Back to the Building Board of Appeals

VacantDowntown.jpgSunday morning, right before church, I was tipped off by a citizen that the City Council was going to take up the Building Board of Appeals at tonight’s (December 10th) Work Session.

I will acknowledge that the NDDC (coming a bit late to the party) has been supportive of building and business owners’ efforts to create a Building Board of Appeals. It is part of the NDDC’s general efforts, along with the Chamber of Commerce, to support greater “business-friendliness” in Northfield.

In fact, the NDDC has sent several letters (the first one dated May 29th) to Council Members over the past six months encouraging them to support the creation of a Board of Appeals, and NDDC Staff and Board Members have spoken in support of this idea at two Council Meetings and have sat silently, listening to the discussion, at a couple more meetings.

To summarize the NDDC’s message, I quote from the letters and statements:

Building and business owners are advocating for the creation of an independent local Building Board of Appeals to assure:

1. A second set of eyes to provide maximum flexibility in the interpretation of the code

and,

2. the assurance that full consideration is given to whatever alternative materials and methods may be available

in order to meet the requirements of the state building code.

Unfortunately for our efforts at a thoughtful and reasonable discussion of this topic, a couple of city staff members and a couple of citizen commentators, with their tales of historic fires, have focused the discussion on the worst case scenarios.

In fact, none of the actual projects of which I am aware involved the fire suppression systems. That’s right, about 80% of the projects involve bathroom requirements and the other 20% involved ADA compliance. The Building Inspector wants additional bathrooms and internal ramping that seem far in excess of the state code requirements and consume so much of the available floor space in historic buildings that it renders the planned business economically unviable.

Building owners are just asking that rather than spending money on additional research and documentation by architects and engineers, or consuming scarce resources on researching and writing additional defenses of their plans, or (in more than one case) hiring an attorney to challenge the Building Inspector’s interpretation through additional venues, they can just take their different interpretations and/or alternative plans to a local board of professional peers for a second look.

It hardly seems (at least to me) like an unnecessary or excessive burden on city staff or officials, it certainly seems (at least to me) to be a reasonable and encouraging provision for interpretive and conceptual regulatory flexibility in an effort to make Northfield more business-friendly, and it is (in fact) provided for by Minnesota state law (Section 1300.0230 of the 2007 Minnesota State Building Code).

Building and business owners can only hope that the City Council will see it the same way.

42 thoughts on “Back to the Building Board of Appeals”

  1. The NDDC sent the following letter to the Council and Mayor on September 28th:

    September 28, 2007

    Mayor and Council Members
    City of Northfield
    801 Washington Street
    Northfield, MN 55057

    Gentlemen:

    As you well know, we believe that changes in the Minnesota State Building Code can have significant economic impacts on downtown and therefore all of Northfield. Furthermore, we have repeatedly urged you to create a local Board of Appeals to assure that the implementation of these code changes be achieved within Northfield’s commitment to business-friendliness.

    Previous conversations with you gentlemen have led us to believe that you sometimes appreciate our efforts at moving things forward by drafting something for your review. Therefore, in the interests of moving forward on the Board of Appeals, we submit to you some draft language for the creation of this Board. We have also heard concerns that the pool of volunteers in our community may be running dry. Therefore, we have also offered fifteen potential members of the community who have at one time or anther expressed some willingness to serve on this five-member board.

    We hope that this draft language, as well as list of potential members, will allow you to put a Board of Appeals in place in time to help to assure that the implementation of the more demanding requirements of the new Code. We believe that such a timely creation of this Board is essential piece of business-friendliness in Northfield.

    Thank you once again for the opportunity to work with you on this critical issue. Together, we will build a better Northfield.

    Sincerely yours,

    Ross Currier
    Executive Director

    Cc: Dan Bergeson, David Ludescher, Al Roder

    I have included the draft language, developed after reviewing at least a half dozen examples from other Minnesota communities, for a local Board of Appeals below:

    Draft Construction Board of Appeals
    NDDC E R Team 9/19/07, Revised 9/24/07

    In order to comply with the mandate of Minnesota Rules, Chapter 1300.0230, known as the Minnesota Provisions to the Minnesota State Building Code, the Northfield City Council does hereby establish the Construction Board of Appeals.

