Study: City, county need more collaboration on code enforcement

Building-code enforcement and permitting by the city of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County would be easier to navigate if an oversight committee was created to decide on one process to provide those services for customers, an outside consultant told a Charlotte City Council committee Monday.

Members of the transportation and planning committee got a first glimpse at a draft of recommendations on Monday – county commissioners will hear them Tuesday – that could take up to three years to fully implement.

The city and Mecklenburg are splitting the cost of the $325,000 study, a final step toward a broader study of code enforcement and permitting that has become an emotional issue for developers, homeowners and real estate professionals.

Developers complain that slow permitting delays projects and runs up costs. Elected officials agree that’s bad for business in Charlotte and Mecklenburg.

“This is one of the best things we can do to move economic development forward,” said Democrat at-large council member Vi Lyles, who chairs the transportation and planning committee. “We need to move more quickly than not.”

County inspectors are responsible for enforcing construction standards for Charlotte, the county’s six towns and unincorporated Mecklenburg. City inspectors enforce local regulations for items such as health and sanitation, and zoning and land-use regulations.

In its first draft, Gartner Inc. of Stamford, Conn., said there is a lack of “coordination and collaboration” between the two governments that many times “results in efforts that should be coordinated,” but are done separately. The group was hired jointly by the city and county.

“Ultimately, we’ve been brought in to figure out how the city and county can better work together to provide development services to customers,” Gartner managing partner Paul Denvir said in an interview. “We heard from so many customers that ‘time is money.’ ”

Denvir laid out four options that include merging the two departments, but he said Gartner is recommending an oversight committee that would have the authority to make decisions.

Without that oversight body, achieving other recommendations the firm is proposing would be difficult, he said. The committee would include staff from the city and county, Mecklenburg’s towns and the building industry.

Denvir said the city and county have already taken innovative measures to improve services, including cutting-edge technology. “But it’s two different technologies,” he said. “They don’t talk to each other. That needs to be coordinated.”

In February, Mecklenburg County Manager Dena Diorio raised the issue to a high priority after she and county commissioners were bombarded with complaints that the process takes too long, is inefficient and too cumbersome to easily navigate.

The issue was raised in the federal case against former Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon, who suggested he could influence the process, according to a federal affidavit.

Yet city and county officials have adamantly said that the process hasn’t been influenced and that the joint city-county study began before Cannon was arrested in March on federal corruption charges. Cannon began serving a 44-month sentence last month in a federal prison in West Virginia.

Denvir said city and county inspector staffing is still at “recession level,” and building in Charlotte has accelerated during the recovery. At Diorio’s recommendation, county commissioners are hiring 24 fee-funded inspectors, plan examiners and customer-service coordinators.