City Council Minutes

Thursday, October 23,2003

St. George City Council Minutes
Work Meeting
October 23, 2003, 4:00 P.M.
Administrative Conference Room

Mayor Daniel McArthur
Council Member Suzanne Allen
Council Member Bob Whatcott
Council Member Rod Orton
Council Member Larry Gardner
City Manager Gary Esplin
Deputy City Attorney Ron Read
Deputy City Recorder Ren? Fleming

Council Member Sharon Isom

The following participated in a site visit to the Red Cliffs Parkway:
Mayor Daniel McArthur
Council Member Suzanne Allen
Council Member Bob Whatcott
Council Member Rod Orton
Council Member Larry Gardner
City Manager Gary Esplin
Deputy City Recorder Ren? Fleming
Assistant to the City Manager Marc Mortensen
Public Works Director Bullock
City of St. George Staff: Aaron Baker
Phil Giles with Creamer and Noble Engineering

Discussion concerning the plan review process

City Manager Esplin explained the City is processing more development than any other city or county in the State of Utah. This results in more pressure on the process.

Deputy City Attorney Read explained the legal requirements required in the building process. State law says the State will adopt a building code and the City is a compliance agency and is required to review plans and specifications of building permits. The fees collected are mandated by State code to pay for costs of plan inspections. The purpose of this law is to protect the health, safety and welfare of the community. The City can not presume plans are valid even if they are stamped by an engineer. It is a violation of the code if they are not inspected by the City or a firm hired by the City to do the inspection.

Deputy City Attorney Read explained with regard to liability the City is not responsible if actions fall under the governmental immunity act, i.e. if we are inspecting for health, safety, welfare. Exceptions exist if the City is doing the work or is the owner of the project.

Council Member Orton asked if an outside firm can be hired to review plans and also work on projects within the City.

Deputy City Attorney Read commented that can be done, although the firm hired cannot review plans for projects they are involved in.

The group discussed the option of hiring a firm to pick up some of the plan inspection workload. Another option is to hire additional staff. The State law requires the plans and building to be reviewed and inspected. A building inspector isn?t qualified to review the plans; plans have to be reviewed by a City plan inspector.

Dick Simpkins, City Building Inspector, reviewed the examination requirements of the State for building plans. The entire plan, including structural drawings and engineering calculations have to be reviewed by a City building official. He explained he attended a
meeting with a State representative and asked what the consequences are of not reviewing the plans. Wayne Holman, with the State, indicated there would be fines levied against himself, the City Manager, Mayor and each council member.

Community Development Director Nicholson discussed the planning staff review and the plan check processes. He distributed a flow chart of the Commercial Development Plan Review Procedure. He explained a planning meeting is held every Tuesday at 8:30 am. The meeting is not intended to approve site plans, but to provide direction to the applicants. Staff reviews things such as the site lay out, parking, building setback and heights, density, lot size, drainage, landscaping etc. The applicant will get information regarding procedures such as how to file a conditional use permit and given direction regarding various boards and commissions that need to review the plans. A check sheet is provided to the applicant that summarizes what is gone over in that meeting.

The group discussed when plan tracking begins and what is involved in the tracking process.

Community Development Director Nicholson discussed the plan check process. Building plans are submitted to the Building Inspections or to the Plan Inspections department. Plans are logged in on the date they are received as a complete set. Some commercial plans are sent out to an independent inspector hired by the City. The goal is a 3 week turn around time. All plans for tenet finishes are reviewed in house. The redlined plans are returned to the engineer or architect to make the corrections.

Mayor McArthur asked if there is a way to check on the status of plans if they are not returned within the 3 week turn around time. He suggested communicating with the applicant when the plans are not being turned around in the 3 week time frame.

Council Member Gardner explained there is concern in the building sector of the community because of the plan review process. The larger issue is that someone outside the community is reviewing plans. He asked if there is there any idea of the amount of money spent on outside reviews and asked if the money can be better utilized by adding additional staff to meet the needs of the community.

City Manager Esplin commented that staff can be increased, if that is the council?s direction. He expressed concern regarding the possibility of development slowing down, and the additional staff no longer being needed, would the position be eliminated? Some work would still have to be sent out if it required review for things such as structural engineering.

There was discussion of tenet improvements and if it is possible that work can be done without getting proper inspection.

Carol Sapp, with Southern Utah Home Builders Association, commented regarding structural review; it?s her understanding that any commercial and unconventional residential construction requires a structural review. She asked for clarification as to what percentage of plans require structural review.

Dick Simpkins explained that 100% of the Home Show houses require structural review.

Council Member Orton commented the plan review is being done to help the builder.

Dick Simpkins explained he recently had to condemn a house because of a lack of engineering and soil reports. The engineering wasn?t required when the house was built 25 years ago; as a result the home owner is loosing his investment.

