Building dept. looks to boost staff
ASPEN A severe backlog of building permit applications has put the local building department in crisis mode, prompting it to ask for money to bulk up its staff size, officials said this week.The move may be in time for some local building contractors who work on relatively small jobs, and who say they are in danger of going out of business because of delays in getting building permits.In a supplemental budget request to the Aspen City Council, chief building inspector Stephen Kanipe has asked for funding for three new positions – a plans examiner, permit advocate and a combination inspector – to join the complex process of reviewing and managing building permit applications.The overall budgetary impact of the request, according to Kanipe, is roughly $219,000, and the additional positions will enable the department to deal with the backlog that exists now, as well as an anticipated flood of new permit applications.A memo submitted to the City Council for a work session April 16 indicates that the current “processing time” for a building permit can be up to five months, because of the fact that there are now at least 287 permit applications that have been filed and are awaiting review.”Based on 2007 average of 39 reviews per month, it will take five months to complete [the applications already submitted] without accepting any new applications,” the memo states.If the new personnel are hired, the memo continues, that “will assist the department’s ability towards the goal of reducing the permit review processing back to three weeks for simple projects and eight weeks for complex.”Kanipe said Tuesday that he could not precisely predict the effects of hiring the three officials, primarily because his department is staring at a number of large projects on the horizon.The memo to the council describes several projects, representing a total of nearly 130,000 square feet of floor area, that either have not yet applied for permits or haven’t applied for all of them. They include the Boomerang Lodge, Jewish Community Center, Cortina lodge and Stage 3 Theater redevelopments.Another seven large projects, with a combined area of 558,500 square feet, are in the city’s development review pipeline, but have yet to win their development order, which is the approval needed before a permit application can be filed. Among these are the Wienerstube, the Lodge at Aspen Mountain, Smuggler Racquet Club, Cooper Street Pier and La Comida.Although Kanipe had not specifically herd from local builders whose business survival is threatened because of the permit delays, he acknowledged that the problem is likely to exist.Several contractors, who declined to be named for fear of reprisals from building inspectors, have said they are caught in a squeeze. They have accepted jobs and in some cases taken advance payment from property owners, in order to begin ordering materials and hiring workers for relatively small jobs that were supposed to start as early as this month. But the permit logjam has left them high and dry, with property owners demanding their money back, workers walking out and looking for other employment, and possible clients turning to other contractors when the work doesn’t begin on time.”We’ll do whatever we can to keep ’em working,” Kanipe said of the small contractors who might be feeling the pinch. “I don’t want to have anybody going out of business. That’s not our role.”He denied that the building permit logjam is a deliberate attempt by city government to slow the pace of development an accusation made by some contractors that might seem to dovetail with citizen complaints about dust, noise and truck traffic caused by Aspen’s ongoing construction boom.”That’s not consistent with the council’s decision,” said Kanipe. “They support all of the supplemental funding requests we have put forward.”The formal public hearing on Kanipe’s request will be at the City Council meeting at 5 p.m. April 23 in the council chambers at City Hall.John Colson’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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