Archive for Thursday, August 12, 2004

Positives could result from recent building permit mistakes

August 12, 2004

The city of De Soto suffered considerable embarrassment from a spate of recent building permit mistakes. Twice, city staff or the De Soto City Council were forced to tell those who acted in good faith to obtain a building permit from the proper city authority that the permit was invalid.

The city's building codes and planning process were a response to a guarantee against the often-decried "old-boy network." Building requirements and code restrictions might seem to be a nuisance to those attempting to get a project approved, but they protect city residents from poorly designed projects that often come back to bite taxpayers. They give all residents assurances that any new development in their neighborhoods will meet certain standards and not unduly diminish their quality of life.

But, as the city learned in the last few months, the process doesn't work when key city employees aren't on the same page. And it was obvious those in the building and codes department weren't.

City Administrator Greg Johnson has taken steps to correct that problem. Building permits are now reviewed by the city engineer and city attorney before approval. Qualified consultants will be contracted to help with permits for commercial development.

If there is a silver lining to the fiasco, it is that the focus the two projects brought to proper planning standards for redevelopment in De Soto's older sections.

Although obviously put out by the recent process, the VFW was in some ways fortunate its application was mishandled. Had the expansion of the project gone through the process as proscribed, the post would have been required to make expensive modifications to the project up front, as Planning Commission members told post members last month. The same is true of De Soto Feed and Grain.

The post is an important institution to the city that provides a range of civic activities that enrich the community. It would not be in the city's interest to see it relocate because of the expense of meeting the city's planning standards. As VFW members told the Planning Commission and the City Council, they were trying to improve on something that was already there within their financial limitations.

Perhaps, as City Councilwoman Linda Zindler suggested after the approval of the redevelopment agreement with the post, the city should consider ways to facilitate "in-fill" development in the city's older sections. That could be done by relaxing standards or using the approach used with the VFW of phasing in improvements.

A net gain is a net gain, even if it isn't of the standards demanded of new development. It is an issue that deserves the Planning Commission's attention.

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