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Berkeley County changes fees in building code violations

April 15, 2010|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. -- The Berkeley County Commission on Thursday fixed a flaw that had clipped the county's power to enforce its property maintenance code, which targets blight and other unsightly property conditions.

A fine range of $50 to $500 per violation was added to the county's building code ordinance for the property maintenance section.

Revisions throughout the ordinance also were made to reflect updates to the state's building code approved this year by the State Legislature, according to commission legal counsel Norwood Bentley III.

The lack of a penalty clause for the property maintenance code section allowed four property owners last month to avoid prosecution for a total of 64 property maintenance violations after a fifth person successfully appealed his case to the circuit court. The successful appeal allowed property owner Dale S. Lands to avoid paying a $30,000 fine.

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With the penalty now in place, the county can refile the dismissed cases, if the violations have not been corrected, Bentley has said.

Prior to the vote, Bentley told commissioners on Thursday that the county's building code ordinance was technically wiped out earlier this year when the State Legislature voted to make updates to the state building code effective upon passage, instead of delaying the effective date. The state adopted 2009 editions of international code standards for building, plumbing, mechanical, fuel gas, property maintenance, energy conservation, one and two-family dwellings, and existing buildings, according to the county's ordinance. A 2008 edition of the national electric code also is part of the revised ordinance.

While the state's building code updates were made effective on Thursday, Commissioners decided to hold a public hearing June 3 at 6 p.m. on proposed increases in building permit fees, which are an attachment to the ordinance.

Proposed fee structure changes include a $25 increase in the building permit fees charged by the county for single-family residential projects, manufactured housing, additions, town homes, and finished basements and duplexes.

The building permit fee for multi-family apartments would be increased from $50 to $250, but the additional .22 cents-per-square-foot charge would remain unchanged.

Stefanie Miller, the county's director of Land Use Planning and Engineering Department said the fee increases are expected to help the department cover its costs in providing review and inspection services.

The fee structure for inspections also proposes additional "extra trip" charges that increase by $25 increments for "premature inspection requests, incomplete work, and work areas not accessible," according to the proposal.

An "investigation fee" charged for work started without a permit will cost $200, according to the proposed changes.

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