Tag Archives: architectural review board

When Buildings Fall Down

When Buildings Fall Down, People Can Die

Building PermitIt was a busy Friday morning in downtown Sioux Falls, South Dakota on December 2nd of this year. About 10:30 a.m. near the corner of East 10th Street and South Phillips Avenue, Boyd McPeek was inside the Coffea coffee shop, when the 1916 building across the street collapsed.

“I just happened to glance out the window and I saw the front door fall out and a cloud of dust,” McPeek said. According to McPeek, the collapse left the people in the coffee shop speechless. “It was kind of slow motion as the bricks were falling,” McPeek said.

Joe Batcheller, Executive Director of Downtown Sioux Falls, speculated the construction work weakened the nearly 100-year-old building, causing the collapse.

Sioux Falls City Building Services approved a limited building permit authorizing Hultgren Construction to remove interior finishes, such as furnishings, floor coverings, ceiling tiles, and an existing bar area. The city was awaiting structural engineering and architectural submittals from the builder before issuing authorization to begin any further work on the project, according to city officials.

Now, please keep in mind, the city had not authorized any structural changes, yet the contractor posted on their Facebook page, two days prior to the collapse, a photo showing a structural wall having been removed.

The building collapse resulted in the unfortunate (and probably avoidable) death of a workman who was inside the building at the time.

How does the collapse of a century old building impact your choice of whom should provide your new pole building?

The key phrase is the city was awaiting “structural engineering and architectural submittals”….. unless you personally happen to be a Registered Design Professional (RDP – engineer or architect), it truly is not prudent to design your own pole building. Nor should you entrust your life, or the lives of your friends or loved ones, to a building which has not been designed by a RDP.

If an engineer didn’t design it – then who did?

Planning Department Fiasco: Just Say No Part II

Today’s blog is a true story continuation from yesterday – so if you missed it, go back and catch up. The location is masked so as to avoid any possible retribution against the clients who were just trying to do things right. Dealing with your Planning Department can be a hurdle to overcome before you even consider starting in on your new pole building project.

To recap a bit, the clients wanted to plan more room for teenagers by adding new 500 square foot one-story room in an unused portion of their back yard.

At this point in the story, the clients had slogged through mountains of paperwork, repeated “corrections” and months of “less than helpful” assistance from their local Planning Department. They had clearance from the Zoning Conformance Review and sailed through the ARB (Architectural Review Board).

After the ARB review, they learned they needed a soils report. This was a surprise as all the regulations had been carefully reviewed by the architect, who began his career practicing in this very jurisdiction. While maybe they somehow should have known about this requirement –perhaps there’s a reason for the City staffer’s dismissive comment of “everyone knows” about needing a soils report.  This seems to be one of those: “you can’t ask what you don’t know to ask” things.

A simple question was then asked of the person at the Planning Department’s counter: “What should be contained in the soils report?” The official said, “It’s on the Web.” Beyond citing a web address, he briskly declined to offer additional guidance. Unfortunately, after several days of searching, it was concluded that, if it was on the Internet, the client and their architect couldn’t find it. So, the client’s wife returned to City Hall.

This time, she got lucky.

As she stood in line at the Planning Department, the person in front of her asked for information on soils reports. Perhaps the person used the document’s correct technical name.

Amazingly the City employee, without hesitation, reached under the counter and produced a copy of a document which described, in useful detail, what was required in a soils report. So, the client’s wife stepped up to the counter next and asked for the same thing. She was handed the document — by the same guy who, just a week before, could barely manage to grunt about needing to “check the Web”.

The client didn’t object to soils studies in earthquake zones.  However, the Plans Department changed nothing in their plans as a result of the report — the main result of this detour was to delay them by another two months. Rather, the client objected to the way the Planning Department thwarted their efforts, early and late in the process, to discover its rules or to glimpse into its black box of decision making in hopes of avoiding yet another unnecessary delay.

Someone’s bound to say the real problem is not the bureaucrat who played dumb but the failure to get a soils report in the first place.

The soils tests were not done when this project was first started because the client mistakenly believed (based on their careful reading of the jurisdiction’s documents) this would be required only for projects over 750 square feet and in hazard zones.  Remember their project was about 500 square feet and not in such a zone, according to the State. But, as it turns out, their jurisdiction doesn’t accept the State’s definitions!

This client’s Planning Department makes a nice outward display of trying to help people through its regulatory maze. Describing one such effort on its Planning web site: it says each project is assigned a Project Manager who “will oversee the permit processing of Standard and Complex projects and help applicants understand the City’s requirements and process as early as possible.” It’s a nice gesture, and this client’s project did have a Project Manager.

If this “solution” worked, however, wouldn’t their Project Manager have clued them into the need for the soils report “as early as possible”? Instead, they learned of this rule only after it was too late to avoid another unnecessary delay.

I wish I had a nice ending to this story, but sometimes there just isn’t one.  Last I heard, the client didn’t have permission to build their one room addition and they had no plans to move.  If they stall long enough, their teens will have grown and left home!  Although this particular story is not about a Hansen Buildings project, I’m quick to admit we’ve had a few similar projects with long delays due to similar treatment.  Fortunately they are few and far between.