    Powers and Duties:

    The Board shall:

    A. Fulfill duties imposed upon it by MSBC chapter 1300.0230.

    B. Consider appeals from any order, requirement, permit, decision, refusal or determination made by the Building Official in the application or interpretation of the Minnesota State Building Code 2007 or the City of Northfield’s Rental Code.

    C. Study and review new types of materials and methods of construction, and advise the Building Official and the Council as to the suitability of alternate materials and types of construction to assist in progressive development of the provisions of this Code, and to make recommendations relative to adopting any optional code provisions to the city council.

    D. Study and review from time to time sections of this Code and similar code provisions applicable in communities surrounding the City and such other codes as may come to their attention, and recommend to the Council such new legislation as the Board may deem desirable.

    E. Consider matters referred to the Board by the Council or by the Building Official and make recommendations relative to them.

    Waiver of Requirements:

    In considering any appeal, the Board, if not prohibited by State Law, may waive any requirement of any of the Code provisions therein referred to, but only if the reason for such requirement does not exist because of the unusual use, location or type of construction of the structure, if the Board agrees upon a different interpretation of the language of the code, or if it is demonstrated to the satisfaction of the Board that the purpose of such requirement is met by other means or methods.

    Appeals:

    Subd. 1 To Board. Appeals to the Board authorized by the Powers and Duties Section shall be made by filing a written appeal with the Building Official within 30 days of the date of the order, requirement, permit, decision, refusal or determination being appealed. The appeal shall fully state the order, requirement, permit, decision, refusal or determination appealed from, the facts of the matter, the date thereof, and the mailing address of the appellant. Upon the filing of such appeal, the Board shall set a hearing date, give notice of the date, hold a hearing, provide for a record of its proceedings and make its order on the record, all in the same manner as provided for appeals to the Zoning Board of Appeals

    Subd. 2 To Council. Appeals from any order or decision of the Board may be taken to the Council, and shall be heard and decided by the Council, in the same manner as appeals from decisions of the Zoning Board of Appeals.

    Membership:

    The Board shall consist of five members who shall be residents of the City and are qualified by experience and training to pass upon matters pertaining to building construction, including architecture, building construction, engineering, finance, materials supply, and property management. The Building Official shall be an ex-officio member of and shall act as secretary to the Board, but shall have no vote on any matter before the Board. Members shall be appointed by the Mayor with the consent of a majority of the Council, shall be appointed for a term of three years and shall serve until a successor shall have been appointed. Upon termination of a member’s term, that member’s successor shall be appointed for the remainder of such term. Members of the Board shall serve without compensation. Board members who discontinue legal residency in the City may be removed from office.

    Organization:

    The Board shall:

    1. Elect from its members a Chair.

    2. Adopt such reasonable rules and regulations as are necessary and proper to carry out its powers and duties.

    Meetings:

    All meetings of the Board shall be open to the public, be governed by Roberts Rules of Order, and otherwise be held pursuant to its rules and regulations. The minutes of all meetings shall be recorded and a copy shall be transmitted to each member of the Council.

  2. I have seen many historic districts deal with this restroom issue by creating a common public restroom in a central location, much as malls and tourist areas create common restrooms to limit the responsibility of individual retailers. Has this been researched as an option for downtown?

  3. Ross, will you be attending the meeting tonight? I’m hoping for a followup comment or post tomorrow…

    This is one of those issues that makes me think I must be incredibly naive about human psychology. I honestly have no idea why this issue is so fraught with political weight. Having the means to appeal a City staff person’s interpretation of a complex set of laws and requirements is simply a smart thing to do.

    One of the things the Planning Commission is attempting to do in re the new land development regulations is to provide developers with a choice of options for meeting a stated goal or reaching a desired outcome. Why couldn’t we take a similar philosophical approach to state building codes? Or, at the very least, we could petition the City council to direct staff to use something along the lines of a
    “least restrictive means”
    test in determining whether any given detail is in conformance with the building code, rather than the current interpretation, which might fairly be called both “capricious” and “draconian”, that seems to be piling insult upon insult on both historic buildings and business owners.

