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You finally found the perfect lot nestled in the woods or perhaps it’s along a bubbling brook. Deer gathering in a nearby field, Canada geese landing in the pond, peace and quiet. It’s everything you had been looking for. You have picked out a beautiful log cabin with a cathedral ceiling and it will situated “just so” to maximize the morning sun. Now what. Well, now it’s time to get into the details and like a famous person once said, “The Devil is in the details”. What information do I need for a building permit? Where should the well go? Once it’s done, should it be tested and for what? What type and size of sewage system should I have? Am I sure that any type of sewage system can be built on the site? I’ve heard of New York City DEP storm water permits, do I need one? What other permits might I need and from whom do I need them?

All good questions that deserve an answer. Unfortunately, each and every site is different and will have a different set of answers. The key to it all is looking at each potential lot with a discriminating eye. Yes, the home site is important but to complete the package, you must consider utility, driveway, sewage system, and well locations. The utilities are probably the easiest. You can usually bring electric and telephone to just about anywhere. The only question is cost. Check with the local electric and telephone providers to see how far they will bring lines in for free and what your part will cost.

A building permit is obtained from the village or town Building Inspector also known as a Code Enforcement Officer. You will need to pay a fee and fill out an application, which will vary from municipality to municipality. You will also need to present a copy of the building plan stamped and signed by an architect or professional engineer for the building inspector’s review. Steele Brrok has a catalog of available house plans. If you have plans that are already digitally prepared, and need to be upgraded to local codes, Steele Brook can provide this service. Steel Brook also provides house foundation plans.
The driveway is something that is usually easy to visualize. Depending on your location, you may need a driveway or “curb cut” permit for entrance on county or state roadway. The NYS Department of Transportation limits the slope of a driveway entering a state of federal highway to 10% and appropriate sight distance along the highway. Check with the appropriate agency to see what restrictions might be placed on your driveway location. In any event, try to keep the slope to a minimum for ease of winter safety and maintenance. Steep driveways tend to wash out with some frequency and make plowing snow difficult.

Now, what about the NYCDEP rules in the New York City Watershed? They have a few rules regarding house and driveway locations that you will need to know. First, you can’t build a house within 300 feet of a reservoir. Since they already own most of the land around the reservoir, this isn’t a big concern for most. If you plan to build within 100 feet of a stream or wetland, you will be required to get an “Individual Residential Stormwater Permit” from the NYCDEP. There are lots of rules regarding driveways and roads within 100 feet of a stream or wetland. If you are within 100 feet of a stream or wetland with your driveway, don’t pave your driveway and you don’t have to worry about it.

Water wells can go just about anywhere you can get a drill rig. It’s a good idea to keep it close to the house to minimize the amount of digging you will need to do to bring water from the well to the house. You must also keep the well more than 100 feet from the sewage system or 200 feet if the well is directly downhill from the sewage system. You want to place your well such that there will be minimal chance of contamination. You also need to consider the visual impact of the well. You will have a 6-inch pipe sticking out of the ground about 1½ feet so place the well in an area that you can use landscaping to hide it. A local well installer may have past history in the area and be able give you an idea how deep you'll need to go

Building the sewage system can be a little tricky. Depending in whose jurisdiction you will be building, there will be differing permit and building requirements. The Ulster County Health Department permits all new sewage systems in Ulster County. There is permit fee and they should be contacted for additional requirements. Delaware and Greene Counties outside the watershed are under the jurisdiction of the New York State Health Department’s district office in Oneonta or the local Code Enforcer. The NY Health Department permit the “alternative” residential designs not in the watershed. Of course, you can’t forget the NYCDEP in the watershed areas. The NYCDEP permit all septic systems in the watershed.

There are so many variables in building a sewage disposal system for your house, it would take quite a while to describe them all. For instance, what size septic tank? Where should the leach field be placed? What’s a leach field? What type of design should be used? The type of system built will depend on a soil test that determines the depth of usable soil and percolation rate. Usable soil is permeable and will allow wastewater to percolate through. The percolation test (perc test) tells you how fast the water will travel through the soil. If you need to have a soil/perc test, get it done by an Engineer, Architect or someone under their direction right from the start. Why? Because all septic systems in New York must be designed by an Engineer or Architect. They need to inspect the site and determine the soil conditions prior to preparing a design. Typically an Architect of Engineer will not use someone else's soil analysis. Therefore you might as well have the same analysis used for your design. Since an Engineer or Architect is not motivated by selling property or the scope of construction, you are also more likely to get a more accurate soil analysis and site evaluation

So there you have it, the nuts and bolts of getting your dream home built. It may seem a little daunting at first but it isn’t as hard as you might imagine. If the challenge doesn't appeal to you, then hire a builder to handle all of the details for you. That’s what they do best. If you’re ready for the challenge and have questions, the utilities and agencies are usually more than happy to help. Probably your best source of general information is your local building inspector. He usually is currently working, or in the past worked in the building profession and has been down this path many times before. I strongly reccommend that you utilize the slow December-April time period to aquire your septic, building plans, building permit and cost estimates. Are you ready for DEVELOPER 201 ?