EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

December 4, 2013

Salem to expedite project reviews

Developers claim town is slowing construction

By Doug Ireland

---- — SALEM — Plagued with calls from upset developers, town officials are moving forward with a plan to fast-track reviews of construction projects after receiving complaints about delays.

Beginning Jan. 1, developers will be allowed to hire consultants to review construction plans ordinarily handled by the town.

Selectmen approved the plan, 4-1, on Monday, but some expressed concern the town would be giving up too much authority to an outside party. Selectman Stephen Campbell voted against the move.

The town has received numerous complaints from developers, who said delays are costing them time and money, Town Manager Keith Hickey said.

The delays have occurred ever since the plumbing and gas inspector’s position became part time a few years ago and Chief Building Official Sam Zannini Sr. retired last year, Hickey said Tuesday.

Sam Zannini Jr. is the new plumbing and gas inspector and is still adapting to the position, Hickey said.

Assistant Town Manager Leon Goodwin now serves as the chief building official.

“Right now, it’s taking longer periods — upward of a month — to have the plans reviewed by building inspectors,” Hickey said.

It’s also taking several weeks for plumbing work to be inspected, he said.

Selectman Michael Lyons said he’s fielded many complaints in the past few years.

“I’ve been hearing about it,” Lyons said. “I am hearing this loud and clear.”

He said the town shouldn’t be causing delays.

“I think we have screwed up the economic development that has been handed to us,” he said.

Instead waiting for the municipal staff to review plans, the developers could expedite their projects by hiring someone from a list of consultants approved by the town. But it would cost them at least several hundred dollars on average, Goodwin said.

Campbell and Selectman Patrick Hargreaves said the town would be relinquishing too much control.

They were concerned about creating an old boy network, where favors would be granted by one company to another and the quality of work could be compromised.

“The tie will go to the developer,” Campbell said. “Letting them just choose concerns me.”

Goodwin said he doubted that would happen because professional reputations would be at stake.

“They are on the hook to make sure these things are correct,” he said. “They are putting their stamps on the line.”

Goodwin and Hickey said allowing consultants to review projects would give the town staff more time to conduct inspections, but would not result in a large cost savings to the town.

“This is really to streamline things and makes things run smoother,” Goodwin said.

Robert Duval, chief engineer of TFMoran Inc. in Salem, said hiring third-party consultants is becoming more common in Southern New Hampshire, including Londonderry and Pelham.

“A lot of towns are doing that,” he said. “I’ve been advocating it for a while. Delays in inspections are a problem in general.”

David Bryan, president of Blackdog Builders in Salem, was skeptical. He said it would be tough for some builders to foot the additional cost for project reviews.

“That’s a lot of money to do that,” he said. “Every builder works on a tight margin.”