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
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.