When is a remodel not a remodel? That question has been tugging at the corners of my mind (if a mind has corners) since I attended a North Coast Advisory Council meeting a couple of weeks ago. There, the council voted 9-0, with three abstentions, to recommend against a minor use permit involving the demolition of a 588-square-foot home on Andover Place and construction of a 3,335-square-foot residence a couple of miles away on Sherwood Drive.
The project, involving the transfer of a water meter from the old site to Sherwood, was described as a “remodel,” a term that seemed to confuse several members of the audience.
(For the record, Merriam Webster’s online dictionary doesn’t even recognize the word as a noun. It’s a verb that means to “alter the structure” of something; not to tear one thing down and build something completely different.)
There are numerous terms that just don’t fit what they purport to describe. Musicians still release “albums,” even though new music these days seldom comes in cardboard sleeves with snazzy artwork and printed lyrics. We still “dial” our friends’ numbers, even though phones with circular dials are pure nostalgia. And the football Giants and Jets don’t even play in the state of New York, let alone the city.
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Still, the labels persist.
The use of the word “remodel” in the case of the water meter transfer is a little more complicated.
For one thing, two entities — San Luis Obispo County and the Cambria Community Services District — must approve the action, and the two don’t always use the same language.
“I think what we’re seeing there is a confusion in terminology between the two agencies,” county Supervisor Bruce Gibson said.
The county, for its part, doesn’t describe the action as a remodel.
“We’re just looking at land-use required to issue a permit for demolition of an old house and construction of a new house,” Gibson said. “As far as the county is concerned, those are two separate things.”
The county isn’t involved in approving the transfer of the water meter, just the construction, Gibson said; the transfer is under the CCSD’s purview. And sure enough, it’s the CCSD that uses the term “remodel” to describe the process. According to the agenda from the North Coast Advisory Council meeting, “the new building (on Sherwood Drive) is classified by CCSD as a remodel/reconstruction, and will be served by a transfer of water meter from the Andover parcel.”
There’s a reason for this, CCSD public information officer Tom Gray explained. When a house at one site is demolished and the water meter transferred to a new residence, the homeowner must pay a fee if the new building has more water fixtures than the old one. For instance, if the original house had five fixtures and the new one will have 10, the homeowner would get credit for the original five fixtures and pay a fee only for the additional five.
You’d have to pay the same fee if you were simply adding five fixtures to an existing home — in other words, remodeling it. Hence, the term “remodel.”
“The CCSD treats transfers and demolition/new construction in the same way it treats remodeling projects on an existing residence,” Gray explained, adding that he went through the process himself when he demoed a home in 2010. “In all these cases, it charges an ‘impact fee’ based on the net new fixtures.”
The form used to apply for a CCSD permit in such cases isn’t called a “remodel” application, but has a more precise title: Remodel/Addition/Reconstruction/Change of Use. It’s an application for water and sewer service, not for construction — which, as mentioned earlier, is under the county’s purview.
Clearly, the Andover-to-Sherwood transfer doesn’t fit the definition of that first word, “remodel.” But, unfortunately, that’s the shorthand officials have generally used in discussing the project — which has caused a good deal of confusion. Wouldn’t it have been less confusing (and more accurate) to call it a “reconstruction,” since that’s in the title, too?
There’s almost always a good alternative to speaking in ambiguous or confusing terms. Why not speak simply and clearly? It’s always better to be understood than to leave people scratching their heads.
Note: The proposal is making its way through the permitting process; it is scheduled for a county Planning Department hearing Friday, Nov. 7. If approved and appealed, it would go before the supervisors; if appealed again, it would go to the California Coastal Commission.
If you go
What: Cambria Planning Department hearing
When: 9 a.m. Friday, Nov. 7
Where: Board of Supervisors Chambers, County Government Center, 1055 Monterey St., San Luis Obispo.
Proposal: 2090 Sherwood Drive project to construct a two-story, 2,799 square-foot home with 536-square foot attached garage. Project, which would be set back 3 feet from the side property line and 5 feet from Harvey Street, would disturb the entire 5,073-square foot parcel, using 435 transfer-of-development credits. Project’s water service transferred after demolishing a small home at 2194 Andover Place and retiring that lot and another lot elsewhere.