The Franklin News-Post|
P. O. Box 250
310 Main Street, SW
Rocky Mount, Virginia 24151
|Regulations putting crimp in progress|
Monday, March 18, 2013
By CHARLES BOOTHE - Staff Writer
New federal regulations passed onto states that hamper builders keep coming, and there is no sign they will stop anytime soon.
That was the message Del. Charles Poindexter (R-Franklin County) delivered to a large group of local contractors and builders at a meeting on land disturbance permits at the Franklin County Government Center Thursday night.
The meeting was called by the Franklin County Tradesmen & Associates Association and hosted by the county's planning and zoning department as a way to air complaints and work together more closely on the permitting process.
Extra chairs had be brought into the conference room to accommodate the crowd. Several tradesmen said the permitting process takes too long, which can cost them time and money.
Neil Holthouser, the county's director of planning and community development, said a myriad of regulations is one of the reasons the permit approval process related to land disturbance and flood plain issues takes more time than it used to.
The county is audited by the Department of Conservation and Recreation, he said, and they do random audits and are quick to find deficiencies.
"State requirements are tight," he said. "They are serious (about deficiencies). Audits drive what we do."
Holthouser said he understood the frustration among builders, but these permits must be carefully reviewed.
"We know that's a painful process to go through (for the builder)," he said.
Poindexter said state requirements are tight because of mandates from the federal government, especially the Environmental Protection Agency.
"It (the effects on people) doesn't matter to these people (EPA)," Poindexter said, adding that they don't care about home building and would probably be happy if no new homes were built.
The focus of the EPA is strictly on the environment, he said, and there is often no "common sense" used in developing requirements.
"We (the state) are the vehicle and the federal government is the driver," he said, adding that the EPA has garnered a lot of power since the 1980s and has become especially tight on regulations in recent years.
Any protest of those federal requirements from the state are met with the threat of a "backstop," he said, which means if states don't do as they are told, federal money can be withheld.
"We have to prove to the EPA that (the implementation of regulations) has been done and done properly," he said. "But it's gone too far. The General Assembly is under the gun of the EPA and it's not getting any better. We need a new administration not under the thumb of environmentalists."
Holthouser said a good example of powerful federal government regulations occurred after Hurricane Katrina.
"The whole world changed after Hurricane Katrina," he said, explaining that FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) started looking at flood plains all around the country and hired an agency in Northern Virginia to redraw the flood plain in Franklin County.
"We caught mistakes, and they were bad," Holthouser said. "FEMA literally made us adopt bad mapping in 2008."
Those mistakes were eventually corrected, he said, but at that time, it was a matter of FEMA saying, "The flood plain is where we say it is."
Holthouser said new regulations on storm water management take effect on July 1, 2014, and the county must prepare an ordinance and program for those changes, which will affect all tradesmen.
Part of that preparation, he said, will be "massive community meetings" this fall getting residents and tradesmen involved. A program will be unveiled in the spring, but the county will hire a consultant to make sure everything is up to speed with the new regulations and both the county and state are on the same page with the interpretations of those regulations.
Trying to be on the same page is a continuing issue, he said, referring to the county and local tradesmen, with communication at the core of that concern.
"This seems to be continuing, persistent, nagging problem," he said, adding that when anyone comes in to seek a permit, the process should be explained clearly for those who may not have been through it.
"We don't ask you good questions," he said. "Some of it (information) is guesswork on applications," and any changes in regulations should be clearly spelled out to builders.
"We need to do more work and communicate better up front," he said.
Holthouser said he and Peter Ayrens, the county's building official, are developing more streamlined applications that do not require duplicate information.
More direct questions will also be asked, he said, trying to pinpoint how specific needs can be addressed immediately, speeding up the process.
Several builders at the meeting also complained that telephone calls made to the planning department are not returned in a timely manner, which can be frustrating since builders are not making any money when they are not working.
Holthouser said his office stays busy, but all calls should be returned quickly and he would look into any problems associated with the complaint.
"How can we get to the point we are all on the same page and things are being done the same way?" he asked. "That's where we want to be."
One speaker said part of the problem is that many of the tradesmen have been in business a long time and were used to an era with fewer regulations and a much easier and quicker path to obtain necessary permits.
Holthouser said the county wants the process of obtaining those permits to be as fast and efficient as possible.
"We are here to hear from you on how to make things work more efficiently," he said.
C.E. Hodges, president of the tradesmen association and one of the organizers of the meeting, said he was pleased with the meeting.
"I thought it went pretty well," he said. "Everybody told me they got a lot of information."
Hodges said the meeting was a "step in the right direction."
"I think Neil wants to make things better, and if we follow through, it will be," he said. "Everybody appreciates the fact that he took the time to hold the meeting."