St. Johns County building officials nearly overwhelmed by deluge of reconstruction, new construction permit requests

The St. Johns County Building Services was already pushed hard just keeping up with the area’s rapid growth. Another major storm made it that much tougher.

 

Howard White, director of building services for the county, said his staff didn’t need any extra responsibilities with all the work going on in the county. But after dealing with Hurricane Matthew last year, they knew what was ahead of them after Hurricane Irma hit.

“I think everyone has been very respectful for what we were up against, but so far things are moving along as well as can be expected,” White said.

Of course, experience only solves so much of the problem.

“I would say it’s fair to say we’re pretty stressed out,” White said. “(But) we’ve been through this now, we know we can get through this.”

White pointed to the fact that his staff assessed about 800 damaged structures in just two and a half weeks after the hurricane as an example of how much they have been asked to do.

All that work is on top of the normal construction happening here that requires permits and inspections.

In August, the building department approved almost 400 permits just for new homes in the county — the highest one-month total since the recession. Total plans submitted for August were 1,407, about 100 more than in August 2016.

For September, the official report is not yet available. A preliminary report for new homes showed just more than 200 permits issued as several work days were lost due to the storm. But that’s still comparable to the previous four September totals.

White didn’t know exactly how many storm-related permits he’ll end up having for the month. As for the entirety of the recovery, it’s pure speculation. White said many of the major repair permits haven’t been applied for yet as overtaxed insurance adjusters and contractors are still getting to the evaluation process.

And even as the storm damage is assessed, much of the building in the county has returned to normal. The county is on pace to have its busiest year of home building on record.

“We literally had to divide our inspection staff up to do damage assessment (and regular permitting work),” White said. “The contractors that are responsible for new construction have been kind to us. We’ve got to take care of their needs as well as the emergency situation we’re faced with.”

In the confusion over storm damage, the building department has also become something of an educational resource. The county established a hotline for people who have questions about what does or does not need a permit. It also released a list of common repairs that don’t need a permit (follow the link from sjcfl.us/BuildingServices/index.aspx).

If there’s any confusion, though, White said it’s a good idea to speak with a building official.

And if a repair is something important enough to require a permit, White warned property owners not to try to attempt a sloppy fix that doesn’t meet code. That could result in problems with insurance or when an owner goes to sell a home.

“The days of flying under the radar doing things without a permit or doing things with unlicensed folks, those are long gone,” White said. “When you weigh in the mortgage companies and the insurance companies all the agencies that play a role in reconstruction, I tell folks all the time, ‘You’re just kidding yourself if you think you can do this (incorrectly).’”

 

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