Building industry sounding an alarm about Meck Co code enforcement delays

Published: Feb. 6, 2014 at 11:25 PM EST|Updated: Mar. 9, 2014 at 12:06 AM EST
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CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Each building project that is going up in Mecklenburg County is proof that the economy is rebounding. But builders and developers say the county is running the risk of driving away development. They say they're running into problems with code enforcement and building permits.

"We're talking tens of millions of dollars and in many cases – hundreds of millions aggregate in economic development opportunity that the city and county could potentially lose if we don't find a way to improve the process" says Joe Padilla, Executive Director of Real Estate and Building Industry Coalition.

Developers say some projects are being held up because of inspection or permitting delays.

"The biggest problem we're seeing is a lack of consistency between what is required by various city and county departments" says Padilla. "Too often now different inspectors will come through and they'll each want something that may conflict with the other and the builder developer has to negotiate between multiple departments where there is no clear set standard."

Padilla says for big projects, the delays become costly... and can eventually trickle down to residents.

"In a nutshell - in the development industry - time is money. So in a $35M to $40M construction project -  everyday, every hour that is lost to inspection or permitting delays could mean tens of thousands of dollars in additional costs" says Padilla. "That translates to higher rents for tenants moving in to a complex or to a commercial project for a small business. And that makes it very difficult for Mecklenburg County to compete effectively for economic growth, for jobs, and provide affordable housing for people at every income level."

WBTV has obtained a copy of a letter that builders and developers sent to county officials - including commissioners and the county manager.

They want the county to reduce inconsistencies - for instance - when a building plan is approved only to have code officials fail an inspection because they disagree with a part of the approved plan.

Developers say they want code officials to spend the appropriate amount of time inspecting projects, and to properly document inspection results. They also want to see better customer service.

During his State of the County address, Commissioner Trevor Fuller - Chair of the Board of County Commissioner - said "I want you to know that we have heard you in the business community when you are telling us that our permitting, inspection and code enforcement operation - though well run - is not fully meeting the needs of our constituents."

Fuller said the County Manager "has elevated this issue to high priority."

County Manager Dena Diorio says she has "instructed staff to come back with a plan in 30 days to address several issues including the website, creating processes that address the needs of small businesses and infrequent users, creation of a quality control program to insure that the inspection process is consistent, and a review of our processes to see if efficiencies can be achieved."

Manager Diorio says the county will be "collaborating with the City of Charlotte and will include stakeholders."

'What we really need to do is streamline the process so we're not an obstacle to business. We need to be a partner to business" says County Commissioner Pat Cotham.

Cotham says she's been looking into the problems developers are having with code enforcement. She says the fact that the county could potentially lose jobs worries her.

If some developers decide the code enforcement delays are too costly, they could pack up and build elsewhere – taking much needed jobs and projects with them.

Cotham says she doesn't think builders want less oversight.

"To tell you the truth I'm kind of worried we don't have as good oversight now because they {inspectors} seem to be changing the bar all the time" says Cotham. "They need to be consistent. Consistency will bring us oversight so I think if anything - this process when we do it - the oversight will be improved."

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