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Permit backlog a 'crisis'

The Berkeley County engineer said about 333 building permits are waiting to be approved.

The Berkeley County engineer said about 333 building permits are waiting to be approved.

June 14, 2002|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

Berkeley County planning commission workers are so far behind on issuing building permits for new homes that some people are living in motels because they are not getting their new homes when they were promised them, builders said Thursday.

Bucky Teach, the county engineer, said about 333 building permits are waiting to be approved, and he has been staying up until midnight on some nights recently trying to get caught up on approving them.

The planning commission office has four building inspectors who typically inspect home sites in the morning and review building permit applications in the afternoon, Berkeley County Administrator Deborah Hammond said.

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But the inspectors - who are now inspecting about 20 new home sites a day - do not have time to review building permit applications, said Hammond.

"It's just unbelievable. We're putting all the people on it that we can," said Teach.

It is taking up to six weeks to get a building permit, said Del. Larry Faircloth, one of several home builders who complained to the Berkeley County Commissioners about the issue Thursday. In the past, a permit might be issued within a week or two, officials said.

Because of the delay, people are not getting their new homes when they were promised, and some have had to stay in motels or with relatives until their homes are finished, said Faircloth, R-Berkeley.

"That's unacceptable to the homeowner," said Faircloth.

The commissioners reacted to the situation by increasing the building permit fee by two cents for every square-foot of space in a new home.

That is expected to raise about $50,000 annually, enough to hire someone full time to review building permit applications, said Commission President Howard Strauss.

The commission agreed to immediately bring in a temporary plan review person to help relieve the backlog of permits and advertise to find someone to take over the job full time.

The commissioners also agreed to increase various other planning commission fees to hire a third engineer in the planning commission office to review plats for subdivisions and work on bond issues.

Faircloth said the situation is a serious issue because home building is a key part of Berkeley County's economy. Not only does it employ skilled workers like plumbers, carpenters and electricians, but people like lenders, attorneys and real estate brokers depend on the business for their livelihood, too, said Faircloth.

Faircloth said the backlog of building permits will "grow into a crisis" if it is not addressed.

Builders said they are fielding phone calls from upset home buyers who want to know what is holding up their move-in dates.

"I don't think we're going to have a crisis. I think we're in a crisis," said local builder Page Burdette.

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