Panel considers construction wording change

SALEM – A request to clean up language regarding certificates of occupancy turned into a discussion about whether Salem should have a qualified building inspector on staff for construction and renovation projects.

No action was taken, but a proposal to redraft language in section 1147.14 of the city’s ordinances for planning and zoning will be taken up again at a Rules & Ordinances Committee meeting at 6:30 p.m. March 27 in council chambers.

The committee met Tuesday night to discuss changing the wording from certificate of occupancy to building permit. Councilwoman Cyndi Baronzzi Dickey, who chairs the committee, said she was approached by Mayor John Berlin about the language change, noting the current language drafted in 1973 implies that by issuing an occupancy document for a structure, the city is saying its a safe place to occupy when in reality the city isn’t qualified to make that judgment. That’s not what the city does.

Planning and Zoning Officer Patrick Morrissey described it as a conflicted clause because the city does not have a building department – the city has a zoning department. He’s not qualified to say a project meets the state building code or meets all health codes. The state of Ohio does the inspecting of commercial and industrial structures being constructed and issues a certificate of occupancy.

All the city does is say where a building can be constructed and whether its proposed use meets the zoning requirements for that location, he explained. Committee member Councilman Clyde Brown said he was more concerned with what is going on inside a building, with Morrissey saying the city becomes involved if the use isn’t appropriate for the zoning in that location.

Committee member Councilman Rick Drummond said he understands the language can’t stay the same, but he didn’t think they should throw the whole thing out either. He questioned whether they could refer to a certificate of occupancy based on presentation of required material from an engineer saying the construction meets all the requirements.

His suggestion was prompted by some discussion by city resident and downtown building owner Scott Cahill and his wife Lisa, who have been proponents of the city having its own

building inspector and building department. He explained the process a builder would go through to make renovations to a downtown building and the fact that those plans are signed off by an engineer who could attest that everything has been done properly.

Lisa said that in Salem, the process is to get the building permit from the state first, get the building designed, then come to the city to see if can be built on the land already purchased. In Tiffin, she said a builder gets the zoning permit first, then goes through the permitting process for the construction. She said that’s one of the major issues holding Salem back.

Morrissey stressed that he works with many of the builders from the beginning. The problem is the language for the certificate of occupancy refers to actions the city can’t back up, such as stating that the building or proposed use of a building or land complies with all the building and health laws.

Dickey suggested they should consider having someone qualified as a building inspector working for the city, perhaps Morrissey’s replacement when he retires. She said she realizes the city doesn’t have the money for a building department, but having a building inspector should at least be considered.