Highland News Leader
Highland’s residential housing growth is lagging, but not everyone is convinced of the right way to spur more home construction in town.
City officials have proposed reducing the number of inspections required by the city to streamline the process for contractors and developers.
“The numbers are quite clear that construction has not been prevalent in the city of Highland,” said Mayor Joe Michaelis.
In fact, Highland’s number of single- or double-family home permits has dropped from 75 in 2006 down to a low of four permits in 2014. It’s rebounded a little bit, but has hovered between 11 and 12 permits per year since 2016.
Planning and zoning administrator Breann Speraneo said Highland’s growth rate is about 1.2 percent, and a healthy percentage would be about 3.5 percent.
Michaelis said he has been told the permit process and inspections might have given the city a reputation for being difficult in which to build, which was echoed among some contractors at a public hearing that took place last week.
“You can’t make money building single houses if you have to stop every 15 minutes and wait 24 hours for an inspection,” said contractor Todd Lindell.
He estimated Highland’s building requirements cost him on average $12,000 more than building in other cities.
“I’m not blaming the inspectors; they’re doing their jobs,” Lindell said. “(But) it doesn’t make sense for the builder and excavator to sit there waiting ... if you could combine all the rough (inspections) into one, like every other town.”
Currently, Highland requires 18 inspections, from the building site and footing to foundation to plumbing and electrical to final inspections. According to data provided from Highland, the surrounding towns range from six inspections in Wood River to 16 in Edwardsville, with an average of 10-11.
The proposal, which was first sent to the city council May 20 and was postponed for the public hearing, would eliminate six inspections including the insulation and roof and combing some plumbing and electrical inspections.
Realtor Kim Johnson said Highland is “a wonderful community,” but they are struggling to bring people in without more construction.
“We are making a living selling real estate, but we have got to have growth,” she said.
The inspections issue stems from the fact Highland uses independent contractors for inspections, usually electricians and plumbers who have their own work to do and can only do inspections after hours. Speraneo said most of them can respond within two hours, however.
“The problem with hiring (full-time inspectors) is that they make a significant amount of money,” said city attorney Mike McGinley.
But not everyone agreed reducing inspections was the way to go. Brad Korte, chairman of Highland’s planning and zoning board, said it would not likely be a selling point to people looking to buy a home.
“As a consumer, I don’t like the sound of it,” Korte said. “As a builder, you can’t sell that ... (The buyer) wants to make sure what he’s building outlasts his mortgage.”
Instead, Korte said the city should focus on making the existing process more efficient, but not reducing inspections.
Realtor Sheila Riggs said she would like to see more promotion of the city to combat its difficult reputation.
“It was that family community we came for,” she said.
Board member Peggy Bellm said her concern was obviously for safety.
“I want to make sure it’s done safe and not ripping people off,” she said.
“No one has any interest in reducing the quality of the houses built,” he said.
The council is expected to take up a final proposal in July, which may inclined the reduced inspections and/or put together a more efficient system for scheduling inspections.