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Chesapeake Bay Preservation Area


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By Rich in Suffolk, VA on 1/31/2010


Any experiences with CBPA? I'm currently looking at a property where I have to put a driveway through a CBPA. It only requires the CBPA Review Committee but I think even that will require an engineering analysis to prove that the driveway won't contaminate the bay.

The sad thing is that I'm hoping to avoid asphalt and just go with a dirt driveway anyway.


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By Pete in Centreville, VA on 2/1/2010


Rich,


We just completed a house on the Chesapeake. About half the house volume is between the 60' and 100' RPA. Most construction now is outside the 100.' We were grandfathered at the 60. Some of our driveway, but not much, is in the RPA. Do you have an approved site plan?

In our case, the driveway details in our county-approved site plan were very specific and called for gravel throughout. I'm using #57 stone, some neighbors have dressed this on top with pea gravel. I'm considering just choking it with screenings to get a Macadam surface. I've heard some complaints that Macadam results in more gravel "dust" tracked into the house. For the present, I'll let the 57 settle and establish a really firm base.

Our site plan also called for a "grassy swail" to process all water coming off the roof. At the county level, we asked for permission to substitute a rainwater cistern to receive all the roof runoff and irrigate foundation plants. That was OK'd by the head of the zoning office, but my understanding is that the legislature has now taken control from the counties.

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By Rich in Suffolk, VA on 2/4/2010


No site plan. I think that I can't get that until I have CBPA approval for the driveway.

This land has multiple issues. It sits over 700' back from the road and portions may be wetlands. I'm talking to septic guys now and it seems like I will need an alternative septic design, maybe a mound or the Clearstream design.

The driveway starts within the 50' buffer zone and my surveyor quoted me $1,500 to do the analysis. What did you pay per foot for the driveway? I also will need a good bit of fill, as the land is currently too low for a driveway, I think.


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By Pete in Centreville, VA on 2/4/2010


I'd start by talking to the head of the county zoning office to lay out the process/requirements. I'm in Northumberland. The office is very small; very responsive to questions; and will drop out to a site at the drop of a hat to discuss what needs to be done.

Having to use an engineered septic system (Uniflow, EcoFlow (the mound), etc.) has become pretty normal around here. They are not cheap ~ 4x a conventional system. In my case, step one was the site plan, then locating house/barn within the site plan, then going to a septic engineer to design the supporting septic system, and then working out the layout of the drive. We started the septic phase by paying for a septic design using an engineered system (Uniflow). Our septic engineer claimed it was the only option. Once our builder broke ground and got a look at the soil, he recommended we get a second opinion on the septic. That $600 bet with a second septic engineer resulted in a permit for a conventional system and a savings of ~ $18K. It did mean we had to move the detached garage/barn about 6' and resulted in completely re-routing the drive.


Not sure offhand the per/foot cost of the driveway. If I get a chance I'll look it up. Gravel is VERY expensive on the Northern Neck. No quarries close at hand, so transportation costs drive the overall cost up. If your lot is on the Middle Peninsula, I suspect it'll be a lot less.

I'm attaching a copy of the Chesapeake Bay Act. I found that reading and understanding the restrictions in the 50', 60', and 100' allowed me to converse with the local officials and help understand what I needed to do and how.

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By Rich in Suffolk, VA on 2/4/2010


Farmer's Septic told me today that they can do a Clearstream NC3T with drip irrigation system for about $15K plus engineering costs of about $3K. He told me that his company had been doing it for over 20 years with no problems. He did say that he needed the previous soil study/analysis data to give me a better quote. That does make me feel better than the mound system which was producing quotes of about $50K. This 'wet' site is too far from public ditches to use any conventional gravity septic system even with soil drainage management. 

Any idea what electric costs in VA to run to your home? My driveway is 700 ft and the electric will have to go as far if not further. I tried multiple times to get through to Dominion Electric with zero success.

Thanks for the document and the sad news about gravel. Is there a cheaper option for a driveway than gravel? I have a 4wd truck to use during bad weather. I just need to keep costs down until I'm in the house and then upgrade the areas lacking.

What about your well costs? I spoke to a gentleman in my area and he said that everyone uses shallow wells. Shallow = cheap, right?

Thanks so much for your help.


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By Pete in Centreville, VA on 2/4/2010


Costs you cited are in line with what we experienced. We also needed a lift station to pump into a remote location with a UniFlow system. I've never heard of the EcoFlow (usually called a mound system) costing that much. When we started, Northumberland county would only allow UniFlow or EcoFlow. The Clearstream system was added to the list just before we broke ground. 


My builder, Bill St. Louis, contends that many septic engineers just don't push the core sampler deep enough. His solution is to be there when the core is taken and put the extra manual labor into screwing the thing down deeper. In fact, our system is 60" down.  