My advice?  Educate yourself.  Ask for all bulletins, written material from your Planning Department to “make sure you are doing things right”.  Also study everything you can on the internet for your local jurisdiction in both the Planning and Building Department sections.  And keep your fingers crossed.

Planning Department: Just Saying No

Just Saying No: A Planning Department Horror Story

The location is masked so as to avoid any possible retribution against the clients who were just trying to do things right. Thankfully this is not how things usually go, but the Planning Department can be a hurdle to overcome before you even consider starting in on your new pole building project.  It had nothing to do with their plans, and was not a Hansen Building project. Sadly I have to admit, here at Hansen, I have listened to a few similar stories over the years!

The clients wanted to plan more room for teenagers (those of you with teenagers are nodding your heads). The new one-story room would occupy an unused portion of their back yard. No one could honestly say this 500-square-foot addition would alter the balance of things in their town.

Wanting to do things right, they hired a reputable architect who has successfully completed hundreds of sensitive and pleasant residential projects. They approached their Planning Department with the intention of complying with the letter and spirit of its rules for sustainable and livable development.

What a mistake.

They now see, all too clearly, if they had wanted more space soon, they should have just moved! Eventually they just pulled the plug on this project. But I’m getting ahead of myself here.

Why would they endure the heartbreak of walking away from a chance to improve their modest but much-loved house? Especially after investing countless hours with architects and planners as well as about $30,000 in cash over more than 15 months?

Because of their Planning Department.

To be blunt but clear, their Planning Department mired their progress with bureaucratic foot-dragging, shabby treatment and rules which vary between obscure and arbitrary.

They spent more than 15 months actively seeking a permission to build — without receiving approval. The timeline for their project is an excruciating tale of delay. It is not marked by outrageous misconduct — rather, the project died the death of a thousand cuts.

They spent five months — just getting through the Zoning Conformance Review. This was only the first of three steps required by their jurisdiction.

In the first months of the process, the planners found small defects and notified the client weeks after their initial request for review. Then, after corrections were submitted, the planners notified them of other small defects.  These “defects” which had been present from the start could have been addressed early, but were only cited later.

The clients knew their first plans weren’t perfect. But they also knew, in most jurisdictions, planners routinely review similar residential proposals completely the first time and request all their corrections at once. This would have avoided what became months of unnecessary delay.

This bad process exacerbates the problems which arise when planners seemingly become distracted. As an example, they submitted a round of corrections in October, a staffer in November opined there “should be no problem” getting clearance to go before the Architectural Review Board (ARB) in January.

Unfortunately, with seemingly other priorities taking precedence, the staff did not return or take the client’s calls from late November until January 30! Unable to quickly resolve small details, they reached the ARB in April.

Admittedly, bright spots were experienced during the process. The plans sailed smoothly through the ARB, which they were told is a tribute to their design. But, even then, permission to build remained elusive.   The Planning Department was dragging their feet and continued to spin their wheels.

Would they ever get to actually build?  Come back tomorrow and find out!

Architectural Review Board: The Dreaded ARB

I read a fair number of blogs relating to the construction industry. Recently one of them was talking about the proposed removal of an 80 year-old pine tree leaning precariously over their house. This resulted in a call to an arborist (on a sidebar, I have near my home a business “The Affordable Arborists”, which my then 9 year old daughter misread as, “The Affordable Arsonists”).

Back on subject…..the arborist, upon looking over the tree situation muttered, “I can’t take that down unless you get approval from the ARB.”

Oh my. The dreaded ARB.

According to the blogger – In this particular historical/hysterical neighborhood, the ARB is supposed to be the “Architectural Review Board” but was renamed “Always Ranting Badly” since they are content to debate the finish on the screw heads of your fence until the original need for the fence has dissipated.

To give a practical viewpoint on the bloggers neighborhood, their old neighborhood has lots of trees. And many are, as you would guess, huge and old. If a cloud gathers on the horizon, they lose power. Yet many thousands of squirrels (aka “rats with bushy tails”) think their neighborhood is Disney World without the Gift Shop.

So what does an ARB have to do with your new garage, shop, or other type of pole building? In the event your neighborhood is “ruled” by one – everything.

Oftentimes a Home Owners Association (HOA) may have an ARB, so if you are a member of an HOA, beware.

ARBs hold a remarkable amount of power over what you can or cannot do on your own property. They can dictate if you can even add onto your home, existing garage/shop, or if you can build at all! Assuming they will allow you to build, they can (and probably will) dictate the size (footprint, wall height, overall height as well as roof pitch) and location of the building on your property. Going even beyond this – they will tell you what types of roofing and siding materials you may use, as well as styles of doors….even what colors they deem as appropriate!

Often times, an ARB can make your life miserable if you don’t comply. So, if your property is under the auspices of an Architectural Review Board – satisfy their requirements first. Once you do, most everything thereafter involving your property change will seem easy.