    I’ve never spoken with John Brookins or Brian O’Connell about this issue, but I wonder if part of the problem might be due to the inherent tension in being a City employee, i.e. conflicting objectives. For example, is it their primary responsibility to:

    1. Make the City process easy to work with?
    2. Be “business-friendly” (whatever the hell that really means)?
    3. Make decisions that are the most conservative, thus protecting the City from liability?

    I suspect that building owners are wanting #1 and #2, and other interests are pointing to #3. Nevertheless, it appears that the system we have now is not working, and a local board of appeals might be a potential fix. I hope the council doesn’t dismiss it out of hand unless they can provide a better alternative, and SOON.

  4. Sadly, I think a board of appeals won’t help. What happens when the board backs the staff decision on an issue? Will residents accept the ruling and comply and move on, or will they be looking for yet another way to overturn the ruling and get the result they want?
    Are Red Wing and Stillwater and Hastings and Faribault having these problems with their old buildings? If so, are they finding ‘flexible’ interpretations of the building code, or are they complying? Does anyone have any information on how Northfield compares to other historic communities?
    I just find it hard to believe that there isn’t statewide revolt if these codes are as onerous as outlined here.

  5. It was very disturbing to me to see that Staff had included a dissenting letter (???) in the materials for the council’s discussion tonight, but had NOT included any of the NDDC’s letters.

    The city’s “motto” that now appears on every e-mail from the city, is looking less and less appropriate.

  6. Griff. Many thanks for posting the Building Code Board of Appeals addendum PDF. Here is 1300.0230 BOARD OF APPEALS, page 146 of the 2007 Minnesota State Building Code in its entirety.

    THE 2007 MINNESOTA STATE BUILDING CODE

    1300.0230 BOARD OF APPEALS.
    Subpart 1. Local board of appeals. In order to hear and decide appeals of orders, decisions, or determinations made by the building official relative to the application and interpretation of this code, there shall be and is hereby created a board of appeals. The building official shall be an ex officio member of said board but shall have no vote on any matter before the board. The board of appeals shall be designated by the governing body. Appeals hearings must occur within ten working days from the date the municipality receives a properly completed application for appeal. If an appeals hearing is not held within this time, the applicant may appeal directly to the State Building Code Appeals Board.

    The board shall adopt rules of procedures for conducting its business and shall render all decisions and findings in writing to the appellant with a duplicate copy to the building official and to the state building official within five working days of the decision. For jurisdictions without a board of appeals, the appellant may appeal to an appeals board assembled by the state of Minnesota. Department of Labor and Industry’s Construction Codes and Licensing Division.

    Subp. 2. Qualifications. The board of appeals shall consist of members %vho are qualified by experience and training to pass on matters pertaining to building construction and are not employees of the affected jurisdiction.

    Subp. 3. Limitations on authority. An application for appeal shall be based on a claim that the true intent of this code or the rules legally adopted thereunder have been incorrectly interpreted, the provisions of this code do not fully apply, or an equally good or better form of construction is proposed. The board shall have no authority to waive requirements of this code.

    Subp. 4. Final interpretive authority. The state building official has final interpretive authority for all codes adopted as part of the code except for the plumbing code when enforced by the Commissioner of Health and the electrical code when enforced by the State Board of Electricity. A request for final interpretation must come from a local or state level building code board of appeals. The procedures for final interpretations by the state building official are as established in Minnesota Statutes, section 16B.63.

  7. In light of Ross’ insights regarding the meeting, I’m very suspicious of Subp 4. Does that mean the building official can override the decisions of the board?

