Inspection News

Planning & Development Services Department - Dec. 19, 2018

Planning and Development Services has received the 2018 Innovations in Code Excellence Award from the International Code Council for a new process it created to make it easier to repurpose old buildings.

The ICC's board of directors, which represents more than 70,000 building code officials across the globe, unanimously chose to honor the department for its collaborative effort to devise a better process to guide developers, owners and entrepreneurs through the "change of use" process. The term refers to converting a building for a use other than that for which it was originally approved, for example, from a warehouse to a restaurant.

The new process was the end product of a Change of Use Task Force the department created to address complaints, frustrations and conflicts arising when property and business owners repurposed an old building and found themselves sideways with current building or zoning requirements.

The task force included realtors, property managers and builders for both residential and commercial property; fire marshals and planning, inspections and zoning staff; and architects, engineers and developers.

The new change of use process includes a new building-evaluation option that allows entrepreneurs to determine -- before they commit to a lease -- if the space they want to use is suitable. For a fee, a team that includes building, mechanical, electrical, plumbing, fire and zoning inspectors examines the proposed space and provides a thorough report on what it will take to bring the building into code compliance and make it ready for occupancy.

The new process also:

  • created two, new, low-cost zoning permits for relatively simple changes of use that do not require significant review or renovation;
  • created a new Change of Use Inquiry Form for owners and developers that documents all known past uses of the building and whether those uses conformed to building code and zoning requirements;
  • led to a simplification in the Table of Permitted Uses in the development ordinances for the city and county; and
  • aligned hazardous-use ratings with the National Rehabilitation Code, which resulted in buildings being more likely to be approved for new uses as long as the hazards associated with the new use were in line with the previous use.

The new process was put into effect in 2012. Since then, more than 900 of the new permits have been issued and more than 250 building evaluations conducted.

Dan Dockery, the department's chief building official, said that the new process has been well received and proved successful, thanks to the participation of stakeholders outside of government. "It was all of us working together that has made this a success," Dockery said. "These buildings are occupied sooner and often with less expense, giving the owners a greater chance of success, and putting people to work quicker."

The change of use process will be promoted by the ICC’s Benchmarking and Best Practices subcommittee so that other communities can adopt it.

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