CLAYPOOL — A rural Claypool couple is feeling frustrated at local government as they fight to keep a small cabin located on their property — a cabin that the county maintains is a dwelling and is subject to the same taxes as a residence. At least one representative of the county says the local government officials are willing to work with the couple to reach an amicable conclusion.
Terry and Deborah Kreft own several acres of property just east of Claypool. The couple, who are close to retirement age, care for their granddaughter, Taiya, who at 20 years old, is severely disabled and on life support. As a way to help Deborah get away when able, Terry put a small cabin on the northeast corner of the property, a small, rustic building with no running water or septic system. The couple receives nursing assistance from time to time to help care for Taiya. When that happens, the two say they take the several minute walk to the cabin to unwind.
“We really like it, it’s a nice getaway,” said Deborah. “I wanted to make the inside cute, like a dollhouse.”
Terry said that when he and his wife escape to the cabin, they are still not far from their granddaughter and are able to respond almost instantly.
“We come down, we spend the night,” he said. “We get up and have coffee on the front porch. We might have breakfast. She washes the dishes (in a pan) and we go to the house.”
The cabin has a stove and refrigerator, a compost toilet and a bathroom sink that uses a foot pedal to pump water supplied in a portable tank through the spigot for hand washing.
“The state of Indiana doesn’t recognize that,” said Terry, referring to the compost toilet and sink. “They said it’s a health issue.”
Terry said he was told by county officials that the small building could be classified as an “overflow,” a designation he said he was told is also given to pool houses. Then, he was contacted on Tuesday, Oct. 9, and told the building would need a septic system. At about the same time, the couple talked to a television news crew about their situation.
“We actually had them set up for a hearing with the Board of Zoning Appeals when they talked to the news crew,” said Dan Richard, area plan director. “They asked for a continuance, but we were ready to work with them.”
A problem for the Krefts in installing a complete septic system is where the cabin is located, in a low area near a pond that is susceptible to groundwater and soggy soil, if not outright flooding.
“They could never do a septic system down here, it would have to go way back there,” said Deborah, pointing to an area about 75 yards away and up an incline.
According to Richard, a cheaper system closer to the cabin is a viable and much less expensive option and possible for the situation, given the small amount of use such a septic system would receive.
The Krefts said they can appease the county by removing the appliances and utilities, but said they don’t feel they should have to.
“We’re not living here,” said Deborah. “We can walk to the house, just as easily. But, I don’t want to have to do that. I don’t understand what they’re doing.”
Another option the Krefts said they were offered involves putting off having to take any action at the present time.
“We told them we could give them a hardship second residence,” said Richard. For the Krefts, the hardship designation would allow them to keep things as they are, but only until something tragic happens.
“They offered a hardship exception, but they said, ‘well, you’ll still need a septic, but it will have to go in when Taiya dies,’” Terry said.
Hardship is nothing new to the Krefts. Terry had surgery for cancer a year ago and is still not operating at 100 percent. In order to accommodate the county, he said he’s done all the work required in terms of keeping his surrounding residents informed. In cases that find themselves in front of plan commissions or BZAs, informing surrounding residents is always key. In the Krefts’ case, they claim there is neighborhood solidarity.
“My neighbors are furious,” Terry said. “They’re saying, ‘leave these people alone.’”
According to the Krefts, they are scheduled to have their case discussed by county officials next month and they anticipate a large crowd at the meeting.
“They’ve all said ‘we’re going to the meeting next month,’ said Terry. “They said ‘let’s pack that room until there’s no more room.’”
While the Krefts feel they’re being micro-managed, they said they understand why some regulations are in place but wonder why each case can’t be reviewed in order to determine where exceptions might be justified. For the county, Richard said the officials responsible for overseeing this case are trying to be accommodating.
“Whatever they’re ready to do, we’re ready to work with them,” said Richard.
Neal Brown, the county’s environmental scientist in charge of septic systems, said the Krefts originally approached the county under false pretenses. “They misinformed us when they first came to us,” said Brown. “When they first came to us, they came to get a permit for an outbuilding or a shed, and that’s not what it is. I understand they have a hardship, but we have to look at any property in the county in terms of how can it be used.”
Brown equated the Kreft structure to small cottages that line lakefronts throughout the county that might have occupancy a few weekends each year. “I do hundreds of these residences and regardless of usage, they have to have waste disposal. Otherwise, there is no way to keep our hands on that.”
The issue will be addressed at the Board of Zoning Appeals meeting Nov. 13.