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Consultant advises committee be established to oversee construction issues

Building plans heads togetherA consultant hired to evaluate building permit and inspection procedures within Mecklenburg County is recommending that a committee be formed to ensure consistency in the application of building standards. The committee would be made up of leaders in the managers’ offices of the county, Charlotte and the county’s other six towns, should they want to be represented.

Gartner Inc. of Stamford, Conn., was hired for $325,000 to provide recommendations on how to improve the building development process. The fee is being paid by the city and county.

The company presented its findings to a city committee and county Board of Commissioners this week and is scheduled to make a presentation to the full City Council Jan. 5.

“We are committed to begin implementation as soon as possible, but want to make sure we received input from the elected officials,” said Ebenezer Gujjarlapudi, the director of the county’s Land Use and Environmental Services Agency, which oversees the code enforcement department. “We will have a better idea on the proposed schedule early January.”

Earlier this year, several organizations sent letters to the agency calling for improvements in the process. The organizations included the Real Estate Building Industry Coalition, the Apartment Association and the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce.

County Manager Dena Diorio has made improvements to the process a priority.

The proposed governance committee as recommended by Gartner could make policy decisions for development services processes and activities that span both the county and city, including code enforcement, now handled by the county, and planning and land development, now handled by the city. This division of duties has been cited as a hindrance to making the process more seamless and defined.

“It is critical that the City and County establish a unified governance body tasked to foster immediate and lasting collaboration between the City and County and follow through on change initiatives,” according to an executive summary of the report by Gartner. “Without this committee, it is unlikely that the other recommendations outlined in this document can be successfully implemented to realize their full potential benefit.”

The primary complaint of contractors and developers has been that on-site inspectors often require changes in items that were approved in their building plans, changes that cost them time, money and aggravation.

Proposed options include:

  • A “merged jurisdiction model,” a combined city-county manager’s office to oversee the departments, similar to those in Jacksonville and Duval County, Fla.; Nasvhille and Davidson, Tenn.; and Indianapolis and Marion County, Ind.
  • Creating memorandums of understanding to enhance the city and county’s roles in the process, as has been done in Memphis and Shelby County, Tenn.
  • Having the county and city each be responsible for all of the planning, land development and code enforcement duties within their limits.

The company also recommended:

  • Improving customer service, where it found a “misalignment with customer expectations.”
  • Simplifying and providing education on the building construction process, and establishing accountability on delivery of customer service.
  • Developing a strategy to integrate or consolidate online services.
  • Improving consistency and communications between inspectors and plan reviewers and provide training so that codes are interpreted more uniformly.
  • Enhancing and establishing metrics for customer satisfaction, accountability and quality control.

The recommendations establish a two-year time frame for most of the recommendations, and a three-year time frame for complete implementation.

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