  8. No, my name is not Victor, but I am going to offer a partial answer to my wife’s question. Or rather, I am posting the relevant text from Minnesota Statutes, section 16B.63, in hope that someone can interpret it for me (and her):

    16B.63 STATE BUILDING OFFICIAL….
    Subd. 5. Interpretative authority. To achieve uniform and consistent application of the
    State Building Code, the commissioner has final interpretative authority applicable to all codes
    adopted as part of the State Building Code except for the Plumbing Code and the Electrical
    Code. A final interpretative committee composed of seven members, consisting of three building
    officials, two inspectors from the affected field, and two construction industry representatives,
    shall review requests for final interpretations relating to that field for which the commissioner has
    final interpretative authority. The Plumbing Board has final interpretative authority applicable
    to the State Plumbing Code and shall review requests for final interpretation made to the board
    that relate to the State Plumbing Code. The Board of Electricity has final interpretative authority
    applicable to the State Electrical Code and shall review requests for final interpretation made to
    the board that relate to the State Electrical Code. The Board of High Pressure Piping Systems has
    final interpretative authority applicable to the State High Pressure Piping Code and shall review
    requests for final interpretation made to the board that relate to the State High Pressure Piping
    Code. Except for requests for final interpretations that relate to the State Plumbing Code, the
    State Electrical Code, and the State High Pressure Piping Code, requests for final interpretation
    must come from a local or state level building code board of appeals. The commissioner must
    establish procedures for membership of the final interpretative committees. The appropriate
    committee shall review the request and make a recommendation to the commissioner for the final
    interpretation within 30 days of the request. The commissioner must issue a final interpretation
    within ten business days after the receipt of the recommendation from the final interpretive
    committee. The Plumbing Board, the Board of Electricity, or the Board of High Pressure Piping
    Systems shall review a request and issue a final interpretation within 30 days of the request. Any
    person aggrieved by a final interpretation may appeal the interpretation within 30 days of its
    issuance by the commissioner or the board in accordance with chapter 14. The final interpretation
    must be published within ten business days of its issuance and made available to the public.
    Municipal building officials shall administer all final interpretations issued by the commissioner,
    the Plumbing Board, the Board of Electricity, or the Board of High Pressure Piping Systems until
    the final interpretations are considered by the commissioner, the Plumbing Board, the Board of
    Electricity, or the Board of High Pressure Piping Systems for adoption as part of the State Building
    Code, State Plumbing Code, State Electrical Code, and the State High Pressure Piping Code.

    Help?

  9. Felicity,

    I read that part as meaning the state building official can overrule the local appeals board, not that the local building official can override the local appeals board. Is that what you’re asking?

  10. Julie, Brendon and Felicity –

    Yes, the group from the NDDC that attended the Council Meeting, Board Member Keith Covey, Community Advisor Victor Summa, and Executive Director Ross Currier, all recognized the threat of undermining the potential effectiveness of the appeals process of giving the Building Official the unchallengeable power to determine whether or not an issue could be considered by the Board of Appeal.

    We have two local attorneys who have offered to help us on this matter and we are in the process of reviewing this important detail right now. We are also researching several other statements made by the Building Official during his presentation to the Council. We will present our findings as soon as they are available.

    Thank you for your interest in this topic. Personally, as a citizen, I believe that such expressions of interest and questioning of self-proclaimed experts helps to protect our democracy.

    – Ross

  11. Ross: re: post #11… does NDDC mean “No Dames Dare Come” to the council meeting , I mean?

    Gotta watch these guys, Felicity!

  12. Does anyone have an estimate of how many appeals are expected each year? I realize that even one is important if it involves your property, but are we talking one or two, a dozen or even more? And what percentage is that of total building official decisions? It seems that if 1 or 2 percent of his decisions are appealed that might be understandable, but if 20 percent of decisions are sent to appeal, it would raise a question about the process.
    I guess I’d just like a little perspective. Do we anticipate more appeals than Red Wing or other older communities? Does anyone have any research on this?

  13. Anne, there probably isn’t any solid research on this. Wanna do some, on your own time, for free?

    Sorry for the sarcasm, Griff, but I’m using it to illustrate a common dilemma here in the ‘Field…. lots of things need spearheading, and there aren’t enough volunteers to go around.

  14. The frustration level is putting me over the edge… The building official sits in the council work session and claims he has the only right to judge what is appealable, and that is not so… read the state rulings yourself; those rulings hold the BO far away from the appeals process.

    There are many, many building professionals, building owners, business owners, people trying to start new businesses or enlarge existing ones, that have been stymied, or even completely shut down by the BO’s INTERPRETATION of the Code.

