to us (they had gone as far as notifying our neighbours of the development which contributed to 2 of the weeks). Their main issue this time was the drainage from the garage to the street and they wanted us to get an engineer to design a system for us. Instead I asked our plumber to have a look and he said a charged line would work ok - and council seemed happy with this. Council then raised a concern with the height of the garage floor above the ground level (it could not be more than 500mm above the natural ground level). So we changed the plans for this and unfortunately this meant that our neighbours would need to be notified again - 2 more weeks gone!
Plan C version 2 - Approved...sort of...
With the re-notification of our neighbours it meant we would mis the deadline for a garage price rise in mid June! Arrrrgh! Eventually in late June 2012 council approved our modified plans. A new hope? I did not get too excited as the DA was approved with conditions - mainly we needed to get a storm water engineer to design a storm water system - without which we could not get a construction certificate.

I thought we were getting closer, however this (as well as our next holiday) will delay construction...

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