Know Your Ordinances (A Home Journey Post)
This post is part of a series that chronicles the restoration of The Historic Thomas House. You can read the entire series here.
Towns Have Ordinances
We're still very early in this process. We haven't broken any ground or demolished any walls. From what I understand, historic preservation is a slow moving train, especially if done right. What they don't show you in all those home reno shows are people sitting in offices talking about city ordinances. Those are the rules and regulations that outline what can be done on the land or to the properties in the city limits.
When I left Los Angeles, I was under the impression that we could do whatever we wanted to do on our Eatonville property because it's privately owned. With our family in agreement, we started to do things to get people interested in the restoration project. But we have had to scale back or stop activities completely due to some of the town by-laws.
Our "Sign" Problem
The first thing I did when I moved back was to create a sign. I wanted something you could easily see from the road, and had space to advertise event dates. I purchased a large banner, 2 ft x 8 ft, through the company Vista Print.
In my mind, this made it official- people would inquire about what was going on. I expected a lot more traffic to my site and calls to my phone. I don't know if either of these things really happened, but people did take notice. Excitement from the people of Eatonville came in many different forms, including Code Enforcement.
The town of Eatonville has a city ordinance that bans banners. Although I had been calling it a "sign", it was really a "banner", and it was illegal. Signs are categorized as permanent fixtures. I could still have something to show upcoming events, but the structure had to be permanent and not attached to the building. So we had it up for a few weeks, and now the house is bare again.
Best Business Practices
After we put up the sign, we started having meet-ups in the front yard of the house. The main reason was for community involvement; we were also able to sell some Black & Bookish merchandise. And people started coming. We started to hear mention of our home at Town Hall meetings and out in the community to our neighbors. I haven't lived in the town for almost 10 years, but people now see me and ask me about what we're doing with the house.
We decided our next big step would be to have a community-based fundraiser. We inquired to the town planner about using our outdoor space for such an event and the town said no.
According to the laws of the town, we cannot sell products on our property or hold business-type events. Even the book clubs were pushing it. We have a building but no building permit or certificate of occupancy, which includes the use of the yard. We would have to have our fundraiser somewhere else. I also decided to move my bookclubs to another location, to avoid any other issues that would come up. We'll start back up in August with a new location and new books to review.
Knowing your ordinances will save you time and money.
As of right now, my banner cannot be used. We have yet to purchase a new one that is up to code. I'm more than bummed about it, but it reminds me to make sure I'm playing by the rules before I jump right in. I'll have to buy another sign, which will be more expensive than my banner and will probably have to be moved due to future construction. As with finding a new place to hold events, people are more than willing to help and we have found some prospective options. Again, some of these options will cost us more money or time, depending on how we move forward.
My advice to you is to ask as many questions as you can and then decide how best to move forward. These two instances were small, but many code enforcement issues are not. You don't want to dig, or remove, or add anything that could get you in big trouble. KNOW YOUR ORDINANCES.
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About the author
Black & Bookish is the brainchild of Antoinette Scully, educator and lover of all things bookish. She is on a quest to guide the authors of tomorrow into the bookstores of today. When she's not hanging out on line, she's living it up as the mother of two rambunctious girls and wife of a local filmmaker.