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Increased county building permit standards request sent to planners

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Doug Stanley addresses dynamics of a more stringent building permit ordinance, as Ralph Rinaldi and David Beahm listen in the back row. Photos/Roger Bianchini

Following work session discussion the morning of Wednesday, November 7, the Warren County Board of Supervisors reached a consensus to forward a request for more stringent building permit criteria to the county planning commission.

Property Owners of Shenandoah Farms (POSF) Board Chairman and Shenandoah District Planning Commissioner Ralph Rinaldi was present Tuesday to explain the request for a more comprehensive county code on building permits generated out of the Shenandoah Farms Sanitary District. Rinaldi explained that the request sent to the county administrator related primarily to drainage issues specific to the sprawling and mountainous Farms Sanitary District.

“I didn’t mean to open a can of worms. My and our board’s original intent was to reduce our maintenance costs on roads” Rinaldi told the supervisors and county staff of the impetus toward a countywide ordinance change. Rinaldi noted that a lack of building permit standards regarding drainage and erosion controls are wreaking havoc on the Farms road and low-lying adjacent properties.

A letter dated October 13 to County Administrator Doug Stanley, signed by Rinaldi as POSF chairman and POSF Road Chairman Joe Longo outlined their issues.

“There are often no erosion controls in place, after storm events mud from the building sites wash out on to the road or adjacent properties …drainage is diverted to adjacent properties, homes are constructed on existing drainage ways, wells are installed in ravines and in several occasions on the public ROW,” Rinaldi and Longo wrote.

During a closed session after Wednesday’s board meeting and prior to the work session, Rinaldi elaborated to this reporter on some of the issues. He observed that a county building permit had been approved for a well-septic in an essentially inaccessible to-the-necessary-equipment ravine because no elevations had been included in the submitted site plan.

During the work session Rinaldi made it clear he supported the right of property owners to develop lots. The POSF letter explained a contributing factor to the drainage issues tied to new construction as “the fact that most of the better lots are gone. They were built on years ago. Most of the remaining lots are un-desirable by either being too steep, low lying, rocky, or in natural drainage areas, etc.”

“I am a firm believer in property rights – but neighbors also have property rights,” Rinaldi told county officials Wednesday morning.
One contributing factor to issues with current construction on steeper lots remaining for development in the Farms, the POSF letter observed was payment of a “new construction fee” by developers.

“Most builders seem to think after paying this fee it entitles them to do basically what they need or want to in order to get their new home built. Often when we confront a builder about an issue, the first thing out of their mouth is, ‘Well, I paid my new construction fee.’ These individuals do not think they are accountable for their actions since they paid the fee,” the POSF letter states.

It was noted in the work session that increased standards and costs could run afoul of local builders regarding additional costs. Currently, permitting costs for a 1500 square-foot building were estimated between $1400 and $1750. Adding topographical, health department, grading, erosion, among other permit approval criteria could add from $2,000 to $3,000 to existing costs, county Zoning Officer Joe Petty estimated.

“Not to make light of the additional $2,000 to $3,000 cost – but homeowners could realize $20,000 to $30,000 in savings down the road,” Deputy County Administrator and Farms Sanitary District Manager Bob Childress observed of mandating improved drainage and erosion standards upon issuance of building permits.

In the end it was forecast that additional costs would simply be passed on to home buyers by developers.

The county supervisors and staff agreed to pass the matter to the planning commission to review all aspects and recommend wording attached to proposed new building permit ordinance.

“Should we call it the Ralph Rinaldi Ordinance,” Board Chair Tony Carter asked, drawing laughter, perhaps somewhat nervously from Rinaldi.

Despite Rinaldi’s concern the POSF request might have a harder road to approval as a countywide ordinance as it seems would be required for implementation, County Administrator Stanley observed that one non-localized benefit was that it would “make sure all issues are addressed before a home is built.”

While County Planning Director Taryn Logan observed the planning commission could begin consideration of the matter by its next meeting in three weeks, with all the variables at play it was estimated the matter would not likely come back to the supervisors for consideration before the spring of 2019. Logan suggested that the planning commission recommendations be brought back to the board prior to advertisement for the planning department public hearing to iron out any disagreement over specifics that the supervisors might have.

County Board Chair Carter also suggested Building Inspector David Beahm reach out to the Warren County Building Committee for input during the planning commission process. Beahm observed that the private-sector builders group does not meet regularly during the building off season, with their next scheduled meeting in January or February.

During the supervisors’ regular meeting of Nov. 7, family members accept recognition of 30 years of service of William ‘Billy’ Biggs to the EDA and economic development in the community. Accepting for their absent brother, uncle or brother-in-law from the county administrator’s left are: Mary Ann Biggs (brother Joe’s wife), nephew William Biggs, and brothers Pat and Joe. Biggs recently resigned the board due to lingering health issues.

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