    Take Norman Butler, for instance. After having numerous unfeasible requests made by the BO for ramps, etc. Norman requested an evaluation from the state’s ADA representative. That person came to the Cow, (and had a hard time getting from the street to the door because the city’s walkways are not ADA compliant in all areas and it often makes a wheelchair have to take a long trip around to get a short distance) and after spending a lot of time, and looking at all the possibilities, ramps, lifts etc., Said it was NOT FEASIBLE to make the entire Cow ADA accessible, and that Norman did not have to do a thing. NOT ONE THING …but the local BO then came back and said, well if you don’t have to do anything else, then you have to change the existing ramp! This is just plain battle tactics harassment!

    Victor and I have been told, when questioning a statement from the BO, that there IS/WAS no appeal; that his decision is final. That was not true. Fortunately he, the BO, was reading his chart incorrectly so it came to nothing after all.

    The building professionals do not want to question him for fear of reprisal, such as Norman suffered; every time Norman proved a request invalid, he got slapped with another! Norm has stated that the unnecessary drawings/plans this process cost him was specifically 20K, and in the end the inability to move forward with an expanded business.

    Now I want to know who the heck sees themselves as a more valid critic of the desire to have a Building Code BOA, than those who see the desperate need for such a Board? And then I say, Bug Off… because you have no idea of the problems being caused by this business-killing process.

    Furthermore, I don’t want to hear anything about “fire safety”; does anyone think we want our buildings to burn down? Does anyone think all the DT building owners are such jerks that we don’t care about our buildings and the businesses in, or not in, them? I took over$9,000. out of savings to pay one-half years tax on one small building, on Oct15th, and we’re not jerks … we’re philanthropists!

    When the whole Woodley street mess was on-going, there was all sorts of comments from the council about the need for staff to be responsive to the needs of the residents… I’d like to hear those same sentiments from the council on this issue; I’d like the DT to be supported by those who are supposed to be in charge of caring for the health of this community. AND I’d like it to be THIS community, not the ubiquitous, unrecognizable carbon-copy of every other community that hasn’t cared to preserve its identity.

    Sorry … but actually I’m not sorry; I’m mad.

  15. Anne, in your comment #4 you say that you don’t think a BOA will work.
    Do you believe that we all have a right to an appeal in our judicial system? Have you ever had cause to question the BO? Have you read any/some portions of the Mn State Building Code?
    The Minnesota State Building Code clearly states, …”there shall be a board of appeals…” It actually speaks of a ‘local’ BOA.
    I don’t understand why this is a subject of discussion. Why is the MN Code questioned? Why is the council wondering/pondering/questioning, whether or not Northfield establishes a Local BOA? If it is a concern to several in our community and will not hinder, cause harm or undo stress to any, should there be a reason not to establish a local BOA?
    Julie

  16. Julie, I wouldn’t try to speak for Anne or anyone else, but I believe that in some people’s minds (and legal opinions), the requirement for a local board of appeals can be TECHNICALLY satisfied by a County one….

    Although it’s pretty clear to me that having a local, Northfield one would be most effective.

  17. This is an interesting discussion, but the thing that seems to be implied here is that there is no place for appeal without a BOA. I can only speak out of my own limited experience, but I have successfully appealed directly to the building inspector on a couple of projects I did on my Jefferson Drive house. The last one was to replace my existing deck, same size, just new materials to replace the deteriorating ones. Made a trip to the inspections office to see what their expectations were and drew up a set of plans accordingly. I was advised that I would have to document the exact side set-back of the deck, since the lot was not incorporated when it was built, and there was no history of a building permit.

    I had the choice of having a new survey performed (unknown $$) or find the original lot markers. There were two I could find, but, unfortunately, on the other side of the lot. I was out unearthing a corner of my yard when my neighor walked over to see what I was doing. He just happened to have a plot of his lot with the exact location of his house signed by a licensed surveyor. From this, I made another drawing, using his location to document my side set-back. I took this to the office and was informed that this only proved that there was a house on my neighbor’s lot (something that seemed quite evident to me just by observation, but maybe not “legally binding”). I pointed out the signature of the surveyor and his license number and asked them to reconsider. I received a call about 20 minutes later that my permit was ready and I could pick it up at any time.

