CHARLOTTE – The Mecklenburg County code enforcement department updated the Board of County Commissioners at its meeting Thursday night on efforts to address inspection and permitting process problems, but some commissioners said the department’s progress was moving along too slowly.
“I know that we’re taking it seriously…but what I can also say is that somewhere down the pipe people feel like the transmission’s slipping, and that somewhere it’s not quite moving along,” said Commissioner Matthew Ridenhour of District 5.
He said five developers had contacted him in the last week about inspection and permitting problems, and said that was not an “atypical” week.
This prompted a response from District 3 Commissioner George Dunlap, who wholeheartedly disagreed with Ridenhour.
“I’m amazed at the progress that has been made. What disappoints me is that there are folk who have the ear of other people who don’t recognize those changes that are taking place,” Dunlap said.
Although the two commissioners didn’t see eye to eye on the progress that’s been made by the code enforcement department, the board agreed that communications needed the most work.
“The notion of communication seems to run through all of this,” said Dumont Clarke of District 4, the board’s vice chairman.
Commissioners were specifically concerned that customers aren’t reading emails the department has sent in order to improve efforts to inform them of code changes, and – as has been a concern in the past – the miscommunication about code standards, which sets up inspection problems later in the development process.
“I don’t know why they’re not opening the emails, but if that’s not getting the info to the industry then maybe we need to re-evaluate how we’re getting that information to the industry,” Ridenhour said about the low percentage of code enforcement emails that get read.
Another area in which the code enforcement department has received complaints in the past concerns on-site inspections requiring changes in items that were approved in building plans.
Ebenezer Gujjarlapudi, director of the county’s Land Use and Environmental Services Agency, which oversees the code enforcement department, presented to the board the department’s ongoing initiatives and efforts to solve those issues. He said one option was to require pre-submittal meetings for projects that exceed a certain dollar amount.
“Say, if a project gets beyond $5 million, should we make it mandatory that they’ll have to meet with us?” he said.
The code enforcement department has discussed the possibility with the Building Development Commission (BDC), which advises the county’s code enforcement department and has played an active role in the department’s improvement process.
Dunlap said mandated pre-submittal meetings were a great idea, but that he didn’t understand why the code enforcement department needed the board’s approval to implement the initiative – or any initiative for that matter.
“If (the department) mandates that that person comes to learn about Mecklenburg County’s process…I don’t think we’ll have those kinds of concerns, and I don’t think you need us to tell you to do that,” he said about changes having to be made after building plans had already been approved.
Dunlap addressed County Manager Dena Diorio directly, and told her that some of the plans need to be implemented, not just talked about. Diorio agreed, but said some of the recommendations were “policy related,” and that those recommendations needed commissioners’ input.
Diorio was specifically referring to recommendations made by Gartner Inc., which was hired by the city and county last year for $325,000 to provide recommendations on how to improve building development processes.
Ridenhour asked Gujjarlapudi what the department was doing to ensure improvement initiatives weren’t just a “bullet point on a slide.”
Gujjarlapudi said there’s always a follow-up at BDC meetings to ensure things are getting done, and that improvements may seem to be moving slowly because permitting and inspection processes are complicated.
Although Ridenhour took an aggressive stance on the code enforcement department’s progress, he opted to close the meeting by offering constructive criticism.
“If we’re pushing the information, but it’s not – for whatever reason – getting through, maybe we can take a different avenue at that communication to make it more effective,” he said.
Also at Thursday’s meeting, Scott Shelton, president of Charlotte Comfort Systems Inc., was appointed to the county’s Building Development Commission.
Shelton, a member and past president of the Charlotte Plumbing Heating & Cooling Contractors Association, will represent the heating and cooling industry on the commission.
The Board of County Commissioners also named John Price and Wanda Towler as the nominees for a general public position on the Building Development Commission. The Board will vote on whether to approve their appointments at a later date.