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Permit delays bother builders

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An association representing the local building industry has voiced concern to Stafford County leaders over longer-than-usual waits for building permits.

 The Fredericksburg Area Builders Association sent a letter to Stafford supervisors on July 24 urging them to put more resources in the Community Development Service Center, which handles building, planning and other functions.

 FABA board of directors President Danna Middleton  said builders have seen a “significant increase in time” it takes the staff to complete final reviews for residential  development.

 “We believe these delays have a direct impact to the county’s economic development efforts and tax base,” the letter stated.

 FABA contends that the county is issuing fewer single-family home permits and taking longer to handle the applications.  

The number of residential building permits issued decreased from 81 in March to 77 in April and 60 in May, FABA said. At the same time, six permit applications took 20 or more business days to be approved between April and July. Three of those applications still haven’t been completed.

FABA Executive Vice President Bea Phelps said that permit processing that takes more than 20 business days causes an undue burden on the builder.

 “Every month that a builder waits for a permit, it costs him hundreds if not thousands of dollars. They’ve got investment up front, so time is money to the builder,” she said.

 Phelps said that FABA hasn’t had to take its concerns to supervisors or council members in other area localities. The issues were resolved at the staff level.

 Stafford Public Works Director Mike Smith said in an email to FABA that the county has a goal of not exceeding 30 calendar days for processing.  Staff member vacations and a leave of absence as well as new computer software have slowed the process.

Smith said the department plans to authorize overtime and reorganize staff to improve the process.

Phelps said she believes those changes would help. The complaint has prompted supervisors to look into the issue.

Supervisor Paul Milde said the board should have seen problems coming when it decided not to add a position to the center this year.

County Administrator Anthony Romanello requested another position in his proposed fiscal 2015 budget because of the strong pace in new residential permits.

Supervisors rejected that position, but approved Romanello’s request for an additional building inspector.

“We are just going to have to re-evaluate and see if that needs to be a [another] permanent position,” Supervisor Meg Bohmke said.

 Supervisors Laura Sellers and Bob Thomas said  they didn’t feel like they got enough information about the need for the requested positions.

 Thomas said that the issue seemed to arise from a perfect storm of other variables besides a shortage of staff, while Sellers said that FABA’s complaint is directly related to supervisors not granting the position.

The money saved by keeping a tight rein on county positions went toward funding the county school system.

 Milde said the board’s effort to give more money to the schools is starting to have a detrimental effect on county departments and hurting economic development.

“If you are against development, making them wait longer for approvals isn’t the right approach,” Milde said.

Supervisor Gary Snellings said the problem comes and goes with waves of development.

“This is not a new issue. It has happened before. It happens, understandably so, when building picks up,” he said.  “I am not upset at all that the funding went to the schools.”

Most supervisors agreed that funding issues between the schools and county are a balancing act.

Vanessa Remmers:  540/735-1975 | vremmers@freelancestar.com

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