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Washington County considering building code updates

Commissioners expect to hold public hearing on recommendations

May 15, 2012|By ANDREW SCHOTZ | andrews@herald-mail.com

Washington County is considering updates to its building code.

After reviewing standards adopted by the state of Maryland, a committee has recommended a list of changes for the county.

Jennifer M. Smith, the county director of plan review and permitting, said the state is required to review and update its code every three years, following updates by the International Code Council.

Localities are required to then adopt the new state code within six months, but can modify parts of it first, Smith said.

Some of the committee’s suggestions on Tuesday included changes in how agricultural structures are treated, setback requirements for balconies and decks, and whether people may replace a plumbing fixture without a permit.

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However, most of the amendments adopted in the 2009 code will stay the same, according to a report Smith presented on Tuesday.

The Washington County Board of Commissioners expect to hold a public hearing on the recommendations on June 5.

Localities have until July 1 to adopt their code.

Near the end of Smith’s presentation, the discussion focused on the government’s role in overseeing building codes.

Commissioner Ruth Anne Callaham said a “zeal” for accountability shouldn’t trump what makes sense.

As an example, she mentioned a building inspector who notices a screw missing from an electrical outlet.

Instead of giving a failing grade,  why not help the property owner by sticking an extra screw in the wall, she asked?

Daniel F. DiVito, a county employee representing the Maryland Building Officials Association on the committee, said uniformity and consistency in enforcement is important for making Maryland friendly to business.

Commissioner William B. McKinley seized on the word “consistency” and said it can go both ways: Regulators can be consistently helpful or consistently onerous.

People who feel aggrieved can turn to an appeals board, but the board only “deals with what we do, not how we do it,” McKinley said.

Terry Baker, the commissioners’ president, said home builders want “simple solutions” to help them move ahead.

Angela Smith, the county’s deputy director of permitting, who is not related to Jennifer Smith, said county employees are happy to help applicants get through the permit process and care about their work.

The 12-member committee also included representatives from the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission, the Maryland State Fire Marshal’s Office, the town of Boonsboro, the city of Hagerstown and people in skilled trades, such as engineering and architecture.

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