Cook County Planning & Zoning considers building permit requirements

Cook County Planning & Zoning is tackling some tough questions about what constitutes a building.  Should fabric-covered  hoops set into the ground require a building permit?  What about an RV  or cargo trailer that sits on a property and is only used for  storage?  The Cook County Planning Commission pondered these questions  at their monthly meeting on December 19.

Planning & Zoning Director Tim Nelson said his department has been  seeing more and more hoop structures as time goes by.  Some have dirt floors while others have cement floors.  Some are temporary and unobtrusive; others are situated outside setback limits near roads and  waterways.

Nelson also said more and more people are converting cargo structures into dwellings.

According to the Cook County Zoning Ordinance, un-sided woodsheds or structures under 160 square feet do not need permits, but structures  other than un-sided woodsheds that are over 160 feet do.

One property owner who lives on 20 acres in a no service zone said he stores a boat in the middle of the property under a 10’x20’ structure  comprised of a roof supported by hoops pushed into the ground.  He wondered if he needed a permit for the structure.  “It’s an ‘un-sided  woodshed’ with a boat in it,” he said.

Nelson said such a structure does need a permit.  He said he doesn’t see a problem with people having such structures as long as they meet  setback requirements.

Planning Commissioner Dave Tuttle said he would like to see the public “better educated” on setback requirements and other related issues.   He wondered if people could legitimately store things other than wood inside “un-sided woodsheds.”

Nelson said he knew of an “un-sided woodshed” with a car stored in it.

What about a cargo crate on a piece of property? Tuttle wondered.   Would this be considered a structure and require a permit?  Nelson said this was a gray area in the ordinance.  He said county ordinances  also do not address semi trailers being used for storage.

The county should not require permits for everything people do, Commissioner Jerry Hiniker said.  “I’m just not sure we need to create  paperwork for some of these things,” he said.

A lot of “temporary” structures end up being permanent, Nelson said, and this can affect other things, such as where rainwater ends up.

“I think it could go either way,” Commissioner Alan “D.C.” Olsen said of the issue of permits for such structures.  “I think most of us would not favor permitting these structures,” he said, “but it doesn’t look like we’re going to come to a resolution on this tonight.”

Planning Commission Chair Shari Baker suggested that they put up some easy-to-understand information regarding these issues on the county website.  What if one owner puts up a temporary hoop structure with no  sides, and the next owner of the property puts sides on it, and then  yet another puts a foundation under it and windows in it, calls it a  bunkhouse, and says it’s always been there? she asked.

The state requires septic compliance for any structure requiring a  permit in a shore land zone, Director Nelson said.  A hoop structure could cost a property owner $20,000 if they also had to upgrade their septic system.

Commissioner John Barton suggested that when creating ordinances, they  should make sure they produce the desired effects while avoiding  unintended consequences.

Nelson said he would work on these issues and bring them back to the  Planning Commission for discussion.