the Working session of the Front Royal municipal council Tuesday evening February 15 covered several topics in the span of four hours, but most of the meeting involved discussion with about 20 local builders, members of the Warren County Builder’s Association.
Association President George Cline, owner of Cline Construction, Inc., was invited to address council by Councilman Gary Gillispie. Before Mr. Cline took the podium, General Manager Steven Hicks gave a presentation on the City’s newly created Building Permits and Inspections Department.
Hicks explained to the council and the builders what he hoped to accomplish with the new department: “Why the council wanted to create a building department – a more efficient, one-stop shop,” Hicks said as he began his presentation.
“I encourage you all to call all the places I’ve worked in the development community, because you’ll find that I’m quite flexible. I don’t pull people over the speed limit by more than two miles,” Hicks continued.
“Let me also tell you about how I see things for everyone. You know, when you buy a car, you don’t buy it to buy fuel. You buy it to move forward. When you create a division or a department, you do not do so for the purpose of bureaucracy or bureaucracy. You create a department for service, quality of life and assistance to the city. Without a building code division, we can’t do anything (regarding building maintenance) unless the county is willing to help us out and say we’ll focus on the process.
Hicks said he was not certified as a building inspector, but under Virginia Section 105.1.2, “an acting permit building agent must be certified as a building inspector. in accordance with the VCS within one year of his appointment as an acting or permanent construction officer.”
Hicks recounted past projects, saying “having handled over $600 million worth of projects…I’ve built two police headquarters, three fire stations, a community center, a golf club, and several small halls of baths, renovations. I understand the frustration because I was on the other side building stuff. I was the old acting building code [official] in James City County.
Hicks said he plans to be very active in the building inspector role, saying he will answer code questions if there is a discrepancy between the third-party inspector and the permit holder, and that , “Once the decision is on my plate a decision is going to be made. Who makes the final decision? The buck stops with the building code official. In the end, it’s his decision. »
The city’s building department is set up to have inspections performed by a third party, Engineering Consulting Services, Mid-Atlantic. LLC, or ECS, which charges $145 per hour, for plan review.
According to Hicks, the department’s revenue would come from construction projects in town. He cited permit fees for 3,000-square-foot buildings costing around $600,000 to build as the main source of revenue. Builders would have to pay the city $975, in addition to paying county fees. A two-story, 6,000 square foot building erected in Front Royal would cost approximately $1,600 in City permit fees.
At the invitation of Councilman Gillispie, who is a plumbing and gas inspector in Loudoun County, Cline addressed the council: “Mr. Hicks poured a nice glass of Kool-Aid. That was awesome!” Cline began somewhat sarcastically. “How many $600,000 houses are we building in town? You painted a nice picture, but it’s not accurate. It doesn’t fit this town. Nowhere does that match this city. You inflated those numbers to make your program look good and I agree with that.
“You make an analogy with buying a car. Let me give you one. A gentleman is going to buy a car. He sees a Corvette; he loves the Corvette. Bring home. Comes to the driveway, the woman comes out and he says ‘Honey, get the kids and let’s go for a walk.’ The woman and the three children come out and he stands there and she says, ‘Where are the children going to sit?’
“He buys a Corvette. I did not think about it. That’s kind of how this construction program was set up. Great idea, you get what you want, but it’s not doable. This is not what is needed. And that’s where we are today. Your research is phenomenal, you made a point about tourists, about citizens paying twice. This is exactly what we do in the county and the city. Because our tax money still subsidizes the Warren County building department. We pay our permits there and now we’re going to pay them here, so we’re going to pay double. Does that make sense?”
Cline said no builder at Tuesday night’s meeting was against the city’s building department, but told the council, “When we have to start paying extra and relying on someone to coming from out of town to do our inspections, there’s no way that works. It’s impossible.”
He also disputed Hicks’ assertion about the need for a building service. “We are going down to degraded properties. The code, if you read it, you don’t need a building official to do degraded properties. What the code requires is a building property maintenance code certification, which is what you must have to take care of the burn properties. That’s it.”