    Now I know that not everyone has time, talent or resources to do what I was able to, but given the circumstances, I felt my appeal was entertained and, evidently, sufficient to get a permit. Restoring a downtown building is certainly more involved than a simple deck, but, allowing for proper research and documentation by licensed professionals, it seems that a direct appeal to the building inspector can be successful without having a board. Am I being too simplistic in my evaluation? Since Norm Butler spent about 20 grand to find out he didn’t have to do anything, would having a BOA have saved him that money? Just wondering.

  18. John, I’m glad to hear that your experience with the City process was okay, and that the staff people you worked with were flexible and responsive. That’s how it should be.

    Even though you “appealed” to the building inspector to reconsider your evidence and grant the permit, it was not an appeal in the procedural sense. However, your experience illustrates the way that an official’s decision about what satisfies the requirements of building codes or local ordinances has room for interpretation.

    If the situation had gone the other way, and you had been refused a permit and been told that the only way you could get a permit was to spend $_____ thousand dollars to satisfy a particular point in the requirements, and it was your reasonable belief and understanding that the point either had been satisfied or did not apply to your situation, wouldn’t you have wanted some means of appealing that decision? And I don’t mean just appealing to the city official to reconsider his decision; let’s assume that you’ve done that and he still says “no way”.

    That’s what’s being discussed regarding the proposed Board of Appeals. Obviously it becomes more relevant with the complexity and expense of any given project.

  19. Tracy –

    In fact, the “County Option” was first raised to us by Administrator Roder. However, based on our additional research, it appears to us that if we used the County’s Building Board of Appeals we would also have to use the County’s Building Staff for our local Inspector and Official.

    – Ross

  20. It would be great if the city council and the NDDC invited the state building official down for an informational meeting to talk about the building code, about what ‘flexibility’ is realistic, and about what the appeals process would really accomplish.
    I did an Internet search and and I’m just scratching my head to find any community that has this much trouble with the building code. I haven’t found that local boards of appeals get much use anywhere in Minnesota. I did find an interesting news story in Duluth last week, where the building official faced a large group of angry contractors with similar complaints to those here. Yet with 8,000 permits a year, there were no real cases of appeals. It seems that there is always a level of tension between building officials and contractors and building owners.
    Perhaps some clear information from the state would help create some clear expectations about what a local board of appeals can do.

  21. Anne,

    The state building official has been at one of the council meetings. I have to ask why you are being so resistant on this topic when it obviously doesn’t effect you? I have many friends that own building’s down town and it is costing them time, money, & causing a great amount of pain and stress in their lives. Walk a mile in their shoes and than feel free to make a point.

  22. Okay, Anne, I was too much of a smartass in my response to you before, but l’ll be serious for a minute; your findings are interesting.

    On this particular issue, I simply don’t see that what’s happening in other communities is relevant– even if your search results are exhaustive. The problems we’re having in Northfield indicate that there’s something wrong either with personality or process, and in either case will have to be resolved specifically, and probably at a local (municipal) level. The existence of the provision in the State statute is an acknowledgement that even at the outset, people could foresee trouble.

    I don’t understand why anyone would OBJECT to having a local board of appeals.

