Thursday, May 21, 2015

Another Builder Speaks Out About The Permitting Situation In Rapid City. I'm Honoring The Author's Request For Anonymity.

    Says my correspondent:  "I have received over 75 building permits in Rapid City, been a part of 7 rezoning or replatting requests, and was the general contractor or project manager for large projects in Deadwood, Sioux Falls, and Des Moines, Iowa in the last 10 years. First of all I would like to state that Brad, Curt, Chuck and their support staff at the Building Permit and Inspection Dept. and Assistant Fire Chief Tim Behlings and his staff at the RCFD Prevention and Code Enforcement Division are very professional and efficient when I apply for a building permit, call for inspections, and ultimately receive a Certificate of Occupancy for all of these projects that I have built in Rapid City.  They are all very knowledgeable with the ever changing building and fire codes and they understand that there is often more than one way to meet the intent of the codes."

    Now for some specificity:

"The Planning and Zoning side of the Community Planning Department also does a great job, although I believe they are needlessly hampered by a multitude of ambiguous and unnecessary codes and regulations.  Whenever a lot is developed in Rapid City or even within the 3 mile platting boundary, the code requires the developer to provide a paved road of various widths, curb, gutter, and sidewalks on both sides of the road, and water, sewer, and street light conduits.  Often there is no curb, gutter or sidewalks in the area and constructing the curbs can be a safety hazard.  While the developer can apply to the Planning Commission and the City Council for a waiver to some of these requirements, the process is long and costly.  A better method would be for the Planning Department to have the power to grant these waivers at their digression if the developers are willing to sign a “Waiver of Right to Protest”, which in a nutshell means that if in the future the surrounding area infrastructure is developed to City standards the developers or the current property owners will pay for their portion of the improvements.  The Planning Dept. and the Planning Commission do not currently consider any private covenants that are in place when they consider a rezoning or a Conditional Use Permit application.  This often pits one neighbor against another, with the only recourse they may have is to initiate legal action to enforce the covenants. 

     I believe that the biggest detriment to affordable development in Rapid City is the Public Works Department.  Any conscientious and reputable builder wants his project to last for a reasonable time, but the myriad of specifications and testing requirements add 1000’s of dollars to even the simplest projects.  Often they specify a particular brand of pipe or valve that is a costly, special order item instead of one that is usually stocked by the local suppliers."

(Note to readers:  this addendum was posted 5/22 @ 0830.  It was part of the original piece but by my error it didn't get pasted.  My apologies for the error to readers and the poster).  Anonymous continues:   

"The process to substitute materials from their approved list can be a long and costly process, so most of the time the contractors just use the more expensive materials and pass on the extra costs.  If a homeowner or contractor wants to make minor changes to a building project they are allowed to do so without redrawing the plans or re-submitting for a new permit, but if a developer wants to make even minor grading changes to a project the Public Works Dept. requires plans to be drawn up, submitted to them for review and approval, and usually another pre-construction meeting.  Most of the large grading, utilities, paving and asphalt companies that I have worked with have told me that the Public Works supervisors and inspectors enforce the rules much stricter for a privately owned project than they do for a City or State funded project.  This leads to confusion among the workers and resentment from the developers whom are paying the bills.

The current Mayor has stated that one of his major accomplishments is the number of committees and review boards that he has eliminated in the last 4 years.  He got rid of the Electric Board, the Plumbing Board, the Development Appeals and Review Board, and the Variance Board.  The downside of eliminating these Boards that were comprised of long time professionals in their fields is that now the appeals are decided by the Planning Commission members whom often lack the technical expertise to make an informed decision."


  1. These are meaningful and relevant observations. How about some content from the former Chief on the topic? He's the one proclaiming that City Hall stifles growth.

  2. Curt - I have spoken to a couple dozen of these builders who have the same, and worse complaints. We are costing them thousands, which they pass onto the consumer. The City needs to take a long hard look at the process and rid the system of roadblocks so that we can reduce delays and start changing Rapid City's reputation as being anti-business and anti-development. Admitting we have a problem is the first step.