Zoning and building permits are both good ideas. They keep Vermont pretty so New Yorkers can enjoy it. They also help ensure public health and safety. Worthy objectives.
The problem is that most zoning codes can’t distinguish a nice little cabin for relaxing in the woods from a vinyl-sided shack inhabited by a band of misfits running a meth lab. But while the literal interpretation of codes can sometimes prevent you from doing nice things, it can also allow you to do what you want if you play by those literal rules. My solution was to read the zoning code very carefully and to find a building classification that literally matched what I was building. My local code defines an “accessory building” in a way that includes my little cabin, specifically “a shed that lacks utilities.” (Note that some building codes do not allow accessory buildings to be constructed on sites that do not include a residence. However, my code does.) So, I applied for a building permit for a “10′ x 16′ shed” and that permit was issued without any problems. (Never just ignore the permit issue. Your municipality can issue whopping fines…usually several hundred dollars per day…and you could potentially have a problem selling your property.)
When a nosy neighbor (who really had to go out of her way to even find my project) objected that it didn’t look like any shed she had seen before, I invoked Websters:
|1.||a slight or rude structure built for shelter, storage, etc.|
|2.||a large, strongly built structure, often open at the sides or end.|
Without taking offense at “slight” or “rude” I happily accepted the definition of a “structure built for shelter, storage, etc.” as befitting my project. My kids thus dubbed my cabin “Le Shed.” There are actually some very nice precedents of writing sheds and garden sheds.
A garden shed is displayed at the top of this post. Here is a nice writing shed built by Michael Pollan and described in his book A Place of My Own.
A final note on building permits. You may not need one. In many municipalities no permit is required for an accessory building of less than 120 square feet (sometimes this is 100 square feet). At one point when navigating the building permit issue, I considered a pair of 100 square-foot structures, each on their own boulder, possibly with a bridge connecting them. In some ways I’m sorry I got my shed permit as that would have been a fun approach.