End of the ‘regulatory regime?’

City tries to get the jump on expediting building permit process
Sep. 28, 2013 @ 03:00 PM

One of Andres Duany’s most memorable turns of phrase when he visited High Point in May was about lifting the “regulatory regime” that governs development projects.
Duany — a world-renowned urban architect who is helping draw up a master plan for revitalizing High Point’s center city — was talking about the need to do away with bureaucratic obstacles that stifle entrepreneurship.
The master plan will include proposed development codes aimed at streamlining the city’s permitting and inspection process for building projects.
City leaders have attempted to get a head start on some of these ideas.
The City Council recently cut out one step of the regulatory review process that some argue will aid development.
Licensed general contractors no longer have to have their plans for residential projects reviewed by city officials after they’ve already submitted the bulk of the information required by local and state regulations for building projects.
Some argued the additional review constituted an unnecessary step that put High Point at a competitive disadvantage with other localities, such as Winston-Salem and Davidson County, which have been able to award building permits faster because they don’t require this step.
“Every builder I’ve spoken with has been enthusiastically in favor of this change,” said Councilwoman Becky Smothers.
State law allows unlicensed contractors to undertake projects up to $30,000 in value, which are still subject to the review. Still, most larger projects, such as residential subdivisions, should see faster turnaround time on permits, many argued.
“I think the expectations are that it will be beneficial because it will speed the process along,” said Councilwoman Judy Mendenhall.
Reviewing plans for commercial projects in the city is a different story.
Councilman Jim Davis, a homebuilder, said the state requires plan review for commercial projects.
The council recently approved spending $88,000 in hold harmless reimbursement funds from the state to fill two positions — one a plan reviewer and the other a permit specialist.
Davis said both new positions will be devoted to commercial plan review, which generally takes seven to 10 days.
“Commercial is where the bulk of the manpower is needed, because there’s not a lot of residential building going on right now,” said Mayor Bernita Sims.
Duany and his team have submitted a preliminary report on strategies for revitalizing three major areas of the city: Uptowne, the downtown furniture showroom district and the High Point University area.
A final report is expected later this fall.
No matter what the suggestions are for a streamlined ordinance, don’t expect the city to all of a sudden be able to slash all of the red tape that now applies to some commercial and residential projects, High Point leaders cautioned.
State building codes over which the city has no control mandate much of what is required, officials said.
“Some people think that the city requires too much. But a lot of what the requirements are is not us, it’s the state,” Sims said. “There are people out there who assume it’s the city and they say, ‘Aw, it’s so hard to do business in the city.’ Well, it’s not us. Call your state representative and give them an earful like you give it to us and then maybe they’ll make some changes in Raleigh.”