Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Roof Terrace Follies

One of the driving forces for buying a house in France (or it could have been Italy or Spain) is the charm of the Old World architecture. Really, old houses for Americans date back to 1890. We specifically chose a village house and knew there would be constraints. We don't want the integrity of the historical character compromised. But, change is inevitable, even in rural France. Electricity, plumbing, TV and even broadband internet. All of these 'improvements' are not without their impact. Wires obscuring the horizon, satellite dishes hanging off rooftops like giant white sunflowers, and huge PVC pipes protruding from stone buildings. Modernization.

We too, wanted our piece of paradise, a roof terrace. We want to do it right, keeping within the historical character of our village. Before we ask for official permission to construct a terrace, we want some direction, so we aren't paying to design something that they will not approve, and we just can't seem to get on the right path. We are used to following guidelines, a manual, protocol, and what we get are whims, feelings, and intuitions.

What of this roof terrace, some commenters ask? The short answer is simply: "Je ne sais pas encore!" I still don't know. There's always next year. If that's enough information for you, stop reading NOW. The long answer would rival the Da Vinci Code in complexity. So to recap, as concisely as allowable by French law, here goes:
  • After dinking around for two months, we went with Tim, our construction planner to the CAUE (Conseil d'Architecture d'Urbanisme et de l'Environment) in Foix to meet with M. Assayde who looked at our terrace designs. He does not make the final decision, but has telepathic powers with those that do, and is therefore able to foretell the likelihood of obtaining planning permission.
  • M. Assayde's initial response was moreorless "no way, no how" that we would be able to alter the front facade of our house. He did cheerfully suggest that we could probably get approval to cut a hole in the roof so that we could look straight up and see the sky, as long as we retained the front and side walls and the rest of the roof.
  • At this point I'm mentally practicing Le Bras de Honeur for a dramatic exit but restrain myself.
  • Since M. Assayde is not the final decision, that being left to the ABF (unidentified initials in government-speak) in Lavelanet, and there being no written protocol, he hedged a little and suggested taking the documents to the final Powers-that-Be.
  • Tim agreed and called the ABF to set up a meeting; they however are terribly overworked, just returning from the annual August shutdown, and would he terribly mind faxing the documents. That way, they could be reviewed IMMEDIATELY! I'm sorry, I don't think that word is in the French language.
  • Tim faxes the documents, waits a week or so, calls again, and learns that the gentleman can't get to them because he is going on vacation next week. And realize, that this isn't even for the real actual approval, this is just for the preliminary pretend approval.
  • Tim also learns that the planning permission process is changing October 1, 2007. You know the expression, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it?" So, what could possibly be wrong? The upshot of it all is, that requests submitted after October 1 and on the books in excess of 6 months will automatically be approved. Am I hearing this correctly? Is this some sort of work incentive? Maybe the ABF folks are being paid on a "piece rate" system.
  • Our neighbor and friend Alan, upon hearing portions of my tale of woe earlier this summer, suggested buying a couple of the biggest Veluxes (skylights) available and just forget to put the glass part in them. Apparently you don't have to get planning permission for skylights. Let's see, maybe 6 of them, each 3'X3' would do. Jeez, Alan, your idea was more creative than any Tim the planner has come up with yet, and I'm paying him money!

So, are you sorry you asked? Me too.


Anonymous said...

Luke thinks you are very brave to try to work through this "bureaucratic brouhaha"...with less than perfect knowledge of the French language.

I commend you!

nancy said...

Lukas, Oh no, I must have omitted the part about how we merely sat there like stooges while Tim and M. Assayde discussed the proposal in rapid-fire French. When we were lucky enough to hear a familiar word, we would nod our heads agreement. About every 10 minutes, Tim would give us a synopsis. This conversation was well beyond negotiating a glass of red wine or even getting the 18 sheets of plaque de platre levitated. Way outta my league, Lukas.

Anonymous said...

I still commend you for making the effort...most people would give up and not even try!

You are my heroes!