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P&Z will hear controversial proposal to end building permits for remodels

Public hearing set for Aug. 14

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017 2:36 p.m. CST • Updated: Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017 2:46 p.m. CST
(Mike Mendenhall/Prairie City News)
Prairie City attorney John Judisch of Stuyvesant, Benton & Judisch speaks at the July city council meeting at City Hall. The attorney advised the mayor and city council last month to bring the proposal to eliminate portions of Prairie City's building renovation permitting process before the city's planning and zoning commission before enacting the changes. Judisch provided his opinion in a written statement last month to city officials.

Prairie City’s Planning and Zoning Commission has announced it will hold a public hearing Aug. 14 on efforts by the city council to eliminate requirements to obtain a building permit for commercial and residential remodels.

At a special council meeting June 23, councilwoman Andrea Engle offered a motion to do away with building permits on residential and commercial remodels if the project does not “change the structural footprint of the building.” The council voted 4-1 to adopt the policy change. Councilman Troy Kuecker was the only “no” vote.

But mayor Chad Alleger took issue with the vote and brought in the counsel of city attorney John Judisch. In a written opinion to Alleger and council, Judisch said with the authority given to cities’ Planning and Zoning Commissions in Iowa Code, he recommends the group review, hold a public hearing and make a recommendation on the permit changes desired by the council.

He is also concerned the June 23 vote taken under the action item “Resolution to update Building Permit Fee Schedule/Building Code discussion” — is not broad enough language to include a vote on removing the permits.

Councilman Lyle Burkett and other supporters have said they see the vote as binding.

The debate over whether the city should require building permits for interior remodels has been stirring since fall of 2016.

Residents and elected leaders on one side of the argument say the permits are poorly enforced, an invasion of private property and a money grab for the city’s contracted inspector Veenstra & Kimm, Inc.

Folks on the flip side of the issue say building permits, even for interior remodels, are in place for the safety of property owners and their neighbors, keep a uniform building standard in town, making the city more attractive to developers and new residents, and reduce the city’s liability in the event of a fire or building collapse.

Planning and zoning will hear and consider three changes at 6 p.m. Aug. 14 to Prairie City’s current building codes.

• The first and most controversial proposal is the removal of the city’s requirements to obtain a building permit on commercial and residential remodel project that do not change the structural footprint of building.

According to proposal put forward by councilwoman Engle and supported by councilmen Burkett, Dan Downey and Bob Beiner, this is intended to only affect permit requirements for projects which do not change a building’s structural footprint, but would still be required to be in compliance with the 2015 International Building Codes adopted by the council last year.

This proposed change would mean a project that fits these guidelines would not be subject to file for a permit with the city and eliminates the enforcement mechanism of a required inspection by the city building inspector.

• The second issue before planning and zoning would remove the requirements for frost footings on accessory buildings 1,000 square feet or smaller. Current city code dictates accessory buildings — such as a garage or Morton building — between 720 and 1,000 square feet have frost footings.

• The third and final proposed change before planning and zoning would add an exemption to city code under alleyway setbacks. Additions to existing buildings would be able to encroach no more than five feet from an alley line anymore than the preexisting structure.

The new or rebuilt structure would still have to follow all other rules and regulations issued by the city.

After the hearing, P&Z commissioners will make a recommendation to city council on whether or not to move forward with the proposal. According to Iowa code, the city council will then hold its own public hearing on the building code and policy changes. But the final say does reside with the city council.

The hearing Aug. 14 is open to the public. Those unable to attend can send written comments to city hall, City of Prairie City, Iowa, P.O. Box 607, Prairie City, Iowa 50228 prior to the hearing. They must be received by Aug. 7.

Contact Mike Mendenhall at

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