Brickbat: Fool Me Twice


Cement mixer
Simon Thomas /

Michael Zydeck was just about to pour cement on a new driveway for a house for his daughter when East Lansing, Michigan, officials told him they'd erroneously issued a permit for a driveway that larger than allowed in that neighborhood. So he went through the process again, got another permit, though not for a driveway as large as he wanted, and had the driveway poured. Officials now say they screwed up again when they issued the second permit and the driveway is still too large. They've told him he has to fix it or face jail, and they've offered him $1,500 to offset the cost, which Zydek says is about a tenth of what he's already paid to have the driveway installed.

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  1. He “was about to pour cement” for the larger driveway, which sounds like he was doing the work himself. But for the smaller one, he’s already paid about $15,000 (!) “to have the driveway installed”. Is that a reasonable amount for installing a driveway? And why did he give up on DIY?

    1. But the current offer from the City of $1,500 is nowhere near enough to cover what his client has ended up spending on this scene, according to Grebner.

      “By my calculations,” Grebner writes, “the City’s errors have induced my client to spent approximately $18,650 for a driveway which would have cost $8,000 if he had not had the misfortune to build it in East Lansing.”

      I suspect he’s including the cost of the first load of concrete that couldn’t be poured. And expanding a smaller driveway involves a lot of prep work on the ground, so $15k doesn’t strike me as crazy high for a place that has to deal with things like frost heaves in the winter.

      1. The cost includes two loads of concrete that had to be returned, plus two sets of plans, plus attorney fees.

    2. He “was about to pour cement” could mean that he personally was about to do it or it could be a minor literary license for “he hired a contractor who was about to pour cement”. I wouldn’t read too much into that minor wording choice in the lede of a story. (Especially when the linked article makes clear that “It all started in June 2017 when Zydeck’s first contractor sought a permit…”)

  2. I don’t care.

    It is his property. It is his driveway.

    1. you’re not from around here, are you?

  3. And then the City, called by an upset neighbor, said “Stop!” The permit had been erroneously approved.

    I think I found the problem.

    Eventually the inspector showed up, approved the forms, and the new driveway was laid. But, according to the City and a group of neighbors, it’s bigger than it is supposed to be. And even if the City inspectors screwed up (twice), it’s Zydeck’s legal obligation to fix it.

    There it is again.

    Neighbors do care. Results of a Freedom of Information Act request show a small group of neighbors writing into the City again and again to demand it hold Zydeck to the law.

    It’s an epidemic.

    1. What is wrong with people? Unless the guy next
      door does something which makes your own property unliveable, what do you care?

      So much for a Libertarian Moment. Even before government, it starts with people’s attitudes!

      1. Sadly, this is how subdivision restrictions work, and they play to scrupulous busybodies. For example, I’m forbidden from having a white (or any color) picket fence in my front yard. And the zoning board’s variance wont spare me even if they grant it because it is actually a subdivision restriction recorded as a deed restriction. If my neighbors decide they dont like it, I have to remove it.

        1. And heaven help you if you offend a member of the subdivision board, lest they declare anything in your yard to be a picket fence, even individual blades of grass.

      2. What is wrong with people? East Lansing is infested with liberals.

    2. The local community college near me has been trying to replace a couple of their old dilapidated buildings with a new modern one. The people in the surrounding neighborhood have been doing everything in their power to either stop it or slow it down. I have no idea why. It was originally supposed to happen in 2002, but they shut it down somehow. It’s ramped up again and plans are being laid, but the neighbors are putting up a fight again. I guess they’d rather live next to buildings that are shitty looking and falling apart rather than new and modern. And I just don’t understand how they are allowed to have so much sway in the process. It’s utterly baffling.

  4. The confusion just got worse, not better, after the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) meeting in September 2017, where the matter was debated and supposedly decided.

    Records show that no one from City staff to involved neighbors to ZBA members themselves could figure out what had actually been “decided” at ZBA, even after listening to a recording of the meeting. (We listened and couldn’t figure it out, either.)

    So how does the city know the driveway is too large?

    1. It just feels too large.

    2. They knows it when they sees it

    3. The city defaulted to the angry neighbor’s position that they didn’t like it.

    4. Coz the neighbor’s driveway looks like a mushroom dick.

      In serious news: A driveway can never be too large. However, it can sometimes be too small.

      1. Unless you are trying to drive it around the back way. Then it can be too large.

  5. C’mon, it’s not that hard to make a driveway smaller. You don’t have to tear the whole driveway out, you just cut it down to size. Get a pack of Mexicans, a big-ass gas-powered concrete saw, a jackhammer, a front-end loader and a dump truck and cut out the excess concrete and haul it off. It may be difficult to get all these things in one place at the same time, but they’re usually available about 6:30 of a Saturday morning. Might take you two or three Saturday mornings depending on how slow you want to work.

    1. Not disputing.

      On the other hand, why not just forego that and leave it large?

      1. I’m pretty sure his point was mostly to make the “correct” as painful as possible for the neighbors that are the source of the complaints.

        Like, seriously, how shitty does your life have to be that the amount of pavement on your neighbor’s property gives you major butt-hurt?

        1. Goddamnit, “correction”.

      2. Paint the edges green to look like grass.

    2. I find 0200 to be a much more comfortable time of day to perform heavy construction. The Klieg lights and the generators to run them have such a soothing tone, too. Obviously, for safety reasons, you’d need to clearly illuminate everything that needed to be kept safe. So you’d want to put a couple billion candlepower on the neighbor’s houses.

    3. “C’mon, it’s not that hard to make a driveway smaller. You don’t have to tear the whole driveway out, you just cut it down to size.”

