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I Should Have Listened

The man at the first retaining wall company I called told me the truth regarding the cost of all the paperwork needed to replace an old timber retaining wall along the side of my house; I should have listened.

He explained that the city of Alpharetta had many unique requirements for permitting retaining walls. Unlike other cities, Alpharetta demands a complete “property survey” which includes both topography and trees. I had a plat from my closing documents, which he explained was insufficient. They also want a painfully detailed certified arborist report with a “tree table” including a description of any “recompence trees” to replace any trees which must be removed during the retaining wall replacement. We would also have to purchase a “site visit” and “engineering plan” by a Georgia structural engineer. I should have listened.

The cost of a site visit and an engineering plan would pale in comparison to what I threw away on a landscaping company who builds retaining walls on the side. Now I am right back where I was when I made that first phone call four months ago.

Over the phone, the landscaping company owner determined the project was considered standard “maintenance” by the city and therefore required no permitting or paperwork of any kind. “Where do I sign!” I exclaimed.

He shook his head and told me that this landscaping company owner is famous for convincing people they don’t need paperwork when they clearly do.

On the second day of work, before my old retaining wall was even completely removed, an Alpharetta building inspector arrived to deliver a cease and desist and a fine assessment! He seemed very calm and collected so I asked about the landscaper who caused this predicament. He shook his head and told me that this landscaping company owner is famous for convincing people they don’t need paperwork when they clearly do. He also informed me the blocks on pallets in my driveway were completely inadequate to the needs of a successful retaining wall. “Sir, please do yourself a favor, get an engineer out here, and remember, these regulations are for your protection.”

The small crew the landscaper assigned to my job scattered upon arrival of the inspector. None of them spoke English anyway, so I called the owner to pick up the pieces. He had convinced me that engineering and permitting were “overkill”. Later in the evening he returned my call and seemed shocked and bothered at the cease and desist and the fine. “We do this all the time, so someone must have reported us to code enforcement!” he said.

“So, this is not standard maintenance after all?” I asked. “Well, I believe it is debatable,” he replied. “Fine, be at city hall in the morning to debate it and have them rescind the fine.” After he hung up the phone he never returned any more of my calls.

So, adding up the five-thousand dollar fine and the fifty percent down I paid when the materials were delivered, I am out thirteen thousand dollars. My attorney is confident that he will recover at least half of my down payment, but after his collection fee the debacle will cost more than what I will ultimately pay for the paperwork and plans to apply for a building permit.

The landscape materials company finally picked up the six pallets of materials which blocked my driveway for months. Between the wasted time, the stress, the humiliation, and the money I urge everyone to call a real retaining wall company and verify they have a locally licensed engineer for your plan.

But most of all, listen to retaining wall companies who tell you the truth, not just what you want to hear!

Sam - Alpharetta, Georgia