  23. Tracy,
    I didn’t really think suggesting that anyone listen to an expert would work.
    So I’ll be blunt. The appeals board isn’t the issue or the solution.
    The issue is that either the building official needs to be fired or the small group of angry, frustrated people who are fighting him need to get with the program.
    It’s that simple. Really, it is. At this point the board of appeals will just be another place to vent and argue and debate. And the first time the board sides with the building official it will be seen as part of the vast City Hall conspiracy against the masses. This is epic battle for power in which negotiations are useless and duels were quite effective.
    Since challenging the building official to a duel is illegal, the angry people simply need to make a case that he isn’t following the interpretations given in other communities by assembling some concrete examples, then request that the council hold a personnel hearing and have his work reviewed by other building officials for quality. If the council won’t do it, use the state appeal option already available. Three or four reversals and the building official will have nowhere to hide. Three or four decisions in his favor and this goes away. Then a local appeals board might work.
    The discussion is that a board of appeals is needed because there is so much debate over the implementation of the code. It’s not debated in other communities. The experience in other communities is relevant because Northfield isn’t unique at all (yeah, I know, it’s hard to believe…).
    I don’t know the building official. He may be a jerk. Lots of people are jerks. Just prove he makes mistakes. Evidence matters, or don’t you watch CSI?
    I haven’t seen any objective research that indicates local building code cases are being handled differently here than they are in other communities. I see no petition signed by building owners or contractors seeking this local board, showing widespread concern. I am not minimizing Mr. Butler’s experience, but take the case to the state and resolve it.
    I don’t buy the argument that everyone is afraid to complain. A list of contractors going on the record outlining specific incidents is the best protection against retaliation.
    Finally, I am concerned about the argument that the council should act because a handful of people want something.
    In every other area, the city council has shown deliberation in setting up boards and task forces based on community need, not special interest demands. All boards and commissions require staff time, meeting space, printing, and have other demands that must be considered. And while this sounds minor, I can tell you all the demands add up.
    For example, in spite of the large number of pedestrians and bicyclists in town, the council gave only a one-year timeline for the nonmotorized transportation task force to study the issue and make a researched, thoughtful case for a permanent city body. We have done a lot of research and will do more.
    It would seem that the people who support a local board of appeals would submit appeals cases to the state, gather demonstrated public support, do their research and present a case based on proven need and evidence.

  24. Anne,

    You said the angry people need to get with the program, and I would say to you that you should not being so opinionated about something that doesn’t effect you. All your research is in vain, because we are dealing with real people with real problems that have the right to have their issues be heard. The state official wasn’t opposed to a local board of appeal, so do you have authority over his opinion?

  25. Tracy, I had suggested bringing in the state building official, but I’m sure there are others who might do a panel discussion on the building code, and in particular how much flexibility there is in dealing with old buildings. Perhaps the county board of appeals could come and talk about how their process works. I’m sure our current or former state legislators could help find the right folks.
    It just seems that for months this has been a pretty narrow discussion without a lot of perspective. There are so many resources out there, it seems a shame not to tap them.

  26. Lisa,
    We all are affected the building codes, and frankly, I don’t want building owners calling the shots on code compliance. All I’m saying is, make an objective, fact based case. If you have made a report, maybe you can link it here.

  27. Some of the recent comments in this thread are increasingly bumping up against and crossing over our Guidelines for discussion re: a spirit of inquiry.

    Please be extremely careful with the tone of your remarks.

  28. I’d just like to point out that as a resident of Northfield, this discussion affects me whether or not I happen to own a building downtown. I pay taxes here, so my money is involved in any decisions to spend money. I go downtown regularly, so 1) I’m affected by what businesses make it here, which is obviously affected by rents, and 2) I’m IN the buildings under discussion, so if there really were a major code violation (such as the unimaginable fire issue raised by Kiffi) I could be impacted. And, of course, I care about downtown and want good businesses to thrive.

    One of the great things about Northfield is that so many people DO care. Please don’t discourage that.

  29. I feel the need to clarify that I’ve heard NO ONE suggesting that any building owner can or should “get around” the International Building Code. That simply isn’t at issue.

    This issue is, how best to establish a process whereby the decision of one city employee can be reviewed and, if necessary, appealed. That’s all.

    Many of Northfield’s building owners, those both downtown and outside the historic district, have built/renovated/managed commercial buildings in other locations besides Northfield. I have heard at least four of them, and probably more (four are all I can remember from the past few months) state that they’ve have more problems with building inspections in Northfield than any other community they work in. (Some of the others communities include Faribault, Eagan, Cannon Falls, and Edina, if I remember correctly; quite an interesting diversity of municipalities.)

    This is a problem for business and economic development in Northfield and it deserves a serious look. Just because the squeaky wheel is loud and annoying doesn’t mean it’s the only wheel on the bus. Maybe the squeaky wheel is a warning that some serious maintenance is needed.

  30. Anne, sorry to be dense, but I’m really not understanding your suggestion. What would the panel discussion be for – who would the target audience be? And what would be the hoped-for outcome?

