Part 4: Structure - In a Hurry to Wait
On the advice of my contractor who believed that what I was hoping to do was entirely feasible, I submitted a permit application to the City of Winnipeg with the appropriate drawings including: an elevation diagram, a site plan, and both vertical and horizontal cross-section plans of the existing structure and the proposed changes.
In the City of Winnipeg, any modifications to a structure require a permit. Repairs to an existing structure can be done without a permit, or modifications to internal non-load bearing walls. In the context of this project, repairing a damage roof truss by laminating a new truss to it in order to strengthen the structure could be done without a permit. However, as soon as you move from "repair" to "replace" - the moment that you remove a structural component, even if you do so with the intention of replacing it with an identical piece - you need a permit. In my case, with 1 completely broken truss, and 3 more that were cracked and sagging - repairing the structure was no longer possible. the only solution was to replace it. And at that point, why not make a few additional changes in order to prevent water damage? Why not make some adjustments in order to prevent repairing it again in 20 years?
My permit application was accepted and placed into the city's queue on April 20th, 2016. At that time I was given an estimate of 10-15 business days for approval, and told that 75% of all permits are approved within 15 business days.
At what point does "misguided" or "overly optimistic" become simply a lie?
17 business days later (May 13th, 2016) I called the number provided to inquire as to the status of my permit application. The answer? "It is still in the queue, waiting to be seen in order of the date it was received, and it will take another 5-7 business days. We will call you when your permit is ready."
I figured out pretty quickly that both the original estimate I was given, and this updated response are both scripted answers that have zero basis in reality.
21 business days: "In the queue, waiting to be seen in the order it was received, another 5-7 business days. Call you when ready."
25 business days: "In queue, waiting to be seen in order, 5-7 business days. Call when ready."
On the 27th business day (May 30th, 2016) I received an email from zoning. It asked for clarification on 2 points - the overhang on the side-yard, and verifying the elevation that was provided on the submitted elevation diagram. I replied confirming both within an hour of receiving the question.
29 business days: "In queue and open on the zoning desk waiting for additional information, order it was received, 5-7 business days. Call when ready."
34 business days: "In queue, zoning desk, order it was received, 5-7 business days. Call when ready."
Enough. 34 business days after the application was submitted on April 20th, it was now June 8th and there was no end in sight. A couple years ago, the City of Winnipeg consolidated all its telephone services into a single reception call centre. You call their number (311) and they would either answer your question or direct you to where you needed to go. Out of 5 previous attempts I had made to call 311 since it was first brought in, I`ve only ever managed to talk to someone once. Every other time either resulted in a recorded message, me leaving a message and never hearing back, or disconnecting because it wasn`t important enough for me to wait more than half an hour on hold.
25 minutes later I get disconnected because I was at work and had to take an elevator.
My wife decided to try email, and I tried twitter by tagging the City as well as the Mayor (@cityofwinnipeg and @Mayor_Bowman). Within an hour my wife received a response by email asking for her phone number. By twitter - within 5 minutes the City DM'd me with the same question. In 10 minutes I had been forwarded to a specific unpublished complaints number to leave a message (since it was after 5pm and the person there had left for the day).
35 business days: I received a call back from the complaints number who told me they would check into things and to call back if I had not heard anything by Monday.
37 business days: On Monday, June 13th I called back. The permit had passed zoning and was with the planning department, and the complaints person said they would follow up on it again.
38 business days. Tuesday, June 14th 2016 - I received an email from the Plan Examiner. "We will require engineering for the roof revision as its possible that by changing the profile the roof loads transfer differently to the outer walls. Further info required for roof framing."
I was not happy.
I spoke with my contractor, who took it upon himself to try and push it through.
43 business days. Tuesday, June 21st, 2016 - My contractor gives up, he can't get the examiner to approve the plans, plus the examiner sends the following by email as an addendum to that discussion: "Also, I forgot to mention in my previous email that I also require elevations of the front and back of the house. Please show all windows and doors (with dimensions) and provide overall dimensions for the house (length and height of walls). Please also provide your best guess as to what material the window lintels are."
43 business days - more than 2 months after submitting my permit application it is finally looked at, and the response is an offhanded "needs engineering" and an abject refusal to consider the purpose and merits of the plan without it.