What Gulf Coast Congressman Gene Taylor wanted the Easter Bunny to bring him.
South Mississippi Living 4/07

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Worries Permitted

Early construction at a home at the intersection of Division St. and Collier St. in Biloxi on Thursday.


Early construction at a home at the intersection of Division St. and Collier St. in Biloxi on Thursday.

Posted on Fri, Jul. 27, 2007


-- It's been a good quarter for several industries, but some of South Mississippi's prominent business leaders are worried Katrina recovery is starting to drag and once-in-a-lifetime opportunities are slipping away.

Concerns that confusion and delays surrounding the building-permitting process may be scaring developers away was a top issue for members of the Sun Herald's Business Roundtable at its quarterly meeting Thursday. Insurance remains an "800-pound gorilla," freezing many projects in place while developers wait to see if costs will come down.

"The situation is different in some cities and counties as opposed to others, but generally speaking, cities and counties Coastwide are still overwhelmed in their inspection departments in handling the volume of commercial and residential planning-review jobs that have come in," said Brian Sanderson, president of the Gulf Coast Business Council.

Sanderson said of the $5 million in grants allocated to help permitting and inspection offices, only 12 percent had been drawn. The council wants to help municipalities make use of this money. It also plans to request an additional $5 million for 48 third-party inspectors and plan reviewers overseen by Gulf Regional Planning Commission to assist the municipalities.

Roundtable members agreed the perceived difficulty in the permitting process of some municipalities is causing developers to re-think investments in the Gulf Coast.

"The two things that run developers off the quickest are inconsistency and unreliability," said Brooks Holstein of Comvest Properties. "If they walk into a city and there is no accessibility and no consistency, they say, 'Life is too short.'

Some municipalities appear to move through the process more efficiently.

"We permitted a Ruby Tuesday in Moss Point in two weeks," said Holstein.

He said getting a permit shouldn't be complex.

"It is simply a decision made by the political leadership," he said. "We have SmartCode to ensure responsible, high-quality development, the International (Building) Code is going to make sure it is built to specifications, you have a stamped set of plans from an architect who is not going to risk his license to build an unstable building and in order to get insurance we have to build a building that will take 150-mph winds."

Pascagoula City Manager Kay Kell said permitting in Jackson County has been streamlined through regular meetings of mayors, city managers and the county administrator.

"We had the same issues that came up and drafted the same ordinances," said Kell, who has offered Pascagoula's building official to help other communities.

"Pascagoula is so much further ahead in recovery, we are willing to be the pilot. We will go out and teach what is working there to other communities," said Kell.

More than a dozen homeowners and builders have complained to the Sun Herald about inefficiency in the permitting and inspection process in municipalities in Hancock and Harrison counties since Hurricane Katrina. None wanted to go on the record with their complaints because they said they feared more delays on their projects.

Community development director Jerry Creel said there is no backlog in Biloxi.

"We are adequately staffed for the construction that has been permitted," said Creel, though he does anticipate an increased need in the future.

Many of the delays in the permitting process are caused by builders or developers not submitting all the required information, said Creel. Unless there are special circumstances that would trigger a public hearing, development permits are issued in 10 to 30 days, he said.

For residential rebuilds, most permits are issued in 10 days, said Creel.

"We really look at three things: Does the site plan comply with the land-development ordinance; do building plans comply with the building codes; and are the contractors who are going to be doing the work licensed to do the work," said Creel.

If the answer is yes to all three questions, the builder should have no problem getting a permit, he said.

Sandy Hill of Gulfport's building and permitting department said she also sees many delays caused by incomplete applications.

"We like to have a turnaround of three days for residential and 10 days for commercial," said Hill. "We like to respond in that time period, but if there is a need for additional comments it goes back to the developer and we have to wait for their response. We can't control the response time back from the developers and contractors."

Hill said the number of applications received has gone from 870 a month before Katrina to 1,500 a month, though the department still has the same number of employees.

© 2007 Sun Herald. All Rights Reserved.
Original posted at Sun Herald.

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