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Consolidation streamlines building process

Gary B. Gray • Jun 27, 2012 at 9:29 PM

When Dave Jenny was named Johnson City’s chief building official in March, he said his first priority was to organize the division to be more efficient and friendly for citizens and the building community.

This week, he said communication with developers, builders, contractors, homeowners and the public has become much quicker and more streamlined.

Jenny is operating under the city’s relatively new Development Services Department umbrella, organized last year after Edwardsville, Ind.-based Matrix Consulting Group completed its departmental review and recommended to the City Commission that city staff, builders and developers would be best served by the city consolidating its building codes and planning departments.

Angie Carrier was hired in November as Johnson City’s first Development Services Department director, a position born from the consolidation of the city’s planning, community development, codes division and geographic information systems departments as well as the Metropolitan Transportation Planning Organization.

“Angie is very open to new ideas,” Jenny said from his office. “There are still tweaks that need to be made, but by bringing building codes and planning together, it’s easier to walk a person through the process, whether they are a large developer, contractor or a citizen just wanting to add on to their home. We are literally walking them to the person they need to see. We’re working very hard to show we’re working very hard to help and not just to enforce codes.”

The Codes Enforcement Division receives and reviews construction plans, issues permits, inspects projects, issues certificates of occupancy and responds to code violation complaints. Homeowners may perform cosmetic repairs (painting, carpeting, wallpapering, etc.) on their own dwellings without a permit. However, a building permit is required before a property owner, authorized agent or contractor makes these improvements to property:

- For residential and commercial construction, projects valued at $25,000 or greater must be coordinated by a state-licensed contractor or a homeowner. The division must review and approve plans before issuing a building permit, and the review process usually takes less than three days for residential construction.

- When homeowners want to build their own homes, they must sign a notarized affidavit stating the house is for self-occupancy, not for resale. They also must pass trade examinations before permits will be issued allowing them to do electrical, plumbing or mechanical work on their personal residences.

- Permits for installation of gas equipment are issued only to licensed contractors.

When it comes to commercial construction, all project reviews are coordinated by the division. Site, utility and street construction plans for commercial developments must be reviewed and approved by the Planning Department and the Engineering Division. Site and landscape plans must be reviewed and approved by the Planning Department before building permits will be issued.

Also, city water and sewer tap fees must be paid before a building permit will be issued. These fees must be paid in person at the Water and Sewer Services Department. Commercial plans are generally reviewed within five to 10 working days.

“Since January, the type of building requests we’ve been seeing most are multi-family projects,” Jenny said. “We’re also getting a lot of developers looking for information on getting started. A lot of times they will start online. Once they get through that, they generally call and set up a meeting with myself, planning and water and sewer.

Before a building permit is issued for a new structure or an addition to a structure, building plans, along with a scaled site plan and structural drawings, must be submitted for review and approval. It must show the location of all property lines, existing structures, building setbacks, proposed structures, proposed parking, existing and proposed driveway entrances and exits, utility connections, lighting information, storm water drainage and landscaping.

Depending on the size and location of the project, excavation, sanitary sewer systems, easements and utilities may be required. Before a building permit is issued for a new structure or an addition to a structure, a scaled site plan, structural drawings, and a building plan must be submitted for review and approval.

“Yes, from time to time, they will try to lowball us,” he said. “But we figure it at what an average contractor would charge. A residential storage building, for example, does not need a certificate of occupancy. The homeowner a lot of times will do things they did not know they needed a permit for, and nine out of 10 times, they just didn’t know.”

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