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.
A driveway seems like an innocent enough project. It’s a space I almost didn’t think about before planning to build one. The driveway was where we shot hoops and played kickball when I was growing up, the stretch of cement I had to roll the trash cans down and back up once each week. At our current house, Tyler and I don’t even have a driveway — just a back alley. Building a new driveway, however, is no small matter. Now, when riding my bike down country lanes and admiring houses set way up on a hill with a long, smooth, gravel path leading to their front doors, I no longer think, “Wow, what a beautiful setting with lovely views of the sunset.” Instead, I muse over how many thousands of dollars that driveway cost.
We have talked with other landowners and house builders about how much their driveway cost. It isn’t out of the question to spend multiple thousands of dollars on a long, winding drive. Before you begin debating the finer points of how much you’re willing to spend on a driveway, you first need to check into what, if any, regulations there are for the entrance you build at the point where your driveway will meet a public road.
Our recommendation? Check who owns the road your driveway will be built from before you purchase a piece of property, as it could get expensive if you must build a wide, cemented entrance with a culvert before you can even begin laying down the rest of your driveway. Sometimes, the city or township oversees the entrance permit process, often the county is responsible, and there are times, as in our case, where the state is the official regulator. A call to your county’s zoning and planning department should provide you with the details you need — even if the county isn’t responsible for granting you an entrance permit, they can tell you who is.
For us, our driveway’s entrance will be on a state-owned highway, which means the Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT) sets the specifics for how wide our entrance must be, whether there must be a culvert, and what types of materials we can use to build that entrance. If we had been more forward-thinking, we would have checked and asked about these specifics from the get-go. But, it didn’t occur to us that a state agency would be in charge of our land’s road access — we just assumed we’d be working with the county. I repeat: You’ll want to look into this ahead of time and find out what the requirements and associated costs will be to put in an access for your property.
The KDOT district office that oversees the highway we bought land on needed us to fill out a 2-page entrance permit application and have the planned entrance site inspected to determine the specifics of how our entrance should be built. Luckily, the man at the district office had already been out to our entrance site before when the previous landowners had called for the same reason. He remembered the situation and had all of the inspection details still on file. We filled out the application, were approved, and now have a year to build our entrance to the state’s requirements. KDOT will inspect the entrance after we have it completed, and assuming all is well, they will assume ownership of the entrance as well as responsibility for its maintenance. All in all, the process was pretty painless, and the state’s requirements aren’t extreme. We still recommend checking into this part of your house-building process before you purchase a parcel of property, however, because the requirements could be much more involved and could require more investment and infrastructure.
After we get the entrance put in, we’re planning to build the house about halfway up the big hill in the center of our land, partly to use the hill to block chilling north winds, and partly to not pay an exorbitant price for a long, winding drive.
If you have a specific question about our process or anything I wrote here, please leave it in the comments below. If you have other experience or tips, leave those as well!
Photo by Jennifer Kongs of the top of our land's hill, looking toward our future driveway entrance.
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!