According to the Virginia State Code, Cline’s assertion of not needing building service regarding degraded properties is valid.
36-49.1:1. Fight against localized burning authorized; procedure. A. Notwithstanding any other provision of this chapter, an authority, or any locality, has the power to acquire or repair any damaged property, as defined in § 36-3, whether inside or outside outside a conservation or redevelopment area, by purchase. or by the exercise of the power of eminent domain provided for in Chapter 2 (§ 25.1-200 et seq.) of Title 25.1, and, in addition, shall have the power to hold, clean up, repair, manage or dispose of such property for any purpose in accordance with this chapter. In addition, the authority and the locality shall have the power to recover the costs of any repair or disposal of such property from the owner or registered owners, determined in accordance with subsection B of §§ 36-27. This power shall only be exercised in accordance with the procedures set out in this section.
B. The chief executive or designate of the locality or authority shall make a preliminary determination that a property is destroyed in accordance with this chapter. It sends the owner or owners registered in accordance with paragraph B of § 36-27 a notice specifying the reasons for which the property is degraded. The registered owner(s) will have 30 days from the date the notice is sent to respond in writing with a localized burn plan to remedy the burn within a reasonable time.
Discussions between builders and council members continued. Councilor Gillispie told the group that he raised the issue of the destroyed building in council ‘a few years ago’ and that there simply wasn’t money in the budget for a third party to come forward. takes care of these properties.
He continued: “We have all the tools we need to take care of degraded properties right now. Period – as long as the board feels like it.
In further discussion, Gillispie expressed frustration that the city’s building department isn’t busy enough to hire people to inspect specific areas, such as plumbing and gas, electrical as well as an inspector in building.
He cited the high cost of $145 for one inspection, with a second inspection costing an additional $145 as too expensive. “Some of these costs that I get from builders blow my mind. If we’re talking about customer service here… I don’t understand that aspect.
Vice Mayor Lori Cockrell told the group she felt like “it was going to be self-sufficient, the fee was going to cover what the staff would be. The other thing, I felt like it was going to improve the process, make it more efficient. If we can’t, if we have to put the brakes on for a little while and figure out if this is going to accomplish what we were looking for, I say we have to re-examine it.
Amber Morris said she’s worried the building department’s current model will cost small contractors a lot of money, citing a $400 fee by the city that would cost just $5 in the county.
Cline told council that in 2021, 2,711 permits were retired in the city and county. Of those permits, 598 were in the city; 27 of these permits were for new homes. “If I use your calculations and subtract the 27 from the 598, that leaves you with 571 permits.”
Those 27 house permits, at an average $600 fee, would put just $16,500 in the city’s coffers.
cline went on to say, “There’s just no way right now that we can pay a minimum of $1,995 vs. $391. There is absolutely no way. Mr. Hicks wears a lot of hats which could be a conflict of interest if you have someone on your board building and your own inspectors come in to inspect the work, that’s a conflict of interest.”
Other builders at the meeting echoed Cline’s concerns. Darryl Stout of Teddy Stout Construction, Inc. said, “Warren County builders are constantly fighting to survive. We fight the weather, and some are treated differently. No assessment will take into account a difference of $10,000 in fees. Builders simply won’t build in town.
Council members agreed that local builders had valid concerns that needed to be addressed. Councilor Gillispie said he hoped to see changes to the city’s building department moving forward. Gillispie said he knew the city wouldn’t have enough activity to hire separate inspectors, which could cause some things to be missed. Vice Mayor Cockrell said, “We want to hear from you. We’re leaving here tonight with no clear direction, and I don’t want to drag on until March.
Other board members expressed concern about the issues presented and indicated that they would like to have a joint meeting with the supervisory board as soon as possible. Hicks said it was appropriate to have a meeting to discuss and identify areas staff could address, but he wanted to keep moving forward with the department.
Council members have agreed to hold a special meeting on Wednesday, February 23 at 6 p.m. to discuss how to subsidize the City’s building department.
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