Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Play Yard Saga

Our house sits on a strange piece of property.  We are just below the apex of a seriously steep hill and our house rests at an angle close to the back.  We have a large, sloping front yard and a small, narrow backyard.  The builder did a fairly dismal job of landscaping and showing off the house's outside attributes and so it is no surprise that our house stood empty for two years before we walked inside, fell in love and bought it.  

Note that I said "walked inside and fell in love."  The outside was no love story.  When we started to look for a larger home, a big yard and a place to build an outdoor ice rink were high on our list of priorities.  As we stared out the window at the tiny plot of land in the back of this great house, and the enormous sloped and unusable space in the front, we hesitated and ultimately left.  The HOUSE was perfect but the property was not.  

Two months later, we found that we couldn't get the house out of our heads.  Every other house that we looked at failed to compare and so we convinced ourselves that the kids didn't need a big back yard and maintaining an ice rink is way too much work anyhow.  We made an offer which was promptly accepted.

For three years, we decorated, we fixed a serious water problem (we hope) and we settled into the neighborhood.  But this year, we decided to tackle the outside.  We started by walking our property line and hiring a Landscape Designer to give us suggestions.  We noticed that our previously ignored side yard was pretty large and we noticed that our backyard was actually bigger than it looked.  Our designer put together a gorgeous plan.  We would level the side and the back yards with retaining walls and then create a garden in the back and a play yard on the side.  

I've already written about the garden, but let me now introduce you to our play yard:

The photos do not do it justice - it's actually a lot bigger than it looks.

There's plenty of room for multiple kids to be outside kicking balls, shooting pucks and throwing lacrosse balls.  We used astroturf instead of real grass so the kids could really play without fear of destroying the yard or having to wait while we watered.  

It all seemed so simple... and yet creating this play yard was the hardest part of our Great Garden Project and an incredibly long and arduous saga.  

It all started the night after the contractors dug up the existing trees and shrubs and relocated them to other areas of our property.  That afternoon, the back hoe started removing the large boulders that lined our property and a trench was dug to start laying the retaining wall.  Gordy and I went to bed and fell asleep thinking about the fabulous play yard and the many hours of outdoor fun our children would soon have... while unbeknownst to us, across town, Reed, our wonderful Landscape Designer, was frantically searching through his file, having suddenly remembered something about a water easement and he found himself unable to sleep until he was positive that our play yard wasn't in violation of some city code.  

Reed did not sleep that night.

Instead, he found the document that he was looking for.  Our plot plan had the unmistakable dotted outline of a water easement, running right through our proposed play yard.  When we started the project back in the fall, we were in the "maybe" phase and then months went by during which we travelled for Thanksgiving and hosted Christmas at our house.  I lived through two mouth surgeries and their wretched aftermath and we made the crazy fast decision to have Henry switch schools which involved a whole lot of test taking, application writing and interviewing.  Not to mention that it never stopped snowing all winter long.  The last thing on our minds had been our garden project and so when things calmed down and we started thinking play yard again, no one remembered the water easement that had showed up on a plot plan seven months before.

Until the night that Reed went through the plan in his head and everything had to come to a complete stop.  

The next morning, the workmen stopped work on the play yard while Reed rushed to town hall to find some answers.  It took a few days, but what we learned was that our neighbors who live behind our house, get their town water from a private pipe that ran from the main pipe on our road, through our side yard and into their backyard.  The city didn't own the pipe and therefore didn't care what we built on top of it.  But it's an official easement which means that if something happens to the pipe and it needs to be repaired, we have to give our neighbors access to dig it up and replace it.  

It was clear that we were allowed to build on top of the easement, but ethics demanded that we make our neighbors aware of our plans and assure them that we were willing to allow them to rip up our play yard if they ever needed access to their pipe.  It would be a financial disaster whether or not there was a play yard or the existing slope covered in expensive trees and shrubs.  Gordy and I figured that we'd rather make use of the property while we waited for said disaster to strike.

Armed with the official letter from City Hall plus a copy of the play yard plans, I marched down the hill to my neighbor's house and knocked on the door.  It sounds easy now - relative to the drama that would happen next - but the situation was pretty tense.  It took a few days for our very kind and understanding neighbors to do their own research and for an accord to be established.  

The play yard was back on!

The play area was about 75% finished when Gordy called me from work.  Wouldn't it be a great idea if we put a kick-back wall up on the end of the play yard, he asked.   I wasn't so sure.  A wall?  Really?  

What on earth would that look like and did we really need it?  

While I talked to the contractor, Gordy went on the internet and pulled up some photos and plans.  Within days, the construction crews had begun work on the 7 foot by 8 foot wooden wall on the right of our play yard, opposite the street.  On the day that the cement footings were installed and the wall erected, our side neighbor left an alarming message on our answering machine.

Our kick-back wall, while hidden by a tree or two, was ridiculously close to her kitchen and bedroom windows.  She said that it obstructed her view and that it was extremely upsetting to her.  This I could tell, because her voice was cracking on the message and she sounded quite frantic.  I picked up the phone with a sigh.  Our neighbors are all older.  Ours are really the only children on the street and I know how much older people - or any people for that matter - hate change.  I also know that none of the people living around our house were happy when a builder bought and tore down the ranch house that was on this lot and built a larger, more imposing structure in it's place.  

