City Council Minutes

Tuesday, August 24,2004



City of St. George Council Meeting
Emergency Meeting
August 24, 2004 3:00p.m.
Dixie Center, St. George, UT

PRESENT:
Mayor Daniel McArthur
Council Member Gardner
Council Member Whatcott
Council Member Orton
Council Member Bunker
Council Member Allen
City Manager Gary Esplin
City Attorney Shaun Guzman
Economic Development Specialist Matt Loo
Deputy City Recorder Ren? Fleming

DISCUSSION CONCERNING PLAN REVIEW AND INSPECTION PROCESS

Mayor McArthur indicated a few people involved in commercial development have been invited to attend this meeting. He explained City staff and some members of council are apprehensive about this meeting being held without staff in attendance. However, he decided this meeting should be held only with the developers to hear issues. He explained that if there are any comments about specific staff members, the meeting will move into executive session. He read a letter from Oakland Construction indicating the company has very positive experiences in the planning process. He explained the goal today is to listen to those who want to make presentation and to ask questions to better understand the process. He commented that he felt staff shouldn?t be invited but that the council should hear this information and have the discussion openly.

Council Member Gardner commented that feedback is important to understanding if needs are being met both of customers and citizens. He indicated this meeting is a process of discovery on the council?s part to understand the situation.

Doug Watts commented that the most important thing to him is paying close attention to large industrial projects.

Mayor McArthur asked for specific examples of a business or project that has been lost due to the planning process or the length time for approvals to be obtained.

Doug Watts commented that the things instituted by Matt Loo have really improved the process. He indicated that the pressure that has been placed on the Building Department probably has decreased the amount of time it takes to get through the process. He indicated he didn?t have a specific example of project or business that didn?t come to the City because of the process, but the standard answer from staff when asked about the length of time it will take for approval is six to eight weeks. He thinks the City should focus on the industrial economic opportunity and get them done in two to three weeks.

Greg Mathis commented that he was able to have projects preliminary approved in Cedar City with a phased planning approach within two weeks. He asked if there was a way to do some phased building while the planning is still being done. He commented regarding the Joint Utility Commission (JUC) process; three to four departments that have to get together before one will issue a permit to do footings. He suggested assigning a project manager that would help fast track some projects.

Economic Development Specialist Matt Loo explained staff is working through a process now to try to bring out differences in commercial versus residential development as far as JUC is concerned.

There was discussion regarding which projects would be fast traced versus all commercial projects being fast tracked. The group considered bringing requests for fast tracking to the council to make the determination.

Council Member Whatcott asked if there was currently a process to fast track a project.

City Manager Esplin commented from his perspective it?s on a fast track if the building is going on without the final plat recorded.

Greg Mathis indicated most of the projects he works on do not involve final plat approval.

City Manager Esplin indicated at times the City has allowed footings to be installed prior to final plat approval and asked how many projects the council wants to approve to be handled in that manner. He also explained Mr. Loo is working on a process for the builder to acknowledge the liability the builder assumes in those situations.

Gilbert Jennings indicated the questions regarding fast tracking of projects is a difficult one to answer and that the process for a subdivision may not be the same process needed for a building. He suggested buildings in different zones need a different approach. He indicated some businesses will go somewhere other than the City of St. George because their timeline can?t be met. He gave an example of a project in the Fort Pierce Industrial Park where the time line couldn?t be met because of State Lands issues, not because of City issues.

