ELKO — As new homes sell faster than they can be built, some local builders are at odds with city officials over policies they say are delaying the completion of home building projects.
“The city is in the midst of a housing shortage. We need all the contractors we can muster to build as many homes each year as possible,” Mayor Reece Keener announced at a recent gathering of construction professionals at City Hall.
Longtime real estate agent and builder Dusty Shipp agreed.
“We are in a housing crisis, you said. We’re trying to increase our volume and deliver more – and we’re being forced to scale back what we’re doing here.
Much of the nearly four-hour discussion before Elko City Council focused on the difference between home inspections allowed through a “master set” plan versus custom-built. Die-cut plans can be approved faster, but any changes during construction can lead to extensive reviews and long delays.
People also read…
“There is not a single project in which I have participated that has not been homogeneous. There is always a change,” Shipp said. “…We need to be able to come in to staff and follow the code and be able to make those changes. We are here because that is not happening. .. We have delays on projects that we have never seen before in our construction history.
Keener accused builders of using the blueprint process to build custom homes, but Shipp said sometimes the changes are as minor as moving the location of a refrigerator a few feet.
In April, the city’s building department sent out a notice saying, “No deviations from approved plans, whether minor or major, have been or will be permitted for master plans, including options approved. … If it is discovered that changes have been made without the prior approval and issuance of the required permit, a stop work order will be issued.
Shipp said the review process can delay construction by several weeks.
“The leadership you have in place reduces this negative, no-power, no-work-together attitude that other departments are now adopting,” he said.
City building inspector Jeff Ford told council that “the biggest problem is people building outside of approved plans, trying to hide things.” He said “We have a builder who is a repeat offender and he almost cost the whole community this process.”
“When you go out and make a change to those plans, and wait for the inspector to catch it, you’re breaking the law – and that’s a big deal. And it is wrong. And that’s what’s happening,” Ford said.
Keener pointed out that the construction department was processing more permits than before the pandemic and that its resources were stretched thin. “The result has been frustration, conflict and in some cases significant delays which have impacted many parties including buyers, lenders, estate agents, builders and staff.”
The mayor said he hoped the May 17 workshop would mark the beginning of a “reset” with the building community. This would include potential changes to city code on how construction projects are handled.
City Attorney Dave Stanton warned council that the city’s code cannot be written in such a way as to permit arbitrary discrimination.
“City officials can’t play favorites,” he said, but they can make judgments based on the severity or pattern of violations.
City manager Curtis Calder said while overall building permits were down during the pandemic, residential construction jumped 52% in the first year and another 37% in the second year. He said many permits that have been approved are still vacant land.
“We may not be as judgmental as we have been in the past, but certainly all Nevada communities at all levels – I mean it’s not unique to Elko, Nevada – if you go in Reno, if you go to Las Vegas, every vacant property you see has some level of construction right now.
Former Elko planning commissioner Aaron Martinez said the problems started when the city passed the 2018 building code, which is much more extensive than the previous version passed years earlier.
“The modern age of plan review and approval is ridiculous. It’s almost a monopolization of the engineering and architecture world so they can force these guys to have work and get this blueprint review done,” he said.
The builders received a lot of support from their colleagues who took the time to attend the workshop.
Long-time developer Jim Winer said, “We only have a handful of builders – let alone builder-developers who are starting from scratch. Losing one out of frustration would reduce housing supply by 20-30% just like that,” he added, snapping his fingers.
Winer said when he ran into trouble on a development project two years ago, he thought there was a “cancer situation in the town of Elko, and it hasn’t gotten better.”
“I saw there was no change through my actions and said I was done, I won’t develop in Elko town, I’m done. And I don’t didn’t do.
John Sorensen of Stewart Title Co. said that before the pandemic about 40% of their business was new construction, “and that’s huge.”
“I really hope you work with our local builders,” he said. “As a title company, if we lose one of these builders, it’s extremely difficult to get a new builder approved with our underwriting.”
Many builders have a better relationship with the City than others.
“My relationship with the staff started nine years ago,” said Lisa Turner, co-owner of Koinonia Construction. City building staff, including Ford, have been “like a team member” helping them grow their business, she said.
“I don’t want the staff to be beaten all the time, because you guys are doing a great job,” said design engineer Mike Lostra. “Is it perfect? No, but I think that’s changing. And the codes will only get worse, so we have to change too.
One of the issues addressed by the workshop was communication.
Calder said the city used to have a plan reviewer on staff, but contracted that job years ago in order to be more efficient.
“I hear a lot of complaints about it,” he said.
Chris Kimble, Vice President of West Coast Code Consultants Inc. – better known as WC3 – addressed the group remotely. He said that if the company were informed that a set of plans had been resubmitted for just one minor change, “we could review it very quickly; we don’t have to look at the whole project as a whole.
“If we’re given a whole set of plans to review, we’ll review the whole thing unless we’re told otherwise,” he explained.
In response to a question from Keener, Kimble said plan revisions haven’t been an issue with other entities that have adopted the 2018 building code, which includes Elko County and other counties. of Nevada.
After listening to the discussion, Attorney Stanton said “I think we can probably do things with our code to address a lot of the issues that have arisen” like providing more flexibility on major reuse plans .
In the end, council members decided to form a committee made up of city employees and construction professionals to iron out these changes.
According to Keener, Stanton has been working on possible revisions to the code and the committee will meet on June 7 to discuss them.
“The city is in the midst of a housing shortage. We need all the contractors we can muster to build as many houses as possible each year.”
— Mayor Reece Keener