County's revved-up permit process lets builders keep up with the competition

December 10, 1992|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff Writer

Tom Mace's commercial construction company depends o quick turnaround time.

A matter of weeks, or even days, can be the difference between getting a contract to do work for a customer and losing the business to another locale, Mr. Mace said.

That's why the owner of Mace Construction Services Inc. in Elkridge is enthusiastic about the county government's new revved-up permit process for commercial projects. The "contingency construction start" system gives builders the option to begin limited interior construction after applying for a building permit.

Mr. Mace is the first business owner to ask to use the new program, which is administered by the Department of Inspections, Licenses and Permits.

As a result, his company was able to start interior work 10 days before receiving a permit on a Savage warehouse and distribution facility leased by an automotive parts distributor. It also got a two-week head start equipping an Elkridge office and warehouse building for a computer cable distributor.

"In this industry, time is money," Mr. Mace said. "I think there were a lot of businesses that couldn't wait 30 days for a permit to be issued, then another 30 to 45 days' construction time. I think there could have been businesses lost to the county.

"An owner or developer wants to get people into the building so he can collect rent, and a tenant wants to get in to generate business and revenue. There's a real need to expedite it."

He received building permits for both construction projects on Dec. 2, after work had already begun.

The new system sends a message that the county wants to meet businesses' needs, he said.

Under the system, building owners can start alteration work on most offices, retail stores and warehouses at their own risk, said David Hammerman, director of the permits department.

The department still conducts a cursory review of plans before work starts. Inspections and permit reviews take place while the work continues.

"This system takes into consideration that building owners want to get work started, they have deadlines and they have to lease property," he said. "It satisfies needs, but it doesn't compromise health and safety."

The regulations forbid builders to do "close-in" or "concealment" work until permits such as building, electrical, plumbing and fire protection are issued and final inspections are made. That means builders must leave certain portions of walls, ceilings and floors exposed so inspectors can evaluate plumbing, electrical work, heating, air-conditioning and ventilating systems and the building framework.

Mr. Mace said most of the construction work on a room could be completed before a permit is received and inspections are conducted.

The system excludes new building construction, additions to buildings and other work affecting exteriors of buildings or sites. It also excludes projects that involve food service or processing or complex electrical and plumbing systems.

Builders can do only "rough-in" work on systems such as electrical and plumbing. For instance, electrical wires can be laid in walls, but not connected to a power source or light fixtures, and pipes can't be connected to an outside water source.

Mr. Mace said many in the construction industry have viewed the county's permit process as an obstacle.

But he said improvements have been made over the past few years to streamline the process and shorten the waiting period. The new head-start system is another improvement, he said.

"It takes the obstacle right away, the obstacle being the time factor," he said.

Commercial improvement permit applications that might have taken several weeks to process four years ago now typically require three to 10 days, Mr. Hammerman said.

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