Thursday, July 2, 2015

Two Letters

Early this spring, the City of Minneapolis issued a citation to me for an illegal addition, failure to pull a permit for my greenhouse. Several deadlines have passed, and while I have visited the Inspections Dept. three times, I have not complied with the order. 

More recently, the city sent me another citation, demanding I remove all grasses and weeds in the "ENTIRE YARD AND BOULEVARD" taller than eight inches, by July 02, or a "CONTRACTOR MAY IMMEDIATELY CORRECT THIS CONDITION WITHOUT FURTHER NOTICE AND ALL COSTS...WILL BE ADDED AS A SPECIAL ASSESSMENT AGAINST THE PROPERTY."

I asked, but no definition of "weeds" was offered by Inspections. Half of the wildflowers in my garden, probably more than half of Americans would call them weeds. I do not trust the city contractor to know the difference.…/07/birthday-garden.html

I delivered copies of the following two letters to the Mayor, City Attorney, my council member, and the Inspections Dept, this afternoon. 

Happy Independence Day :)


To whom it may concern, regarding my failure to apply for a building permit from City of Minneapolis Inspections, for my greenhouse:

I have wanted to build a greenhouse for a long time. For years, I have been collecting old sliding glass doors, mostly through social networking sites like Craigslist. In the Fall of 2013 I began construction on the first half of a greenhouse, on the south side of my house in Minneapolis. For the frame I used Cedartone treated lumber; the second half, in the fall of 2014, I used old-growth douglas fir, I reclaimed from a remodeling project near Lake of the Isles in Minneapolis, during the housing bubble.

The entire project cost me approximately $1000. Had I used douglas fir instead of Cedartone on the first half, I could have reduced the cost to $500. A glass greenhouse that size, purchased as a kit, might cost $5000, $10,000-$15,000 installed.

In the early spring of 2015, I received a letter from City of Minneapolis Inspections, that I was in code violation for an illegal addition, failure to apply for a permit. I went to the Inspections Department downtown, to inform myself and to voice my concerns, and to go on record.

A Final Notice arrived, when I did not apply for the permit, after which I visited Inspections again, to clarify my concerns and to ask more questions. When I did not pay for the permit, an Administrative Citation arrived, May **, stating there was a $200 fine.

I did not apply for a permit when I started building the greenhouse, because I did not believe I needed a permit, because I did not attach the greenhouse to the frame of the house, thus there was no structural change to the house. As a former licensed general contractor, I am familiar with building codes and the licensing regime. I did not do the necessary research however, nor did I contact Inspections to tell them what I was planning.

In retrospect, the greenhouse is clearly in violation of building code, insofar as it exceeds the 120 sq ft threshold requiring a permit, at 155 sq ft approximately - though there are no building codes specific to the actual construction of greenhouses.

Primarily, my concern in not applying for a permit is economic. As a maintenance man for a small company managing group homes for the profoundly autistic, my income in 2014 was $33,000 (with median household income in the state of Minnesota @ $60,700.) I purchased my house in March 2006, as I like to say, 12 minutes before the market collapsed. I am 20% “under water.” I purchased the house @ $154,000; Hennepin County has had it appraised as high as $169,000; six months on the market in the summer of 2013, there was one offer @ $109,000. It is a one-bedroom @ 750 sq ft, 1918 construction.

City Inspections has the right to require me to hire an architect or an engineer to assess the greenhouse. Because there are few codes regulating greenhouses, there not being much in the way of precedent, that seemed possible and even likely, which could add thousands of dollars to the cost of construction.

Secondly, as this is not a permanent structure necessarily, it is irrational to inflate the cost as if it were permanent, or a living space. It is experimental.

Third, I am a long-time builder: I can build a house, I have built townhouses, I have torn the roof off houses and added a second story. I do not need an inspector or an engineer to tell me if my greenhouse is structurally sound.

Fourth, in this time, in this digital age, if I am able to document all that I do in pictures and video, why do I need an inspector to stand between me and a potential buyer? Indeed, the house is nearly 100 years old, a one-bedroom on a corner lot-and-a-half. The lot is extensively wild-landscaped, with 200 species of plants and 30 fruit trees. The most likely buyer would bulldoze the lot and build a “McMansion” - making any inspections on this greenhouse and house, a waste of resources. In fact, inspections do not remove me from liability, if there is a danger to the general “health and welfare” of the community. So precisely what is the point of inspections?

Fifth, there are a great many things I would like to do to my house, as an experiment making my house stronger, more energy efficient, more resilient, using reclaimed materials whenever I can, documenting everything I do. Aside from the fact that I do not need Inspections to tell me how to do that, I can't afford to pay for a permit every time I want to start a project, nor risk excessive and arbitrary fees, hiring engineers etc. My not being able to afford permits and fees, should not preclude me from applying my expertise, working on and experimenting with my house, changing it for changing times.

Sixth, if America is indeed a Republic, or even a Democracy, government exists to serve me, I do not exist to keep government economically solvent. To some extent, the expectation that I submit to inspections on this greenhouse, on my own house, is just the wheels of bureaucracy churning: “the wheels of fate churn slowly, but they churn exceedingly fine.” I do not accept inevitability, I do not acquiesce merely because it is so, I do not pay the fee just because I am told to. Unchecked government is the foundation of tyranny; in a time in declining revenue for governments, in a time of peak social complexity and institutional corruption, it is well documented that governments and Institutions of all kinds, become predatory and parasitic, particularly against the powerless.

My greenhouse exceeded expectations in 2015. I maintain a big garden, and a community garden for the autistic, for the company I work for. My 2015 vegetable starts were the best I have ever grown, the healthiest. If it is 0 degrees outside and the sun is shining, it might be 70 in the greenhouse. The greenhouse actually helps heat the house if the temperature outside is above 30 and the sun is shining. My furnace didn't turn on after Mar 01 this year. The greenhouse acts like an insulator, for heat loss in the house, at night in the winter. I will be able to grow fresh greens all winter, 2015-2016.

I realize, fighting inspections is a losing battle, insofar as the city will get it's money “one way or another,” fining me until they put the payment on my taxes, and then if I don't pay, putting a lien on the house. Whatever the case, I am documenting all of it, blogging about it, writing about it.

William Hunter Duncan 


City of Minneapolis,

On June 29, 2015, I received a citation from the City of Minneapolis, Housing Inspection Services, about vegetation in my “yard”. The letter states that I must remove all grass and weeds taller than 8”, by July 02, in my “ENTIRE YARD AND BOULEVARD.”

My “yard and boulevard”, which I call my “garden”, is landscaped with appox. 200 species of wildflowers, wild medicinals, food and fruit. There are grasses that are edible. I weed regularly. What many consider weeds, are in fact wild flowers.

The city receives perhaps hundreds of calls each year about my garden, most if not all negative. The city does not hear from the many who tell me that they love my garden, and walk by regularly to view it.

I will comply with the order, to the degree I believe acceptable. I will clear the boulevard near the corner and the alley; it is a corner lot. I will pull all tree saplings. I will fence back the vegetation along the sidewalk, and pull all vegetation growing in the sidewalk. I will pull any weeds and saplings, but not the wildflowers or climbing vines, from the alley.

I will document all that I do. If contractors then remove anything by cutting or spraying, I will document that as well. I have been blogging about my garden since 2010. There are people across this country, in as many as 10 different countries, aware of my garden. Please respect this sanctuary oasis for birds and bugs. Thank you.

William Hunter Duncan


Feel free to contact Minneapolis about it. Just add my name ;)…/inspections-feedback

Minneapolis City Attorney or Mayor Betsy Hodges (612) 673-2010