      Except there’s no guarantee that the neighbors won’t keep complaining that it’s still to large after he does that. Or worse, come back and complain that now it’s too small.

      1. This. I could totally see him still being threatened with arrest for non-compliance even with the driveway cut down so far a bicycle wouldn’t fit on it.

  6. You always have to remember that not all city hall bureaucrats are complete idiots, but you eventually find out when they are. I’m sure they all mean well, though.

  7. Eventually the inspector showed up, approved the forms, and the new driveway was laid. But, according to the City and a group of neighbors, it’s bigger than it is supposed to be.

    I sure would find a way to do something with that property to piss off the neighborhood. Maybe turn it into HUD housing after the daughter finished college.

    1. Damn. And I thought my “major construction at 2 in the morning” idea was cruel.

    2. Put in a Rand Paul style pumpkin patch and composting pile.

  8. [Zydeck’s attorney, Mark] Grebner says his client will accept $7,000, but that his client isn’t interested in making the supposedly-required changes himself, given what he’s been through. The City is going to have to do it, because then it will have only itself to blame if it is done wrong:

    “After my client’s approval of the plan, which will not be unreasonably withheld, the City would be free to carry out the work however it wishes. That way, the City will have no target for its subsequent remorse and recrimination other than itself.”


  9. My brother had a similar issue. His plan for his driveway was refused by the zoning board. He put in the approved smaller concrete drive. Then he added a 2-foot wide edge of brick on both sides that did not need zoning approval. Problem solved.

  10. There’s something called malfeasance it’s a crime and this seems to fit.

  11. “I’m not spending any more money to fix your fuck ups. Now fuck off, slaver.”

    1. Yeah, good luck with that.

      1. How about painting it on the driveway?

        1. I dont see why he couldn’t but I dont know his subdivision/zoning restrictions

  12. You know, after the first time you might think “I better make sure this is 100% within my subdivision/plat/zoning restrictions or my asshole neighbors will just do this to me again”

    Sadly, the owner didn’t get the hint.

    1. Impossible. Even the zoning commission admits that they don’t know how to apply the calculations in the code to a corner lot.

    2. Read the linked article. You’d think obtaining a permit from the city approving the drive way would “make sure this is a 100% within my subdivision/plat/zoning restrictions”, including both times the city provided a permit, then decided it didn’t do it right. If the city says you’re plan is good, wouldn’t you believe them?

      Further, the linked article points out the if the City screws us, it’s your fault and at your cost. How’s that for fair? Also the article states:

      “Records show that no one from City staff to involved neighbors to ZBA members themselves could figure out what had actually been ‘decided’ at ZBA, even after listening to a recording of the meeting. (We listened and couldn’t figure it out, either.)”

      There’s a picture in the article of the driveway – it looks merely about 3′ wider so you could park 2 cars side by side, so you don’t need to move both to get the one in front out. It looks quite reasonable to me.

      1. I would think that the first time

        After that I wouldn’t trust them to know shit. But what do I know, I just develop property for a living.

      2. To be clear, I’ve been on the receiving end of this. Its painful. If it is a mere zoning issue, the variance would clear him. It sounds like it is a subdivision restriction, which often cant be ameliorated through the zoning board.

      3. The owner may have recourse against the contractor too

      4. If true, that makes the ordinance unconstitutionally vague, and he could challenge it in court to get it overturned.

  13. Just issue a god-damn variance already and tell the busy-body neighbors to go pound salt!

    1. Given the fact that the requirement is poorly written, he obtained approval, and all appears to have been done in good faith, that’s the only just solution.

    2. he did receive the variance. There is a factor here that has not been explained properly. I’m guessing subdivision restrictions that were recorded as deed restrictions, or something similar

  14. But the drive has to be big enough to cover the neighbor’s body, right?

  15. Are the neighbors a cabal of assholes? Is Zydack an asshole? Is Zybdack’s daughter an asshole?

    You can’t tell from the brickbat. Any (or all) of the three are possible.

    Having lived next to the craziest woman in California, I can attest, a bad neighbor can make your life quite difficult. You can always find a zoning violation if you look.

    How big is the drive way?

  16. Oh, one more thing:

    What is the frickin purpose of the Presidential Alert System?

    1. The purpose of the PAS (whole CMAS) is to provide a series of annoying tests, then one actual useful alert, after which they will start pounding you will useless crap like:
      ? Amber Alerts for counties 700 miles away from you,
      ? Severe Storm warnings for the same 35mph winds you had twice last month without incident,
      ? Presidential Announcements that Dianne Feinstein has finally been turned from the undead, so you are directed to fly your flag at half mast.

      1. Not holding my breath on that 3rd one.

  17. This is barely a blip on East Lansing’s track record with permits.
    Work has been delayed on a care facility because EL issued the wrong permits for some of the internal plumbing. Costs started at $300K and will probably reach triple that amount. The facility’s operational date will be delayed by months.
    The facility took extra care to make sure the permitting was correct, were assure it was, and had the work down as per the permit. Then the city ‘discovered’ that the ‘gas lines’ in question were for medical gases; oops, our bad, it’s all on you to make it right.

  18. The permit had been erroneously approved.

    You get approval in writing, end of story. The inspector at the planning office has One Job. The guy should have retained a lawyer after the first driveway pour, filed suit against the county, started piling on the damages. His mistake was thinking it was an honest mistake.

    1. This is indeed how he should have handled it. You dont tear the first one out, you start the suit right there. Often they will back down right away. East Lansing isn’t that big, they would likely buckle or at least come to an agreement

    2. I actually did that with a sewer connection. Inspector signed off, the city came back later and said, hey, you were supposed to install an inspection manhole, get on it. I said you signed off, I’m not doing anything else. Never heard back.

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