When I open a conversation with someone about building codes in the northwest Arkansas region, it is highly likely I’ll hear the two following statements:

  1. “You should build in Madison or Newton county.  They have almost no building regulations.”
  2. “Don’t build in Washington or Benton county.  You’ll never get around the codes.”

When nudged for details, however, almost every person responds with “that’s just what I’ve heard.”   The story seems so simple, so black and white, that we have almost bowed to the undefined authorities and accepted that, if we want to achieve our dreams while still maintaining a connection to Fayetteville, we’ll have to find a way to do some hardcore commuting.

However, it’s hard for me to accept something without knowing why; there are so many unclear details!  This link claims, in bold, that Washington County does not issue building permits.  Does this mean that a couple could comfortably be septic-system free, raise animals, dig cisterns, protect habitat, and more as an owner of land in unincorporated Washington County?

I eventually got in touch with the Washington County Senior planner, who would probably have the ability to easily answer all of these questions.  I’m hoping she’s super busy, though, because she has yet to respond to our, shall we say, unorthodox questions (it has been two weeks to the day).  Is it weird to ask if a county allows for composting toilets?  In ten or fifteen years’ time, probably not, but perhaps now it still raises an eyebrow or two.

All I know so far is, Washington County regulates splitting of land, wind turbines, and agricultural land use.  I don’t know how it does these things, but none of these should interfere with our dreams… as long as we’re outside of any particular city’s limits.  If we actually wanted to build in Fayetteville, there is a veritable mountain of code to adhere to.  Friends assure me that 60% or 70% of it would not apply to us, but the same friends also have spent hundreds of hours pouring over thick texts laden with city requirements.  I’m not sure devoting that kind of time can be in my immediate future.

If no similar documents or requirements exist for unincorporated Washington County, and if the Fayetteville area doesn’t go all densely metropolitan (which usually leads to defiling huge amounts of natural resources for miles around the city space), we might do well to settle as close as possible.

No matter where we settle, a few questions remain:  What exactly does “no building permits” mean?  Does this just apply to our actual dwelling, and have nothing to do with how we make use of our land?  Also, what if we’re chillin’ a few miles outside of Fayetteville city limits, and then they swoop in and want to annex our lands?  Will we have some kind of weird, paper-heavy, bureaucratic fight on our hands?  Would we be pressured to adhere to the codes of the “conquerors?”  How does this stuff work?

And that’s where my understanding currently stands.  Any ideas?

The journey continues!

~Ryan

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