My driveway is half yours in length, maybe slightly less. Dominion charged ~$500 to install the transformer and hook up the house. Be there when they run the cable if you have definite ideas on where it should go. We had the septic staked and then used Dominion's white flags to mark the route for the cable so it did not run across the septic field. Yep, the crew ignored the flags. But Dominion admitted their error and came back and rerouted the cable at no additional charge. They are hard to get on the line. 

Gravel is still pretty cheap. If you have really wet areas, there is a recycled crushed concrete material that is great for choking and stabilizing the boggy area. It comes in a crusher run for this purpose.  

Shallow wells are characteristic of the middle peninsula. Where we are, average well depths run around 650'. Ours was a couple feet short of that. You can get away for around $8K (two quotes, both 4" diameter). I spent more because I wanted a 6" diameter shaft down to just below the depth of the pump. If a 4" pump fails in a 4" diameter pipe and it jams when they try to get it up, a simple pump replacement turns into a new well. I also wanted a very specific type of lightning arrestor at the well head, and in my case it was a long piping run to the house (all related to site diagram and minimum separation from septic location).

There is a rumor on the Northern Neck that the water is toxic to some foundation plants. I've heard high sulfur and/or salty. Our neighbors complained about it causing skin problems from showering and they are treating theirs (well head ~ 50' from ours). These folks contend that you need a shallow well for good drinking water, cistern water for watering your precious plants, and a deep well to product enough volume for showering, bathing, and laundry. So far I think it is all really bad scuttlebutt, but who knows?

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By Rich in Suffolk, VA on 2/4/2010


What a relief to hear about the electrical costs! I was trying to budget $10K, which I can now move to my driveway. Some states charge by the foot, and I was afraid of the worst.

Do you have any recommendations regarding the foundation? I'm trying to decide between slab and crawlspace. I am in flood zone X from the FIRM maps found on the city website and looked up here: msc.fema.gov. Slab should be cheaper, but I am concerned about the high water table. Would it help to bring in fill and build up the home site? How much time did you wait between excavation/grading and building to allow the land to settle?

From the CBPA maps, my driveway will start inside the 50' buffer zone of the RPA, but there is a paved highway between my driveway and the actual creek that is the problem. I can't see any way that my driveway will impact the CBPA. Any idea what the analysis will require me to perform to mitigate the risk to the CBPA?

Another problem with the driveway is that it will run across current natural gas lines. This is the only driveway I can use due to easements on others' properties. Will they move the natural gas lines or does that burden fall to me?

Thanks again!


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By Pete in Centreville, VA on 2/5/2010


My experience is entirely in Northumberland County. My first stop in this county is the zoning office to see Mr Wellington Shirley or one of the other zoning folks (three or four total). They've walked me through multiple problems like yours, and their inspectors stood behind what I was told to do. Often that has meant hiring surveyors or septic engineers, though.


We are on a crawlspace. House is ~ 14' above the mean high-water mark.  The crawlspace adds another 18" or so. No fill, just crawlspace backfill. We used a crawlspace because it was recommended for this area in the DOE/HUD manual for best construction practices (you can get these on-line). It is 4' high, poured concrete walls, and a 2" concrete floor sloping to the middle with a sump and sump pump. From an energy-efficiency standpoint, it is insulated and both heated and air conditioned. All mechanicals are in this space toward the edge. The HUD/DOE recommendation was also for a whole-house air exchanger, which we found to be a novelty to our HVAC contractor who had heard of them but never installed one before. It was and still is a voyage of discovery.

Pete

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By Rich in Suffolk, VA on 2/5/2010


Right now my driveway is either 12' or 20', wide depending on the fire-dept. response. There is a checklist that states that firetrucks need an access road of 20' wide, but the question is whether that pertains to commercial property/subdivisions only.

I couldn't find the DOE/HUD manual. Do you have a link? Also, why the crawlspace recommendation? Was that based on the high water table? So far I've hoped to do a slab but maybe I need to rethink that.

I talked to Dominion Electric today to get an appt. with their engineer. 700' may be too long for one transformer, so I decided to get more info.

What was your cost for the whole-house air exchanger? And you're telling me that your water heaters and air handlers are all in the crawlspace? That would be worth a lot in terms of $/sq foot that you freed up in the living space.

I'm getting help from inspectors, but unfortunately I'm not in the area yet, so I'm having to do it by phone. I just did a 23-hour round trip to see the property and may have to do another soon...


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By Pete in Centreville, VA on 2/5/2010


Here is a link to the Building America manual for our area:

I used a crawlspace, because my reading indicated it provided the best energy efficiency.

Natural elevation at the building site is 14' above mean high water. The 100-year high is +8 ft above mean high water. Bottom of crawlspace is roughly 11 ft above mean high water. So, it was not a consideration in deciding the crawlspace decision. But it did affect my decision on the size of sump pump to install.  

