We're having a land dispute with the neighborhood bully who lives directly behind us, on the other side of our backyard fence. We're trying to replace our 50-year-old garden shed that was falling apart with a new one - slightly taller, but on virtually the identical footprint of the old one - and he's absolutely determined to prevent us from doing this.
The main issue is setback: to build a structure on one's property in our town, the standard setback is 15 feet on the back and sides, and 30 feet from the front. However, if the structure is under 120 sq. feet, you can apply for a special permit to reduce that setback to 1/3 of the requirement (so we could have it 5 feet from the edge).
Before we became well educated about the setback requirements, we applied for a permit (and submitted the tape survey drawing that was given to us with our mortgage, along with a sketch and photo of a similar shed) and the town approved it without batting an eye. A month ago we started building it, and the neighbor filed a complaint with the town. Two separate inspectors come out, say it's fine. Nonetheless, this person living near us is the neighborhood bully and years ago through a zoning appellate board hearing successfully forced our next-door neighbor to take down a shed they tried to build (at great expense to them). Unfortunately, they had not applied for a permit. Nonetheless we anticipated this becoming litigious, so we did more investigating into what could go wrong.
We found out that the tape survey used for mortgage purposes is not considered official enough if you're applying for a building permit, and you need to have the results of an instrument survey. (So now the town of course bears some responsibility for approving this in the first place.) We get the instrument survey. $950 later, we find out that the shed is in fact 3 feet from the property edge, and to meet the setback exception we have to move the entire shed back - foundation and all, which we actually can do by renting some special jacks - 2 feet. A pain, but it can be done.
The next step is a hearing with the appellate zoning board. Apparently if it's 15 feet, no one can complain, but if you want to apply for a reduced setback, there has to be a hearing with the appellate zoning board, anyone who wants to come complain about it can do so, and then the 3 people on the board have to agree unanimously that the structure is okay. We're also treated to a $400 appeal fee, whether we win or lose.
We've developed a good relationship with the town's acting building commissioner, one of the inspectors who came out to look at the shed. He's very much on our side and thinks it will pass without a problem. He's not on the zoning board, but he may be at the hearing and at the very least he's going to write a letter to the board defending our case. However, the curmudgeon is a long-time resident who's lived here for around 30 years, and it wouldn't surprise me if he has close personal connections with people on the zoning board - the last time he bullied our neighbor into taking down his shed, he showed up at the hearing with his entire extended family and his daughter who's an attorney of some sort. At the advise of a local land-use attorney, we're getting letters of support from other abutting neighbors, and we're going to try to get a few of them to attend the hearing with us. We're also going to hopefully get a letter of support from the real estate agent who sold us the house, saying how the new shed will likely increase our property value (and that of the complaining neighbor's).
The curmudgeon never complained about the old shed - he's upset because this one's taller and blocks his view (of our backyard and living room, apparently).
The attorney didn't say we have a weak case, but she did not sound as optimistic as the commissioner, and said the board can go either way, despite the fact that there's nowhere else on our property where we could put a shed that would meet the standard 15/15/30 setback requirement. Thanks to this neighbor, we could be an additional $1,500 in the hole (in addition to the lumber and shed supplies) and have no shed. It's insane - I'm trying to find holes in our case and can't find any. We've done everything on the up-and-up, we've always been nice to this neighbor despite the fact that he's harassed us about other asinine things too (our large garden, our birdfeeders, etc.), yet he's dead set on screwing us.
Thanks in advance for any advice.