By Stan Welch
Chairperson Cindy Wilson led the Planning and Public Works Committee on a long, persistent, and ultimately fruitless search for a way to add some teeth to the county’s authority to enforce a more vigorous building code.
Wilson began the committee meeting by stating that many of the numerous tract home builders in the county have no regard for their neighbors, or for the county’s regulations and rules.
The culprit in question was Omega Farms, a development being built on Long Road. According to Wilson, there are numerous issues with the development, with a main one being drainage problems. She confirmed that John Batson, director of the stormwater division, had issued a cease and desist order for the development to allow the drainage problems to be addressed.
She also confirmed that work on the individual residences continued; a circumstance that Batson said the county had little control over. “The cease and desist order, like the similar stop work order, come down to us from the state. We simply dropped their language into our regulations. And their language restricts the power of these orders to the area of land disturbing activity. If a site or lot has reached a point where no land is being disturbed, construction, wiring, plumbing, and so forth can continue.”
Batson explained that a stop work order was more complicated. “A deputy sheriff has to serve that order. We have never issued one because it simply isn’t that much more effective,” said Batson. He explained that he is also reluctant to do so because stopping work could leave the interior of homes under construction exposed to the elements, causing damage, and a potential liability for the county.
Wilson asked if there are any financial penalties for non-compliance, and Batson said that there were. He said that civil penalties were the last step in the process of forcing compliance. The Omega Farms developer has been informed of the issues, served with the cease and desist order and given a deadline to address the problems. The main problem the county is concerned with is the failure of a drainage device to transport the runoff to the retention pond.
“The deadline is Thursday. We will reinspect at that time, and if compliance has not been achieved, we will review the situation, process it through a regulatory matrix that factors several items in, and determine the penalty. If that penalty is not paid in a timely fashion, going to court is our only recourse.”
Several county staffers pointed out that several of the issues at the development do not come under county authority. This was obviously part of Wilson’s frustration with the whole situation. “We need to find a way to put some teeth in these regulations.” Even she, however, conceded that the state and therefore the county, followed the International Building Code, as do developers and contractors.
“And we all know that those codes are minimal at best,” said Wilson.
By Stan Welch