The Honeywell air exchanger was around $1,500.  

First-floor heat exchanger/air handler, whole-house air exchanger, tankless hot water heater, 90-gal pump surge tank for the well + ducts and plumbing lines are in the crawlspace. There is a second, much smaller second-floor heat exchanger/air handler in the attic.

I'm assuming you are on the middle peninsula and so there are going to be some relatively large differences - the well is the first that comes to mind.

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By Rich in Suffolk, VA on 2/5/2010


Any idea on the cost difference between crawlspace and slab? I've been budgeting for slab and may decide to shift to the crawlspace based on your experience.

Thanks for the link. That will be my light reading for the night!

How did you figure out your natural elevation?

I have heard about the air exchangers, but my budget may not initially afford them.


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By Pete in Centreville, VA on 2/5/2010


No idea offhand.

I rely on RS Means Residential Cost Yearbook to come up with cost information/deltas. Unfortunately, it is in a box between houses or I'd look it up! I would not be caught without this basic reference. I learned to use it when I worked in a civil-engineering office in college - a LONG time ago. It has a couple ways to estimate costs, and then you apply a zip code factor to adjust the national average to your building area. Pretty easy to use, especially the assembly section - kitchens, bathrooms, walks (per foot), driveways (per foot), footings, basement walls, etc. And looking at the assembly sections is a pretty good reference for what ought to go into the item as far as materials, labor, tools and equipment. I would not buy their online version because of its high cost, but it does give you quarterly updates. Finished cost of this house was very close to the original estimate using Means. Sometimes I see them on the shelf at Home Depot/Lowe's and you can order it from Amazon


The site survey contains topo lines by the foot. As you locate your house on the site diagram, you just read it off.

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By Rich in Suffolk, VA on 2/6/2010


I ordered the RS Means book and the 2003 International Residential Code. Chesapeake requires an engineer to seal the plans. I have a friend with a PE for Virginia, so I will ask him to seal the plans if I do the analysis, which will require the Residential Code book.


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By Pete in Centreville, VA on 2/7/2010


Good luck. You're far enough away from Northumberland County that I'm sure much of what I sent will not apply.
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By Rich in Suffolk, VA on 2/7/2010


Another question about this driveway... It starts in the CBPA, so I think I need to perform that engineering analysis immediately to ensure no snags result. However, I can't put in the driveway until I have a building permit, correct? And the building permit first requires a septic permit, a well permit, etc. What land improvements can you perform before a building permit? Can you even cut trees or brush? Most of it will be impossible for me as I'm not sure I can access much of the property without a driveway.
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By Rich in Suffolk, VA on 4/21/2010


To close this thread out, at least from the point of the questions that I had previously asked...

After several months, I'm still not that much more educated about wetlands and CBPA regulations than I started out. There is nearly no way to navigate yourself through the maze of regulations at the state and federal level, much less the individual regulations that each city will have. Anyone dealing with these issues should look around for a good soil scientist. I highly recommend Matt Roth of Roth Environmental (757-814-1048).

I even got quotes from multiple soil scientists and then bargained a bit more (tactic from The Owner-Builder Book) to get what I thought was a very fair price and the individual I thought the most competent. In return, my soil scientist did the work and did investigation to get my site to work for me. He didn't even know all of the specific city's regulations. I'm building in Norfolk and there are five or six different cities that all have different regulations: Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Newport News, Chesapeake, Suffolk, etc. However, he knew who to ask and his recommendations were always topnotch. As a result, I was able to do risk analysis and close on my original schedule, survey with unconfirmed boundaries, submit a site map with unconfirmed boundaries, and more. Without his expertise, I would have had to take each step one at a time with many errors at each step. There is no way I could have done this and I also believe that some individuals would have used each hurdle to squeeze more money out of me.

One bit of advice to save money in the early stages is to call the Army Corps of Engineers (757-201-7652 for this area). They often already know the property if it has a lot of wetlands and if they don't, they may volunteer to come look at it before you buy, and for free. I think this is limited to small lots of maybe five acres or less, but you have to ask to find out. I didn't do this with the property I bought because I was afraid of how much permanent damage would be done if he came out and started calling limits. Instead, I hired a professional who would look out for my best interests.

Wetlands are a very serious issue that can cost a lot of money and turn a beautiful home site into an unbuildable lot. This happened with the first property that I was looking at (mentioned in post #1). Unfortunately, all the affordable lots that I found in this area have wetland problems of some form or another. And I have also heard stories of approved building permits with progress on the build being shut down by the Army Corps of Engineers who find wetlands after construction starts. The city will blame you as you are required to do the investigative work. This happened in the city of Chesapeake.

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