Gilbert Jennings related a process that started over two years ago with two gentlemen who wanted to build a diesel repair shop. The shop owners bought property and started on the design process. He got involved in the financing for the building. After five months JUC released the project to the Building Department. The building plans went to Las Vegas to be reviewed. It took 3.5 months to get the plan through the review process. The loan application expired during this time. It took eight months to go through JUC and Engineering to get building permit. He reviewed notes made by the superintendent regarding problems related to this project. He indicated the lot had power, water and sewer service. The first step in the JUC process is to get a power design. It didn?t take long to get the power design done, sewer and water service was already there but it still had to go through the entire review process. One frustration in the review process is that there are multiple reviews. Some of the things on the final redline should have been picked up in the first review. One issue involved a fire wall that separated the shop from the office area. There was a lot of negotiation regarding the design the fire wall, the person that reviewed it in Las Vegas thought it should be done differently than as designed on the plans. He discussed the placing of the power panel. The City Power Department decided that the plan approved by JUC wasn?t the way it was going to built. So staff decided a new power pole and transformer should be put in at an additional cost of $13,000. A sewer line was not identified on the plan which ran right through the property, it cost of about $4500 more to do the sewer differently than on the plans. A six inch water service was to the property and the Water Department required a new water service and meter. The street inspector that checked the storm detention on the project and indicated it needed to be rip rapped, another cost of $4,000. The inspector failed inspections that should have been handled on prior inspections. He indicated the fire wall had to be redone to match the way it was designed in the first place which affected the ceiling in the building causing it to be reworked. The bottom line is that cost over runs were approximately $41,500. His company lost money on this job; the owner has had to find additional financing. The point he is trying to make is that the process is inefficient, the job took longer than it should have, and there was twice as much money in design costs than it should have had. The process added no value to the building.

Council Member Gardner asked if Mr. Jennings was saying that the decision made in the field was an appropriate decision or that it could have been done without JUC or that JUC isn?t working.

Gilbert Jennings indicated he doesn?t know.

Doug Watts asked what the point of JUC is.

Larry Belliston commented that the things Mr. Jennings spoke about are major changes made in the middle of a project. He indicated he has had to correct City mistakes before permits can be issued. He explained his other concerned is resolving conflict resolutions.

Greg Mathis commented that when JUC was instituted in 1993 or 1994 there was a need to coordinate the process to make sure utilities were stubbed to the lot. On the commercial side there is a different focus. His frustration with JUC is the time it takes to get a completed plan. If it?s going to be revised based on the expertise in the field why take it through the reviews in the office?

Doug Watts commented that rather than going through JUC first, have the plans go through concurrently or during construction because the building is done first and site done after the building process.

Greg Mathis commented that another example is the Starbucks building the reviews went through quickly, but on site three utilities were revised.

Mayor McArthur asked if there is a reason for doing the power design first.

Gilbert Jennings commented that it?s because the Power Department runs JUC.

There was discussion regarding water and power designs being done at the same time. There was discussion regarding utilities outside the City doing their footwork separately rather than through JUC.

Council Member Orton commented that his understanding is that JUC was started to bring all utilities together at one time to address site plan issues.

There was a discussion concerning what utilities attended the JUC meetings and what the plan process involves. There was discussion of having those who can make decisions attend the JUC meetings.

Council Member Whatcott reviewed the earlier discussion regarding the field being the place where the experts were, if so having a room of decision makers may not work.

Gilbert Jennings commented the plan brought to JUC will not be perfect. There is no perfect plan at the beginning of a project, there are always changes. He commented that if he wants to build a building in Cedar City, he attends their DRC meeting. Attending that meeting is a City Engineer, Utility Department representative and others. They will indicate the changes needed, decisions are made at the time of the meeting. He would like to see a decision maker at JUC.

Council Member Whatcott asked if Mr. Jennings is suggesting the field person would not be able to over ride the decision maker in the office if decision makers were involved with the JUC meetings.

Greg Mathis explained the frustration is in spending six to eight weeks to get a perfect plan which can?t be done.

Gilbert Jennings commented that coordination in the field has to be done with all the utilities throughout the inspection process.

The time frame in getting a plan approved and then in process of construction was discussed.

Gilbert Jennings asked why is there a requirement to go back to JUC on projects that are subdivisions when the utilities are already to the lot.

There was discussion regarding construction beginning before projects have gone through the JUC process.
Greg Mathis suggested the developer can coordinate the gas, phone and cable, as long as the City utilities are taken care of. He indicated Orem City has a project manager assigned to each project.

Gilbert Jennings suggested putting the JUC stamp on the plans and if the phone, cable etc can approve it on the spot they can sign it right then.

