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Council forms committee to discuss county building requirements

Three St. Charles County Council members are expected to sit down and talk with various public and private representatives about the county’s development and building requirements.

Councilmen Joe Brazil [District 2], Joe Cronin [District 1] and David Hammond [District 4] with meet to review aspects of what staff and council members say is a “complicated” code.

“We want to look at ways to improve the process,” Hammond said. He was not specific about issues and said councilmembers are expected to meet with various representatives ranging from developers to bankers.

The council adopted a resolution at its March 27 meeting, forming the ad hoc Development and Building Research Committee or DBRC. The resolution suggests that committee members could review “real estate development ordinance provisions which are outdated and would benefit from revision.”

The committee also could review legislation regarding floodplain matters, building and construction, and community development matters. Councilman Mike Elam [District 3], who is also council chairman, can choose members and select their role.

Hammond said a public hearing may be held on any proposed changes. Changes also may require new ordinances to be adopted by the council.

Previously, the council said it was not ready to adopt new building codes governing residential and commercial construction and improvements until several members received explanations for what they said may be too many rules.

The council failed to pass a bill at its Feb. 13 meeting to update a series of international residential, building, plumbing, mechanic, fire and electrical codes changes. The city currently uses 2009 international codes and typically amends them about every six years to include changes in later codes.

Jared Agee, the county’s director of building and code enforcement, told the council at a March 13 work session that the international codes are used worldwide. The county staff’s goal is to standardize building codes to make it easier for buildings county-wide to comply.

“We adopt them to address recent safety and welfare concerns,” Agee said. Examples are what authorities learned about the impact of flooding on buildings during Hurricane Katrina or emerging building technology.

Agee said the county also meets with groups like the Home Builders Association of St. Louis and Eastern Missouri to review possible code changes. Suggested changes are sent to the county’s building commission and a final draft bill is sent to the council for approval.

However, last month Brazil and Cronin said their review of the code changes raised a number of questions about increasing building costs, particularly for rural county residents.

They also claimed the 7,000-page code is confusing. “How are we supposed to pass something that doesn’t make sense?” Brazil asked at one point.

“There is a lot more to this than just changes to the code. A lot of it involves how the county interprets the code and how the county interacts with residents affected by the code,” Cronin said.

Councilman Terry Hollander [District 5] was skeptical. “People in our county aren’t bashful about coming to these meetings and complaining,” Hollander said. “In the seven years that I have been on the council, all the things you brought up, I haven’t heard one person come up and complain about these things.”

Brazil said the reason that council members from more rural districts may not hear complaints is their districts include municipalities with building departments. However, unincorporated residents must go through the county.

“So I do receive the complaints,” Brazil said. He said he is not convinced that changes he read in the new codes will increase safety. “There are so many rules in this thing, there are 7,000 pages; I don’t get it,” he said.

Hollander, a former county building official, tried to point out last month that some of the issues complained about were already in effect and others would not be in effect. He said it is critical for the county to keep its codes current.

“It benefits anybody who wants to stay up with technology in today’s world,” Hollander said. Some new products or techniques may not be used within the county if they are not included in an amended code, he said. “That’s what going to end up happening if you don’t keep your codes current,” he said.

After they finish their meetings, Elam suggested the committee report back to the full council with their recommendations. He said the newly-minted ad-hoc committee may be disbanded after a final report to the council, which is due by Sept. 30.

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