06/11/2009

City considers significant building code changes

 

The Salina Journal, Kan.

David Clouston

June 11, 2009

Jun. 11--If city officials didn't have to deal with "worst-case scenarios," there wouldn't be a need for building codes and an inspection process.

But the fact is that building codes are written and enforced to protect the public, and there is a liability risk connected with failing to heed those obligations, Salina's city manager and deputy city manager told city commissioners at their study session preceding their meeting earlier this week.

Still, after a forum last October drew a crowd of contractors and developers concerned about the process for issuing building permits and performing inspections, city staff initiated a review of that process.

Some recommendations from that review were outlined for commissioners. The recommendations will be put in writing, then the city's Building Advisory Board, followed by the commissioners, will be asked to approve the changes.

"I don’t think there's a community in America that's growing that has zero concerns (about permits and inspections). But I hope this is a tool that gives us additional discretion, which helps us fulfill our obligations and make good decisions that really helps a project,” City Manager Jason Gage said.

Among the significant procedural changes being considered is allowing a greater say-so for licensed professional designers associated with individual building projects.

The designer would have the authority to authorize alternate building materials, designs or building methods, provided they meet the equivalent of those prescribed by the code in relationship to quality, effectiveness, fire resistance, durability and safety.

The designer designation would be “signed and stamped by them, (putting) them on record as making the determination,” said Deputy City Manager Michael Schrage.

Modifications also are proposed in the variance process.

Schrage said the intent of that modification would be to accept alternatives for construction that still meet acceptable life, health and safety regulations.

The criteria and processes for determining those alternatives are to be developed, but would likely involve a new body, such as a board of zoning adjustment, Schrage said.

The recommendations also call for changes in staff interpretation about the application of certain building codes, as well as handling requests for variances from the codes, he said.

Gage said nearly all of the changes would be not in the building codes themselves, but in how they are administered.

"That way we don’t get caught up in thousands of code changes when each new version (of the code) comes out," he said.

Gage called the input from the forum last fall "very, very helpful." While there are some involved in building construction in all communities who simply don't want to be regulated, he said, there were comments expressed at the forum that caused the city to take a look at interpretation and permit timing issues on the city’s end.

"I don’t think it will take us a great deal of time to draw up language (for the recommendations)," he said.

Reporter David Clouston can be reached at 822-1411 or by e-mail at smontague@salina.com.

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Copyright (c)I2009, The Salina Journal, Kan.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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