Housing Resources Guide
Business Directory
Published 2006

Building a house in the country

By Lynda Jensen

There's an easy way and a hard way to build a house in the country.

At least that's how Tom Salkowski, Wright County director of planning and zoning sees it.

"It's pretty simple," Salkowski said. "Find a reputable building contractor."

Good building contractors are well-versed with the rules and regulations that pertain to building a new home located in the country.

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Larry Gasow from the McLeod County planning, zoning and environmental services takes this idea a step further ­ "Be sure the contractor is licensed," Gasow agreed.

The 'hard way'

The "hard way" is for the property owner to act as the general contractor, although it can be done, Salkowski said.

Salkowski remembers a time when a homeowner built his house on the wrong lot, he said. The mistake was related to the real estate agent, he said.

A survey would have prevented this problem, but is not required on sites of more than 10 acres, he said.

"It's cheap insurance," Salkowski said of surveys. "Most people don't like to spend the money on them."

For McLeod County, the regulations are a little unusual because the county does not enforce the uniform building code, Gasow said.

This may actually cause problems down the road, since insurance companies are pressing for the uniform building code to be enforced statewide like it was in the 1970s, he said.

This is because claims are higher in non-enforced areas, Gasow said. It may develop that homeowners in non-enforced areas could be charged higher premiums, Gasow said.

Aside from this, Gasow's best advice to potential home builders is to carefully inspect the lot location ahead of time and be keenly aware of the potential building's surroundings, he said.

"Wetlands, floodplains . . . be aware of that," Gasow said. Pay attention to neighboring structures, such as small feedlots that may grow into larger ones, he said.

A common myth is that when a new expensive house is built, taxes drawn from the property pay for the township to pursue maintenance for a road to the house, Gasow said.

This isn't true, he said. In fact, most of the taxes on large, expensive homes go toward the school district, and not necessarily the township toward road maintenance costs, Gasow said.

Bergen Township faces this issue, Gasow said, which has been growing with a lot of residential construction.

However, the same wooded areas and creeks that attract people cause headaches for township maintenance, Gasow said.

Home builders should also remember that McLeod County is based on agriculture, he said.

Another problem that may crop up is when city dwellers move into the country with different expectations of what country life is like, Gasow said.

In fact, Carver County directly addresses this issue through a task force called the Rural-Urban Interface task force, formed in 2000.

The task force issued the following notice:

"A myth is that Carver County is just a big suburb of the Twin Cities. Carver County ranks 10th in the state and is in the 94th percentile of counties nationwide in the sale of dairy products."

"Dairy, beef, swine, and crop production are the cornerstones of agriculture in Carver County. Animals and their manure can cause objectionable odors. Despite farmers' best efforts, the elimination of all odors is virtually impossible, making odor a very real part of country living."

Carver County also plainly states that road conditions are different in the country, and calls for patience with travellers in the presence of farm implements.

"Most rural roads simply do not receive the same maintenance and attention as their urban counterparts. Plowing and sanding/salting in the winter time may be less frequent than experienced on urban roadways; road boils are common in the spring; dusty conditions, especially on gravel roads, are to be expected."

"In addition, tractors, combines, and trucks, vital to farm operations, may be encountered on country roads. When using roadways, farmers recognize that they are moving slowly (15 to 20 mph) and will let others pass soon as it's safe for them to pull over. Patience is important."

Starting the project

The first step for any home builder is to to contact the local township office.

Although townships ultimately refer prospective builders to the county planning and zoning office, the township is still the first to be notified, Gasow said.

Some townships, such as Middleville, Marysville and Woodland townships, have their own steps before the process reaches the county.

Middleville and Stockholm have their own planning and zoning inside the townships.

Marysville also has representation in that Randy Desmarais lives inside the township and works at the county assessor's office.

Other townships use the county planning and zoning offices directly.

The process usually involves obtaining a house permit, or filling a land use application.

This would require, among some things: legal description of the property, a certificate of survey, completed plans and working drawing of all proposed construction, site evaluations (including soil boring data), adherence to proper setbacks, among other things.

From there, the county planning and zoning gives a recommendation to the county board, which gives its approval or disapproval.

Check with each specific township and county to receive an application and other information.