Council Member Allen commended the building department and the work they do. She asked regarding tenet improvements in a strip mall that has the same basic layout with various retailers in it, does each tenet need to have an architectural stamp on the improvement of each store within the mall?

Dick Simpkins explained it depends on if it is the same classification of business. If there is no change of occupancy it doesn?t require an engineer stamp.

Rusty Richards commented the plan review is an essential item, but it sounds alarming that the City is under staffed at this time. He hears complaints from residential and commercial developers regarding the length of time to get through plan review. He thinks the way to solve the process is to add staff.

Energy Services Director Solomon distributed a flow chart of the Simplified Joint Utility Committee (JUC) Procedures. He explained the JUC is a result of trying to solve a problem rather than create another obstacle for developers to go through. The utilities were seeing problems after the project was under construction, there were problems in coordination with the utilities, those outside as well as inside the city. The design and construction plan review was getting done quickly. But once it got into construction there was a week or longer delay because of utility conflicts. To solve the problem staff created some utility standards. The JUC was formed which is comprised of sewer, water, cable, phone, gas, post office, fire and both the City and Dixie Escalante power companies. Standards were developed to avoid conflicts during construction and provide utilities with corridors within a subdivision or commercial development. JUC also provides a one-stop shop where the applicant can meet with all the utilities at one time. The JUC meets every Tuesday at 10:00am to coordinate with the Planning Staff meeting. When a project is in the conceptual stage the developer will come to JUC for answers. The JUC provides preliminary information such as where utilities will be fed from and who will bear the cost of getting utilities to the project. The developer is also provided information on the requirement to use a pre-qualified engineer to draw up the site plans. The power design is done in house. He explained with the first review all the utilities review the site plan, redline it and it goes back to the engineer. The engineer can then meet with the Engineering staff. JUC doesn?t do any more reviews until Engineering sends a memo that the plans are in their hands and has been accepted as a project. The developer needs to know about utilities before they can start grading, the first review accomplishes that.

The group discussed the reason for the plans to go to Engineering after first review but before second review. Once the form from Engineering is received JUC moves to a second review.

Energy Services Director Solomon explained hopefully after the second review there are not many changes to be made. Ideally there are 3 reviews and then a final review. Once JUC has done the final review the plans can be submitted to Engineering or a project manager and Engineering submits the full 17 sets of plans to be stamped by JUC and then returned to developer.

Assistant City Engineer Sandberg distributed a flow chart detailing the JUC and Engineering drawing differences and how they come together. He explained there is a concurrent engineering review with the JUC review. To resolve coordination problems a City Development Engineer (DE) is assigned to each project. That person is responsible for coordination of the plan review process. There are three DE?s, each handle coordination with other City departments and plan review. He distributed a list of things the DE is responsible for. Excavation grading is becoming a big issue now and it takes more review to work out all the issues. He explained the coordination between the Fire and Waste Water departments. The goal is to turn plans around in 15 days. If it is a straight forward project it can be done in 2 reviews a more difficult project requires a 3rd review. Once both JUC and Engineering plans are reviewed all 17 sets are approved. Then the building department is notified so the building permit can be issued. Building can?t start until site plan is approved.

The group discussed what information is available on the web site such as the check list the DE has to complete. There was discussion regarding when the owner is contacted if the plans are waiting for something such as traffic design plan.

Assistant City Engineer Sandberg reviewed some improvements made such as hiring a part time plan processor clerk. He explained how to find information on plan status on the city web site.

Larry Belliston commented the JUC and Engineering processes moving concurrently has been a great help. It is much improved over 6 or 7 years ago. It has sped up the process and communications are better, problems are handled in a non-adversarial manner.

City Manager Esplin indicated the goal is to decide where to go from here. Do we want to hire someone in house and or go to outside contractors?

There was discussion regarding how additional staff will speed up the plan review process. There was discussion of the pros and cons of hiring additional staff such as housing and funding.

There was discussion of how problems are resolved when a project is in process of construction and an inspector requires something not included in the plan review process. There was discussion of issues such as how to handle situations when the code changes. The City has to follow the State minimum standards. When an occupancy change is the reason for a remodel, often the retrofit needs to be brought up to current code. There was discussion concerning the latitude the Chief Building Inspector when the code changes or there is a conflict in the IBC and UBC.

Dick Simpkins explained he has to balance what is fair along with life safety and liability he takes personally for the decisions he makes.

A member of the audience commented that in the past there was more latitude taken than should have been. He expressed that Mr. Simpkins has done a good job at getting rid of the ?good ole boy? stuff and making it fair to all.

Mayor McArthur commented that some good things have been brought out in this discussion. He asked City Manager Esplin to determine the cost for adding additional staff.

City Manager Esplin indicated he will review the process and determine the cost of adding additional staff and then try to develop a system to notify the owner or engineer when plans don?t have any action in a certain amount of time.

Meeting adjourned at 7:20 pm.

Minutes recorded by:

Ren? Fleming Deputy City Recorder Date