Council Member Orton commented that if the staff were here; they would have a different perspective on the situation. He asked for an example of businesses that didn?t located here because of City delays.

Gilbert Jennings indicated he is not here to make that claim today; he can?t answer that question today.

Doug Watts commented that a company named Aquatic went to Mesquite rather than the City of St. George.

Council Member Orton asked if that is because Mesquite could get through the process faster.

Doug Watts replied no, there were various reasons. He commented that in Hurricane he went through the planning and construction phase in five months, in Cedar City it took four months.

Council Member Orton pointed out that Cedar City?s growth rate is not as high as the City of St. George. He explained the council asked for and got information from staff that indicated the time for approval was faster than other cities that compare with the City of St. George with respect to the rate of growth.

Doug Watts indicated the council should be especially aware of companies and should squeeze the process down and make sure we?re winners.

Mayor McArthur commented that some projects have been pushed through process quickly.

There was discussion regarding the work done by Mr. Loo; that the process has improved over the last year or two. There was discussion concerning the length of time it takes to go through the City?s approval process, which it compares favorably with other areas experiencing a similar rate of growth. The affects of the process moving more quickly and the affect it would have on growth was discussed.

Larry Belliston indicated he built a 10,000 square foot medical building in another City. The plans were approved and the building completed in eight months. A similar building took over a year in the City of St. George.

Council Members Orton and Whatcott asked where the other building was constructed.
Larry Belliston indicated it was in South Ogden.

Mayor McArthur asked what can be done to make the process better.

Doug Watts suggested prioritizing projects as to what is most important.

Mayor McArthur asked what criteria to would be used to prioritize.

Gilbert Jennings explained he has engaged a law firm to do some research on this issue.
Doug Watts commented that once a plan has been given a priority, the developer can go to JUC and he would like to be able to meet again the next day rather than meeting next week. He suggested there be someone in house that is not overloaded to review the plans.

Greg Mathis indicated that he has been designing the Las Palmas buildings which have gone to different reviewers who had different changes, although the plans were the same.

Larry Belliston commented that he is concerned with conflict resolution. If the individual makes a decision that you disagree with how do you resolve that.

There was discussion concerning the decisions which are made based on code.

Larry Belliston provided examples of conflicts there were difficult to resolve. He indicated the entrances into the Dixie Sunset Plaza became an issue. It was resolved when the State overrode the City decision. He reviewed another conflict with respect to a tenet improvement in the Dixie Sunset Plaza. There was a code change during the construction which caused conflict.

Council Member Gardner asked if Mr. Belliston was suggesting the building official wouldn?t meet with him.

Larry Belliston replied no, staff met with him but there was disagreement on the issue and trouble resolving the issue.

Council Member Whatcott pointed out the State didn?t override the City; it was a clarification that resolved the issue with respect to the entrances.

A code change that was made during the construction of the tenet improvement was discussed.

Larry Belliston commented that there was no way to resolve the conflict. The other issue is that staff uses the power structure to coerce things. The issue had to do with a site traffic issue. He indicated he proposed to put the road in place and stand on the site and make a decision. He got a permit to push the dirt and get it started in June, two days later it was denied, he finally got approval to start this last Wednesday. He stated there needs to be some way to resolve the conflict and balance the power.

Council Member Gardner commented that hopefully this can be a process to where this body can be somewhat of a conflict resolution. He asked if Mr. Belliston is suggesting that some of these issues never get to City Council.

Larry Belliston commented that it can?t be in this forum, but rather there needs to be a way to sit down and discuss this in a non-public setting.

Chris Engstrom, Attorney at Law, explained Mr. Jennings asked him to look at the code and see how it applies to the City of St. George. He focused on the building code. He reviewed how the State mandates building codes within the state. The administrative provisions are to be adopted by individual cities. He indicated that it appears that perhaps the City is using the administrative provisions of the code as a default. He would like the council and staff to look at the process. He commented that he doesn?t like the concept of fast tracking or priority lists; it can be subject to favoritism. He does like the idea of having a person who is the key contact for a developer or contactor. He indicated the State Legislator says the City should adopt an appeals process.

