Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
The Small Home, Big Decisions series follows Jennifer and her husband, Tyler, as they build a self-reliant homestead on a piece of country property in northeastern Kansas. The series will delve into questions that arise during their building process and the decisions they make along the way. The posts are a work in progress, written as their home-building adventure unfolds.
I always try to look on the bright side of a situation, When my husband and I found out that our property, because of a technicality with the Leavenworth County Planning and Zoning department’s regulations, is zoned as a subdivision, I went to work trying to figure out a positive spin. I won’t lie: It was hard to do.
The parent property previously had a 10-acre chunk divided out of it, so our 40-acre slice from that parent property is, by the county’s rules, a subdivision. We were immediately overwhelmed with the requirements of this zoning: First, we would need to have a survey completed, and then file an official land survey plat with the county. We were provided a list of approved surveyors to work with, and given a list of dates by which we needed to have the plat submitted — along with a check to pay the county to review and, hopefully, approve the plat, of course — in order to be put on the agenda for a county planning commission meeting. We would need to attend the meeting, in case the commission had questions, and then, assuming the plat is approved, we would need to sign the final plat drawings and secure signatures from various county officials and our surveyor. Basically, we had several T’s to cross and I’s to dot.
First, we needed to understand what a plat was, and why it was different from the survey that had already been completed. A land survey plat is a specific type of official survey that shows the divisions of a piece of land and a predetermined set of features; see photo of part of our preliminary plat above. This specific survey is needed because our property was subdivided from a larger piece of land, so was not yet recognized as an official, separate piece of mapped property by the county.
We met with the county planners to try and explain that we weren’t in fact going to be using this property in any way that resembles a subdivided development. We even tried to explain that not requiring a seller to undergo this process before being able to sell a piece of property seemed out of order to us, and that having the buyer have to go back to the title company to adjust the official property name and description after the plat is completed is an unfair burden. But, our pleas didn’t change our reality. So, not having much choice, we set out to make it all happen — and I set out to find a positive spin.
The good news: The land had been surveyed by the previous owner, so all we had to do was have the previous surveying company (Andrew Tanking of Tanking Survey — really easy to work with if you’re looking to build in the area) revisit the property to re-mark the corners (see photo of one of our corner markers below) and then draw up the official land survey plat and submit it to the county. Not a walk in the park by any means, but definitely not nearly as expensive as starting from scratch — one surveyor quoted the cost of a land survey and final plat at $13,000! (Yes, I had a minor heart attack.) It was still expensive, but not nearly that expensive.
The really good news: We met all of our deadlines, wrote all of our checks, and had the honor of officially naming our piece of land. After our plat is approved (we attend the county commission meeting this month), our 40-acre slice of Kansas will officially be recorded under the name of “Tyler and Jennifer’s Playground.”
Some bonus good news: We were at first shocked to learn that, as a subdivision, we would need to have an engineer come to our property to examine and write up a drainage report. I know this doesn’t sound like good news yet, but Tyler and I decided that enough was enough with this whole subdivision situation. Our single-family residence will not affect drainage on a property of this size, and we are not the type of development these rules are meant to regulate. So, we made some phone calls to the county, and got someone to agree to let us write a letter asking for a waiver on this requirement. The letter will also be reviewed at the upcoming county commission meeting — keep your fingers crossed that Tyler and Jennifer’s Playground will be approved, with the requested drainage report exemption! We’ll keep you posted.
Photo by Tyler Gill of Tyler and Jennifer's Playground preliminary plat, drawn by Andrew Tanking with Tanking Survey; photo by Jennifer Kongs of survey corner marker.
Jennifer Kongs is the Managing Editor at MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine. When she’s not working at the magazine, she’s likely in her garden, on the local running trails or in her kitchen instead. You can connect directly with Jennifer and Tyler by leaving a comment below!