  31. Tracy,
    I’m kind of done with this, but I’ll try one more time. A patient says, “I don’t feel well and the doctor isn’t helping.” A second opinion is sought, some tests are run, everyone consults and sees whether the doctor is wrong or whether the case is more complicated or the patient isn’t following the prescribed treatment or whether another new treatment might work.
    People downtown are saying the system doesn’t work and the building official isn’t fixing the situation. I’m just saying it might be time for a new perspective, some diagnostics to determine exactly what isn’t working and why, and some discussion about how to make it work better.
    It seems the audience would be the contractors and building owners and the experts would be people who could help (dare I say it) facilitate some real resolution on the front end, rather than an endless string of appeals.
    Hope that helps.

  32. Felicity : My reference to “fire safety” referred back to a discussion some months ago about requiring sprinkling systems , and was not meant to imply that there are fire safety issues involved in this discussion; at that time some people were accusing building owners of not caring about fire safety, which was a truly annoying, unwarranted, and untruthful accusation.

  33. Tracy- Good points on your part. I really don’t have a problem with a BOA if it will really accomplish something. Probably, my experience with my deck is too simple to compare to a whole building renovation, especially downtown. The process is the same, though. In my case, I simply needed to produce evidence that my deck design was in compliance. When I was able to produce that evidence, then the requirements were satisfied. Appealing a decision is not prostrating yourself before a dictator and pleading for his benevolence. In the case of a building renovation, the professionals you hire to lay out the plans for it should know what requirements must be met. If they can’t come up with a proper design, then they are not doing their homework.

    On the other hand, if the UBC is being inconsistently applied, then there needs to be some mechanism to deal with the official. There have been hints (actually, outright accusations) in some of the comments posted here that that is what is going on in Northfield. In that case, the official needs to come under the scrutiny of his superiors. If the board does not have this type of authority over the building inspector, then it is a waste of time and money, IMNSHO. The comment made earlier about the building inspector deciding what projects can be appealed reinforces my opinion that a board will not eliminate the problems brought up.

    I think I agree with Anne when she said, “…Just prove he makes mistakes. Evidence matters…”. This is accomplished by thorough research and documentation. I echo the fear that Anne stated before, “…At this point the board of appeals will just be another place to vent and argue and debate…”, and I think there is enough of that on LG.

  34. Ross,
    How did the work session go on Monday night? What was discussed regarding the BOA?
    Thanks,
    Julie

    P.S. I have made up posters for “Caribbean Day” on Sat. Jan. 26th. I included that the downtown would be full of ‘deals’. I do hope retailers at least turn up the heat, play island music and dress up. I know it is short notice. Tim Sellers from Tiny’s is offering “Tim’s Tropical Dog”. It sounds wonderful! Ideas for next year?

  35. Well, it looks like the Council is moving toward adopting the ordinance with the language as modified by the recent additions recommended by staff.

    We at the NDDC are pleased that the efforts of building and business owners are apparently moving toward fruition and thank the Council for the receptivity toward this potential tool for supporting business retention, expansion and recruitment.

    I’ll catch up with you off-line and we can go over the details.

  36. Julie,

    IIRC, nothing was finalized at the meeting (it was a work session, after all), but it seemed generally agreed that Northfield will try out a local appeals board for a period of two years, after which time a sunset clause would cause it to expire if further action is not taken.

    They discussed a time frame in which appeals decisions would be issued (within 5 days of a hearing perhaps?). They emphasized that the board would not create solutions, but would simply hear the appeals, and consider any proposed remedies contained within those appeals.

    They also agreed that the Building Inspector will not be able to determine what rulings are eligible for appeal.

    I expect that the LWV meeting summary will contain more reliable information than my recollections above, but I hope that helps for now.

  37. Thanks for the info Ross and Patrick.
    Where can we find the ordinance as it will be presented at a council meeting with the changes?

    Julie

  38. In today’s paper: Details ironed out for building code appeals.

    Brookins and city attorney Maren Swanson spent the last few weeks researching state law to see whether a building official has legal authority to screen applicants requesting a hearing. While a building official has no legal power, communities with board of appeals almost universally give officials that authority, they found. But given the council and residents’ reaction, city staff will recommend applications be forwarded to the board, which will decide which appeals will be heard.

Leave a Reply