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South Central’s permitting and inspection process explained

LAPLACE — Citing concerns regarding South Central Planning and Development Commission’s permitting and inspection process, St. John the Baptist Parish Council members asked commission certified building official Michael Witch a number of questions during a council meeting March 9.

Witch went into great detail to explain the inspection process, emphasizing on several occasions the responsibility to call for an inspection rests with the homebuilder or the contractor.

Focusing mainly on residential developments, Witch said the commission conducts a plan review to determine if it is acceptable, according to the Louisiana Uniform Building Code. The commission will contact the applicant to make the required changes if needed.

“Every project is looked at on an individual basis,” Witch said in response to one question.

He said the commission uses the same inspectors in an area. If an inspector sees a house that is under construction that has not been inspected, “that is a red flag.”

He said the parish also has code enforcement officers riding the neighborhoods daily.

“It’s not unusual for (inspectors) to find uncoded work and issue stop work orders,” Witch said.

“We have concerns about (South Central’s) procedure,” Councilwoman Tammy Houston said. “Why would you not schedule a permit six weeks after a permit is filed?”

Witch said the only inspection controlled by time when building a new home is the final electrical inspection, which is required to have the utilities turned on.

“If months have gone by without a final inspection (after the electrical inspection), we will make contact,” Witch said. “People will forget to get the final inspection. We will set up an inspection and go do it.”

“That is the only time we contact the applicant asking them to go do an inspection.”

He said South Central responds within 24 hours to perform the inspection if it is not an emergency. In emergency situations, the commission responds as quickly as possible, with inspectors on call 24 hours a day.

“It is the obligation of the applicant or contractor to call in for an inspection,” Planning and Zoning Director Rene Pastorek said.

“At times, if somebody has a permit that has been open and didn’t call for an inspection and do proceed with construction and we notice it, we will require them to open up walls and work with South Central to determine what fixes are necessary because they went without inspection.”

Pastorek said South Central responds to calls when people are “prepared and ready for inspection.”

The commission is paid $23,000 monthly from the parish, Witch said, adding the commission does not receive a percentage of the permitting fees. He explained that “was the old way.”

He also revealed the program is “revenue neutral,” noting that usage evaluations from each parish are performed during the summer and adjusted fees take effect in January. He said for the year 2021 the parish is paying less per month than 2020.

“You are paying us to enforce the statewide building code; that is mandated,” Witch said. “We have highly qualified inspectors to review those plans. Typically it takes 13 inspections on a new house, commercial projects can take much more than depending on type of project.”