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Building appeals board created by town

Darin Olde, Sierra Sun

For contractors in Truckee, the appointment of a building appeals board has been a long time coming.

Now that Town Council approved appeals board operation and membership, builders and homeowners will have an avenue to dispute building code decisions without having to pay a non-refundable $962 fee.

Town Council established the membership and general procedures for the Town of Truckee Building Appeals Board in its meeting Thursday, May 3.

The board will consist of seven building and construction professionals.

“This has been Dennis Schlumpf’s bailiwick for three years now to get this thing up and running,” said Mitch Clarin, president of the Contractor’s Association of Truckee Tahoe. “And now we finally, finally got it.”

Dennis Schlumpf was on the Placer County building appeals board for almost 17 years before resigning in 1991.

Schlumpf, whose grandfather was constable of Truckee many years ago, was pleased that the board is finally taking shape.

“We’re pretty happy about it, and I think it will serve the public well,” he said.

According to the California Building Code and Truckee Town Ordinance, the board will “hear and decide appeals of orders, decisions or determinations made by the building official.”

Typical appeal situations are whether or not a room is designed or built as a bedroom, the height of a building, the number of restrooms and fixtures required for a restaurant or interpretation of an accessibility standard where discretion is applied by the building official.

Building code interpretation, as it turns out, isn’t always black and white.

“You would be surprised by how much interpretation is required to apply the code,” said Tony Lashbrook, the town’s community development director. Building in Truckee can be more complicated because of the weather, which typically result in additional building codes.

“Nearly all of our construction is custom which makes things more complicated,” said Lashbrook. The town may average 15 to 20 inspections on an average house during the building process, he said.

“There are issues that have to get ironed out every day, and generally we get them ironed out,” added Lashbrook. “But when you’re doing this kind of volume there is going to be disagreements.”

Building has been big business in Truckee. Last year the town issued 372 permits for single family homes, the most since the town incorporated.

But appeals are rare. The town has not had a single appeal since incorporation eight years ago.

The appeals are often unchallenged, said Clarin, because builders feel it is easier to make the required changes mandated by the building official even if they feel their interpretation is different.

“If the inspector comes out with something that you don’t agree with normally you would just move on,” said Clarin.

The lack of appeals may also have been because of the fee. But Town Council amended fees applied to building appeals from a flat rate of $962 to a deposit fee of $350 for a one-year trial.

Town staff set the original fee based on anticipated staff time required to solve the dispute. Since no appeals were filed, staffers have lowered the cost on a preliminary basis, and will consider raising the fee once the actual costs are approximated.

In Placer County, the cost to file an appeal is a $100 non refundable fee.

“That goes back a long ways,” said Bob Reiss, supervising building inspector for the Tahoe region of Placer County. “All members of the board serve without compensation but they do get some expenses covered.”

Schlumpf said that during the time he served on the board there were only a few appeals a year, and that was for all of Placer County.


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