But since we've moved into the house, I would say our interactions with the neighbors have been cordial and relaxed.  I called this same complaining neighbor before we had our trees cut down in December.  I wanted to give her a chance to get used to the idea that our yard would no longer be a forest and I also wanted to let her know that some of the trees that we would be removing looked like they were on her property when, in fact, they were on ours.  I also offered to (and did indeed) pay to have a few of HER trees removed - sickly things that were close to the two property lines and which needed attending.

I also showed her our play yard plans (minus the kick back wall) ahead of time and we talked about how our retaining wall would effect her property (It wouldn't).  From the get-go, she wasn't particularly happy.  She stopped by often to check on the workers' progress and she worried aloud about what impact the wall would have on rain water coming onto her property (which is down hill from ours).  We went out of our way to assure her that no additional water would reach her property.  We added a gutter between our driveway and the play yard so that water would be funneled away from her yard and we also added extra plants along our shared property line to catch rain water - all to great additional costs.  We also promised to add mulch and pay attention to the reach of future sprinkler heads... we were WAY accommodating, if I do say so myself.  

And she probably thought she was too... until the great wooden wall appeared.

The below photo shows the view from our neighbor's side yard - after we moved our kick-back wall from the right side to the left side.  

Yep.  That's right.  We moved that cemented-in, extremely heavy, well-built wall.  But first, I called our neighbor back to hear her complaints and try to soothe her hurt feelings.  And that, my friends, is when I was hung up on.  I've never really been hung up on before.  And if I have, it was probably by a relative who knows that I will continue to love them anyway.  It was very shocking.

An hour later, the neighbor appeared at my side door.  She had calmed down and was ready to talk.  And talk she did!  I heard a mouthful about the ugliness of the kickback wall and how awful it looked from both her kitchen and her bedroom windows.  She was still upset about the retaining wall and she couldn't believe that we had gone through with this play yard at all.  But what REALLY angered her was the fact that children (CHILDREN!) would be outside playing all day and all night, right outside her window and they would be hitting balls against the kick-back wall and it would be so extraordinarily noisy!  

And that's when I lost my patience.  While I had listened to her tirade and made mental notes about how we would have to move the wall since no one should have to look at something they hate every day while they eat breakfast, I wasn't so understanding about the noise issue.  We have children and children play outside and while they are outside playing, they make noise.  That is life.  End of discussion.  And I also objected to her proclamation that our children would be out there making noise All Day, as if they didn't go to school or activities.  They should be so lucky to be able to play outside all day long.

But the rest of her points were valid and so when Gordy, aka Mr. Let's Build A Kick Back Wall, got home from work, I sent him out to inspect the wall from our neighbor's yard.  He agreed that the view was less than amazing. 

And he agreed that it was larger than it looked on the plans.  He also agreed to be the one to call the contractor and ask her to move the wall to the opposite side of the play yard and he also agreed to contact those already harrassed back yard neighbors to tell them that the wall would now be visible from THIER property.  If that doesn't prove to you how much Gordy wanted this kick-back wall, I don't know what will.  Personally, I was ready to scrap the whole thing and donate it to someone for fire wood.

The very next day, the wall was ripped from it's cement posts and moved to the other side of the field.  Doing so delayed the turf installation for a few days and the extra work cost us more money, but we felt that it was the right thing to do and that our neighbor would be happy once more.  So we were surprised when the Building Inspector showed up - curtesy of the same neighbor to whom we were being so very generous.  All work was stopped once again, while the Building Inspector got out his tape measure and wrote down the heights of our rock walls and fence.  Everything was within code and perfectly acceptable and the Building Inspector couldn't have been nicer or more receptive.

Luckily the saga ended there.  Our kindly backyard neighbors were fine with the hind view of our kickback wall.  Their house is far away from the wall and they can't see it from their windows.  We also told them that once the wood has cured, we plan to stain or paint it green, so the structure does a better job blending into the trees.  

Our side neighbor is happy, too - at least I hope.  She had her say and it paid off.  She no longer has to seethe when she looks out her window and she now has the Building Inspector on her speed dial.  What's even better is that we aren't allowed to walk on the astro turf for a whole week while the glue dries, so she has a seven day respite before the endless, annoying noise of children playing disturbs her solitude.  

As for us, surely we will be awarded the Good Neighbor Award for being understanding and moving that wall.  

We did receive a very nice thank you note from our side neighbor, thanking us for moving the wall and for being understanding and apologising for getting upset.  We thought that was very decent and so we have stopped grumbling in her general direction.

I'm sure this is why some people move to multiple-acre properties in the country.  Living on top of people creates problems, doesn't it?

1 comment:

Lisa @ The Golden Spoons said...

Oh my!! What drama!! Fortunately, we do live out in the country with quite a bit of land and our closest neighbors are my in-laws! Sorry you had to go through that, but glad it all worked out!

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