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Building official discusses Residential Code confusion

Larry Sloter, owner of the Busy Bee Restaurant in the lower west side of Marietta, adds some finishing touches to the revamped dining room Sunday. (Photo by Janelle Patterson)

Misconceptions abound about construction and renovations within the city of Marietta and Washington County.

Chris Wilson, building official with the Southeast Ohio Building Department, said what people don’t understand is that their private residence has residential building code regulations.

General maintenance and repair is OK, but if someone is looking to replace a front porch, back deck or remodel the interior of their home, it falls within the scope of the residential code.

“Within the city limits of Marietta, there is the Residential Code of Ohio 2019,” he said.

Before work is done within city limits, they must first go through the city engineer’s office.

Gabe, left, and Larry Sloter set up a new, larger world map Sunday, continuing the Busy Bee Restaurant’s longstanding tradition of inviting patrons to mark from where they’ve traveled to visit Marietta. (Photo by Janelle Patterson)

“Somebody contacts us that has new construction or renovations,” said Tina Lones, engineering department office manager. “They provide us with a proposed plan.”

If it’s new construction, she schedules a planned review meeting with people from city departments such as health, water, sewer, code and flood plain. They hear about the proposed plan and get to ask questions.

“Once it is determined what the final project is, they submit the plan to us for a zoning permit,” she explained.

They determine if the project fits the zoning regulations and parking requirements for that particular site’s operations.

“We recommend they start with us,” Lones said. “There’s no reason to go to the building department if the construction isn’t allowed in the zoning district.”

Wilson said the zoning department through the city building gives permission for the construction through zoning, but the building department approves the construction plans.

“They are the people who say you are permitted to construct,” he explained of the zoning department. “Start with zoning as they give you permission to do what you want.”

With construction or renovations outside of the city limits, Wilson strongly suggests people call him to discuss their proposed work. He will need to find out where the construction will be and if it’s in the flood plain, and what the intent of the work is.

Another misconception is that if it’s a small project, they won’t need a permit.

“Anything other than paint, paper and carpet, call me and we’ll have the discussion,” he said.

The Southeast Ohio Building Department covers nine counties and there are only two municipalities in those counties with a residential code — Marietta and Zanesville.

“Marietta increases property values and decreases insurance because of their (Insurance Services Office) rating. If you say you have residential code enforcement, your insurance rates can go down,” Wilson noted.

He added if a person doesn’t receive plan approval before they start work, the fees are doubled.

“Which is what I don’t like to do. To be fair with all residents and business owners, I have to,” he said. “If you start, which is how it’s written in our regulations. It’s better to call ahead of time at 740-374-4185 and have the conversation.”

Two local businesses that have gone through the process are the Busy Bee Restaurant and Insley Plumbing.

Larry Sloter, owner of the Busy Bee, said the permit process can be “drawn out and very lengthy.”

He said when he went to do the restaurant’s kitchen remodel, there was a miscommunication about a piece of equipment he was going to use.

“It was used equipment that came out of a working restaurant,” he said. “It no longer met code.”

He said he had to go back and get an architect involved and everything had to be brought up to code.

“What I was hoping would be a couple of weeks … get the permits, a couple of weeks on the project ended up longer and a lot more money,” he explained. “For a small restaurant, for my budget to go from $5,000 or $7,000 to $40,000, that’s a lot of pancakes.”

Renovations have been ongoing since Sloter bought the business in January 2016. An interior and exterior renovation was done when he bought the building and a new walk-in cooler was the beginning of the 2019 project.

“We removed the old walk-in cooler and started the process of the new renovations we are doing now,” he said. “We did a complete kitchen remodel while closed for COVID.”

They are wrapping up the project, with handrails and securing equipment left to do.

Jonathan Insley, owner of Insley Plumbing, has gone through the permit process many times.

“For me, it’s not bad,” he said. “My main concern is with people getting stuff done. A lot of people start a project and don’t realize what goes into it and they have to get an architect.”

He said plumbing code changes every year, so he has to do continuing education. As part of his re-certification, he has to take 12 hours of classes.

He said likes the guys in the building department, but dealing with them is a nightmare and very expensive. There has to be architectural drawings and if there is anything that needs changed, it has to be sent back to the architect to fix. The plans then have to be resubmitted.

“There is a breakdown in communications,” Insley explained. “Inside the city limits, it’s the Marietta Belpre Health Department and anything outside is the county health department. The city requires a permit for residential plumbing, but the county does not.”

He added there are separate inspectors.

“With plumbing, I have one inspector for inside the city and one inspector for the county,” he noted. “The public doesn’t help that either. They are out in the county and they want to do it themselves, then when they go to sell their house, we have to go in and fix it.”

Sandy Lahmers, flood plain manager for Marietta and Washington County, did not return phone calls.

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