The Waiting Game
Let’s just get this over with: NO, we do not have our building permit yet. We are still waiting. I’ve entered the New Year with the realization that our creamery will not be completed by my fantasy deadline of January 15th. I’ve accepted this, but here’s hoping for February 15th, which is more than the original 100 day goal (by 30 days), but we’re sticking to the $100,000 budget no matter what!
I’m glad the holiday season is over. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a scrooge or a grinch, but the holiday season is not very compatible with a construction project. Building a creamery requires the full focus and attention of not only the proprietors, but also the various officials, professionals and vendors associated with the project, and the holidays are both distracting and non-productive. Places and offices have limited hours, or days when they’re totally closed, and people take extra days off on top of that. It’s 2013 now, so let’s get to work!
Permitting with the County of Marin has taken longer than any of us could have imagined. MUCH longer. I naively thought that because we were renovating a tiny portion of a small existing structure located on a private ranch, which is not in the coastal zone or home to any endangered species or habitats and is not even open to the public, that it would be a relatively simple and fast process. Wow, was I wrong! Every time we think our building permit is about to be issued, just when we think it’s so close we can practically taste it, something else comes up.
Right before Christmas another unexpected request came, after we were so SURE that we’d provided everything the County wanted from us. This time they wanted a certification that our lighting and other energy uses met certain “Mandatory Measures” of something called Title 24 of the California Building Code. What??? We had no idea what they were talking about! Okay, so I suppose it’s fair to ask anyone remodeling or building something to demonstrate that their energy use is reasonable. I get it. The problem was that no one told us this until the very last minute, and it was right before the holidays! In all the many visits and phone calls and emails we’d exchanged with County officials, and after following their own County-issued checklist for getting building permits, as well as engaging in a voluntarily pre-permit review ahead of time to make sure we were fully aware of all the possible requirements so that stuff like this would not happen, and working with a licensed design professional – this topic of a separate energy report never came up. So….there we were, right before Christmas, scrambling at the last minute, making phone calls, sending emails and scouring the internet to come up with all the detailed specifications on the various light fixtures, right down the color temperature of the light bulbs. Once we had this info, we found a local “Title 24 Specialist” to take all this data and generate the report that proved our energy use was compliant. That report is 13 pages of mostly-empty forms and cost $250.
They also asked us to provide additional details on the adjacent structures near the creamery and their intended uses, beyond what was already shown in our building plans. Okay, we did that. Also, we had to write a letter stating that if we ever want to expand and hire more employees or be open to the public, we have to meet ADA requirements. This is one reason why many creameries are not open to the public, in case you were wondering. The expense of building a wheelchair accessible bathroom on a working farm is not within the budget of most farmers and ranchers.
And remember the issue of the well never having a permit to operate? After all the tests were done and reports and applications submitted and fees paid for the well to get permitted, the County informed the Thornton’s on December 11th that they would have to install an additional 5,000 gallon water storage tank. This is because according to current Marin County regulations, the Thornton ranch well doesn’t produce enough water. Never mind the fact that their family has been living and farming on this 1,000+ acre ranch since the 1850’s and has never run short of water, and ignore the fact that Marissa’s dad sometimes has to actually turn off the well pump because the existing water storage tanks overflow, and disregard the fact that the ranch used to be home to a 200-cow dairy with a much more water-intensive use than what the new sheep dairy and creamery will consume. So, as a condition for getting a building permit for the creamery, there will be an extra 5,000 gallon water storage tank installed. This is about a $2500 extra expense, a condition we all tried very hard to appeal but were unsuccessful. I guess it could have been worse; they could have made us drill another well.
One GOOD thing that happened over the holidays involves acquisition of our cheese draining tables. In our creamery plans, we included drawings of 2 draining tables whose dimensions would be compatible with both the size of our production area and the layout and location of other equipment. A particularly important feature of these draining tables is that they’d be on sturdy wheels so they could be easily moved around during cheesemaking and for cleaning. With such a small creamery, this is crucial. I also wanted the sides of the table top to be deep enough so that we could easily stack our cheeses 2-high (this is how we press our cheeses) without having to worry about bumping the table and having any cheeses fall on the floor. I got a couple of quotes for some foreign-made cheese tables, but also decided to email my friends and fellow cheesemakers at nearby Cowgirl Creamery to get the contact info for the local fabricator who'd made their draining tables. In a serendipitous turn of events, they are actually in the process of having a new draining table made, and so they are selling me the 2 tables they currently use at their small Point Reyes Station creamery. They have the exact features I wanted and the price is right too! This could not have turned out better, we are thrilled. As Marissa said, maybe Santa was looking out for us, at least a little bit.
I just wish Santa had brought us a building permit!