Permitting Action Item Requests of Jurisdictions During COVID-19 Crisis

The following letter was sent out in the early afternoon of March 18, 2020.

March 18, 2020

To the Pierce County Executive, local Mayors, Councils, City Managers, City Administrators, Economic Development Directors, Community Development Directors, and Building Officials:

The Master Builders Association of Pierce County (Master Builders Association of Pierce County) is writing this letter in reference to the ever evolving situation surrounding COVID-19. Master Builders Association of Pierce County represents 700 member companies who are industry professionals that are committed to building homes at attainable price points, even in times of uncertainty. We are writing this letter to request that your jurisdiction implements items in this permitting action plan so that necessary attainable housing can still be built.

State of Emergency
Some local jurisdictions may consider a declaration of a state of emergency and some already have a local declaration of emergency. We request the following to accompany State of Emergency Declarations:

  • Permit approval extensions for permits expiring between March 1 and, at minimum, June 29, 2020.
  • Allow permit approvals for structures with previously approved designs (i.e. base plans) as well as a post-construction verification. Creating a temporary permitting process to verify compliance once the state of emergency restrictions are lifted will be necessary with this action item.
  • Ensure that construction activity (and adjacent professions such as surveyors, engineers, etc.) will be considered essential services in the case of a “shelter in place” order, just as the City of San Francisco’s Public Health Order on March 16, 2020 allowed for.
  • Ensure that financial institutions, including title and escrow operations, also to be considered essential services in the case of a “shelter in place” order.

For jurisdictions with online submission, we ask that you ensure permitting offices have a designated a point of contact, even if the local staff are working remotely or not available face-to-face. For jurisdictions without online submission, we request a physical no-contact permit drop off so staff can process permits remotely. We also request emergency adoption of an online permit portal system.

We ask for the establishment of a formal on-site, no contact protocol. This can be achieved in several ways, including the following:

  • Inspectors calling the project site contact from their vehicle and doing an inspection with no one else on site and a phone debrief after inspection.
  • Video or delayed, ex post facto, inspections. These can be live and/or builder recorded video of the various stages of construction which could then be used real time or in a post-construction permitting process for compliance.
  • Allowing for third party inspections from private engineering firms to keep up with the demand and alternative inspection health safety precautions.

Public Hearings
We understand social gatherings are required to be postponed, but plat processing and hearings need to be accommodated for. We request jurisdictions to install the technological infrastructure to continue with public hearings for plat and other approvals relating to development and building. These need to occur not only for hearings as planned, but we encourage jurisdictions to continue to schedule new hearings once proper technological infrastructure in place.

Master Builders Association of Pierce County knows that home builders can spur quick economic growth and reinvigorate the economy after the restrictions and quarantines are lifted. In order to do this, the builders need to have approved permits in hand. We ask local jurisdictional governments to delay implementation of new or upcoming regulations in this current time of emergency and uncertainty. For example, we ask that you request the governor to delay implementation of all new building codes set to be implemented on July 1, 2020.

Master Builders Association of Pierce County understands that the situation is ever changing, however, chief among these requests is that construction and financial institutions be allowed to continue their work as “essential services” should “shelter in place orders” emerge. We ask that your jurisdictions keep permitting and inspection avenues open so that we can work together reinvigorate the economy. Delaying implementation of the new building codes will also guarantee predictability as everyone tries to adapt to the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19. Thank you for your consideration to these ideas. Please do not hesitate to reach out to me with questions.

Jessie Gamble
Government Affairs Director