There was discussion regarding developing an appeals process.

Council Member Gardner asked Mr. Engstrom to explain the semantics of fast tracking versus phased submittal.

Chris Engstrom indicated he doesn?t mind the concept of fast tracking as long as everyone has the chance to do it if they meet the criteria whether it is a $300,000 building or $3 million project. He commented that within the building code there is a lot of flexibility for the building official. The one suggestion he would have is that the council work with the building official to exercise his or her discretion.

Council Member Gardner commented to Mr. Engstrom that at first he said that the building could do its own policing as long as it fits with the code. The council has been under the impression that there are certain requirements with respect to plan review and submittal that have to be met.

Chris Engstrom read some of the text from the State requirements that provided an example of the use discretion by a building official.

There was discussion regarding flexibility as it applies to commercial developments.

Chris Engstrom suggested looking at the process to see where the flexibility can be implemented.

Doug Watts commented that Dick Simpkins would say there is too much liability to be flexible.

Larry Belliston indicated one of the problems is that different departments view things in different ways and won?t step on toes. There is no way to resolve conflicts between departments.

Gilbert Jennings indicated he would like to make sure he understands what the City has adopted for the code.

Chris Engstrom indicated that all he can find is that the City adopted the International Building Code (IBC) 2003 for purposes of family dwellings and town homes within the City. But the administrative portion of the code doesn?t apply, and he doesn?t know what administrative provisions do apply.

City Attorney Guzman stated the State doesn?t say the City can?t adopt the IBC only that it doesn?t have to adopt the administrative procedures.
City Manager Esplin stated the City has adopted the IBC code as reference including the administrative portions.

The group discussed the IBC.

Chris Engrstrom commented that under State law if the City disagrees with any provisions the City can go to the State and ask for a state wide change or a change that applies only to the City.

Gilbert Jennings commented that he went through a very serious problem with the Building Department regarding the Spectrum building because of a change in the snow load requirement. This is very specifically what the developers are talking about, it was inappropriate for the change to apply it after the fact.

Mayor McArthur asked for comments from others in the audience.

Ed Burgess with Quality Excavation commented that we live in a great City.

Mans Jennings commented that he appreciates the council listening to these concerns.

Mayor McArthur indicated this meeting has been for the council to listen to concerns on the commercial side of the industry.

Council Member Allen asked who does have the final say when there is a conflict.

Council Member Whatcott indicated that it is important remember there are two sides to that story and the council has only heard one side.

City Manager Esplin explained JUC is an advisory panel to provide information to the developer about what size of utilities is needed for a specific project; it?s the responsibility of the engineer to provide accurate information on the plans. The council has listened to this presentation; it?s only fair that the council listen to the members of JUC. Blame is being assigned without hearing from everyone involved.

City Attorney Guzman indicated there have been times when concerns have been brought to him, a meeting has been held with the Building Department and City manager. Matt Loo now handles the conflicts.

Gilbert Jennings stated he presented that story not to criticize anyone in the staff. He tried to give the facts clearly. No one is asking that for reimbursement, the point was that a set of plans went through the process and got stamped. When work was done in the field something different happened, it isn?t always the City?s problem. This is an example that shows why the process didn?t work.

Larry Belliston commented a stamped set of plans that has to be on site. If the plans are modified it goes through a process. The City has done some things to make it better. There needs to be a party that represents the public or council.

Doug Watts commented that he hasn?t had so many problems with the process; it?s a problem with the timing. The most important thing to him is the timing issue.

Motion and vote
Council Member Allen made a motion, seconded by Council Member Bunker to go into executive session to discuss a property purchase. All voted aye

EXECUTIVE SESSION

Motion and vote
Council Member Bunker made a motion, seconded by Council Member Allen to adjourn the meeting. All voted aye

Minutes Recorded by:


Ren? Fleming Deputy City Recorder Date