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Assembly OKs plan to let builders bypass city

Rosemary Shinohara

The Anchorage Assembly on Tuesday night approved a proposal sponsored by Adam Trombley to allow some home builders to hire independent engineers to sign off on structural plans, bypassing the city building department.

The point is to speed up building permits.

The vote was 9-2, with Elvi Gray-Jackson and Harriet Drummond voting no.

The city building department came out against the idea, saying it would be a conflict of interest for builders to hire their own reviewers, and would "benefit a small subset of the building industry, at the expense of the safety and welfare of the general public."

But Mayor Dan Sullivan said that he wouldn't oppose the change.

Sullivan said he had asked Trombley to get him examples of places where independent reviews have been tried, to talk to supporters and opponents and flesh out the proposal, and Trombley did all that.

"I'm willing to try something new," Sullivan said.

The law gives builders the choice of having structural plan and fire code reviews for single family and two-family houses conducted privately or done by the city building department. In any case, the city would still be in charge of other reviews, such as zoning and flood control. And the city would inspect houses as they are built to make sure they meet code requirements.

Structural reviews are to tell if house plans are designed to handle snow, wind and earthquakes, have safe windows and stairs and the like.

A private reviewer would have to meet certain qualifications under the new law.. To legally review the structure, a reviewer would have to be a registered structural engineer or a civil engineer with experience in structural engineering.

Trombley said the idea for the proposal came out of a joint meeting between builders and city officials last spring.

He said the alternate route to plan review won't necessarily be cheaper for builders, but it should be faster.

The Anchorage Home Builders Association came out strongly in support of Trombley's proposal.

Before the Assembly voted Tuesday, a number of builders spoke in favor of it, and some people spoke against it.

Builder Matt Matthews, a supporter, said, "Our name is on the houses we build. We're not going to cut any corners. The problem is the time it takes to get the permit."

Paul Michelsohn, whose company builds mostly custom homes, said he has had permits take from four weeks to three months.

"I would use this ordinance if the time and the need arose," Michelsohn said.

Architect Jonathan Steele, a member of the city building review board, said he has found city plan review comments to be reasonable, and a benefit to projects.

Another architect, Stephan Paliwoda, said the ordinance is a bad idea. "Building department review is time honored and proven throughout the U.S.," Paliwoda said. "It's a good system. It's a trusted system."

Reach Rosemary Shinohara at rshinohara@adn.com or 257-4340.


By ROSEMARY SHINOHARA
Anchorage Daily News