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Building Permit Issues Continue To Plague City Council

By Staff | Nov 1, 2011

Concerns over building permits continue to be a topic of conversation for members of Emmetsburg City Council.

Two items on the consent agenda brought considerable discussion last Monday, Oct. 24. Fire District Permits were requested for Sol Salon and McNally Bake Shop. Construction is in progress.

“Is this another one of these cases of ‘after the fact’?” questioned councilman Brian Campbell. “The Wards building is dated the 12th or 13th of October and one of those projects has been in the works for more than three months already. Is this a case of they’ve started it, they’re just about done with it, so they come to get a permit?”

City Administrator John Bird explained that he called Frank Kliegl, building inspector, after he noticed siding being placed on the enclosure over the new staircase at Sol Salon.

“As I drove by, it looked like it was vinyl siding, and it’s in the fire district,” said Bird.

“He (Kliegl) checked it and it’s actually steel siding. Frank talked to Clint (Young, contractor) and they had not put in an application for a building permit. Clint said it was an oversight.”

“My concern is, what are we going to do to stop this?” said Campbell.

City Clerk Kim Kibbie offered further explanation. “Clint Young didn’t realize he needed a building permit because he thought he was replacing the same structure. If it’s the same size, the same structure, then we don’t require a building permit. Only if there are any dimensions that changed,” she said.

“Are we going to have to make a couple of them tear it down and start over again to get their attention?” asked Campbell.

“I hope not,” answered Bird.

“I hope not, too, but this has been a trend for the six years that I’ve been here and I don’t know how long Steve (Finer) has been here. It’s been a trend, we’ll get the job half done and then they won’t turn down the permit. I don’t think we’re going to see much of a change until we get a building code and get a building inspector which we can’t afford a full time building inspector. The code I guess we can adopt some national codes, city codes as far as these things are concerned. It’s happening so much on every size project and it’s not just the commercial district it’s garages it’s after-the-fact type thing.”

Mayor John Schad questioned, “Why is this in front of us?”

“It’s in the fire district,” answered Bird.

Councilman Steve Finer suggested, “If we would have to have the contractors be licensed, we’d have a little more teeth for everything. Then we could revoke their license when they’re in violation.”

Councilman Corey Gramowski noted, “I think on this project there was some oversight because it was technically, in part, a city entity project. It was just never thought of, I guess.”

City Attorney Brian Thul offered, “You do have the ability, and we discussed it previously, any time there’s been a violation in a City Code it’s subject to a municipal infraction. You have the ability to have the police chief issue a ticket to them for violating the Code. That’s always an option for you.

“The cost is $750 for the first violation. You, as a council, could say $25 or $750. It would be your decision for a municipal infraction.”

Finer asked about issuing a warning.

“You could do a warning, too,” said Thul. “That’s within your perview as a council. But the point is, you’re frustrated because they’re not following the rule currently in place. This would maybe be a wake-up call.”

Thul told council members that on the federal level some of the big construction projects have been shut down and contractors faced a $10 to $15,000 fine for violation. Some of those contractors were put out of business.

“I don’t know if we have to be that strict with it, but I do feel that we have to do something,” said Mayor Schad.

“It’s a catch-22,” said Campbell. “You don’t want to discourage building, not only in the business district but the whole community, construction and growth and those sorts of things, but they need to have the guidelines, properly built and where it should be.”

Attorney Thul suggested issuing a warning, followed by a fine the next time there is a violation.

“I think that’s all it takes,” said Thul.

“These two cases in particular,” said council representative Sandy Pelzer. “They have been good partners with us. Harn has come and talked with us.”

“It’s not like we didn’t know he was going to do it, he just didn’t sign the paper,” said Finer.

“Is it our responsibility to go to him and say, hey you need a permit for this?” asked Campbell.

“In the case of Sol Salon, that was probably our fault,” said Bird. “We knew it was coming and we probably should have gone to them and said you don’t need a building permit since you’re putting something up that was already there, but it’s in the fire district.”

Bird explained there is a check-list on the back page of the building permit application form for the building inspector and the applicant. Questions include whether it requires a flood plain ordinance permit or a fire district permit.

“If there was no building permit because they’re staying within the footprint, therefore Frank didn’t go through that exercise,” said Bird. “The applicant didn’t because there was no application and Frank didn’t because there was no application. Usually a fire district permit accompanies a building permit.”

No action was taken by the council.