Highland News Leader

Inspection debate in Highland still simmering

A plan to reduce the number of inspections required of new construction in Highland is on hold amid debate about how any inspections are enough to ensure public safety.

Currently, Highland requires 18-22 inspections for new construction, including inspection of the building site, poured footing, foundation wall, rough-in plumbing and wiring, roof, insulation, drywall, electrical meters, driveway, sidewalk, final plumbing and wiring, and more.

The council considered a proposal to reduce the number of inspections to 13, and for some inspections, adding a certification affidavit that puts the burden on the contractor to affirm the work has been done to code, which city attorney Michael McGinley said would protect the city’s liability.

City leaders said the proposal was intended to streamline the construction process and make it less daunting and more efficient for development to move forward, in the hopes of spurring more development in Highland.

“Surrounding communities seem to have fewer inspections, and what we’re seeing is that seems to correlate with the number of single-family homes being built,” said city manager Mark Latham.

Latham said the number of houses being built in Highland has hit the lowest point since 2005, and that he’s been told by area realtors that if things don’t pick up, it will be hard for them to stay in business. Fourteen single-family home permits were issued in 2018 and in 2017, a sharp contrast to 75 homes built in 2006, Latham said.

“Our goal is to make sure that we encourage developers to build single-family homes,” Latham said.

However, councilwoman Peggy Bellm said she had “major concerns.”

“The inspection process doesn’t hold up builders much,” she said. “I agree we need to be streamlined and efficient, but I don’t think fewer inspections is the way to do it.”

In addition, Bellm said, it would essentially be telling prior builders they went through unnecessary steps in their projects.

Councilman John Hipskind agreed.

“We don’t necessarily need to do what other communities are doing,” he said. “It’s a privilege to live here and for builders to build here. If we can streamline the process and make it better, we need to… (but) I don’t think development will take off just because we have fewer inspections.”

Some local contractors present at the meeting spoke to the council ---- largely against eliminating inspections.

“We gain nothing by cutting corners,” said builder Steve Korte. “I love it when the inspectors come out; you can’t do away with it.”

Korte said Highland is the only city in the area that requires a building site inspection, but that inspection once caught a 1-foot mistake that saved his company numerous problems.

“Has it held up our construction projects?” he said. “I’d say no, but I’m not building 30… houses at a time here.”

Plumbing inspector Craig Loyet asked the council not to eliminate inspections.

“I feel every one of them is extremely important and they were put there for a reason,” he said.

He suggested the council should talk to builders and realtors to explore reasons why development may be slower than desired.

Bellm moved to table the proposal until July 1, which was passed unanimously by the council. Bellm said she would like to hold an open forum with contractors and get their input.

“This is a major thing we are doing here,” she said.

A meeting has been scheduled for June 12.