Before last year, local builder Jim Warner said he could take five garage plans to either the City of Spokane or Spokane County after lunch and leave with five building permits that same afternoon.

Now, Warner, the owner of Solid Structures, said he would wait up to 12 weeks, creating a myriad of downstream issues that make it nearly impossible to manage 11 crews and meet customer expectations as record high timber prices almost doubled the cost have these projects.

“We used to love every job we had in Spokane County,” said Warner, who is based in Spokane. “Then they went where they were worst in the state. I’d rather get a permit in Kittitas County. That is unheard of. “

Warner’s crews build about 100 stores, a few homes, and commercial buildings across Washington, Idaho, and Montana each year. But because of the delays in applying for permits, he had to send his crews to jobs in places like Chelan and Omak.

“We take jobs that we didn’t want to take but that we were forced to because we couldn’t work here,” he said.

Construction officials from Spokane County and the City of Spokane acknowledge the long wait, and both said this week that they believe they have begun solving the problem.

“Hopefully we’re weeks away from being where we were,” said James Moore, director of buildings and code enforcement for Spokane County. “Hopefully by the end of the month or the end of next month we’ll be back where we were before.”

The issue came up in town this week when councilors Michael Cathcart and Karen Stratton said they had filed complaints about how long it took city planners to issue permits.

“I’ve heard some frustration from people that times are getting longer,” said Cathcart.

Kris Becker, the interim director of community and economic development, said the city had hired an outside appraiser to expedite the permit applications process.

“They are no longer,” Becker told Cathcart about the approval times. “You’ve been around four to six weeks old for a while.”

Stratton asked Becker how long the approval process should take. Becker said it should take about 30 days for a contractor to get a business license, and even less for a single-family home.

“At the end of January we saw this enormous workload,” said Becker. “And that’s finally the end of it. You will see an improvement. “

Pandemic surge

Joel White, executive officer of the Spokane Home Builders Association, said the state’s new energy laws, requiring builders to further limit air exhaust from homes and use heating sources to use renewable energy and stay away from fossil fuels, should be released on in Enter into force June 1, 2020.

While the pandemic raged, state officials postponed the new codes until February 1, and dozens of contractors tried to submit plans for permits under the expiring rules to avoid the new codes, which would increase the price of new homes between $ 20,000 and $ 30,000. Can increase dollars, said White.

“We say that for every $ 1,000 increase in the cost of a home in our economy, 200 families have the option to buy a new home,” White said. “If you add $ 20,000, you’ve priced out 4,000 families. That’s why they tried to build these houses more sustainably. “

Moore, the construction officer, said Spokane County received about 400 building permit applications in January 2020. However, that number rose to around 800 this year before the new code changes.

“We sent people home because the governor is following the rules about who can and can’t be in the office,” said Moore. “The staffing was not there to cope with this 100 percent increase.”

Contractors struggling to beat the new energy codes were added to the thousands of other residents sent home to work and decided it was time to pick up their hammers, he said.

“Those plans came up and people were still submitting their decks, their garages, and their conversions,” said Moore. “That’s what we did is dig out of this bottleneck.”

Warner saved some of his harshest reviews for city planners. He said that many phone calls seeking information from city workers were routed to planners who hadn’t set up voicemail, and it sometimes took days to get a response to an email for very simple questions.

“The city is the worst,” said Warner. “Reaching someone in town is very, very difficult.”

As the city responded, a new set of problems arose as city staff used virtual meetings to review building applications.

“Your people had problems with their internet in their homes. They had barking dogs. It was extremely unprofessional, ”said Warner. “If someone did such a presentation for one of my clients, I would fire that person. It was that bad. “

Manage chaos

Warner said he has between nine and eleven crews to handle whatever jobs customers are looking for. It became almost impossible to manage.

“I try to schedule these crews to work when you don’t know if you can get a permit,” he said. “Or you will be told that you will get a permit in eight weeks and it will take 12 and you will have to rummage through.”

When customers come to contractors, they expect work to start quickly, Warner said.

“If they get a price from a contractor who says we can do it for the x amount of dollars, they have to wait 12 weeks,” he said.

With timber prices reaching record highs, some timber suppliers would only guarantee an offer price for a few weeks. Should approval be delayed, the project would either cost consumers more or eliminate the profit margin for the contractor, he said.

“If you get 20% off a job, great. But if the wood goes up 46%, you can’t even do that job, ”he said. “That is the danger for the contractor, you don’t really know how to plan.”

Because of the delays and rising prices, some potential customers are using alternative methods, Warner said.

“We had customers who came up to us and said, ‘Farmer Joe is going to build our building. We’re not going to take permits and we’re going to pay cash, ‘”he said. “They want their building to be built and they won’t wait 12 weeks for a building permit.”

This scenario results in structures that building codes may or may not meet.

“This resulted in a huge loss of revenue for both the city and the county,” said Warner. “I know firsthand that a lot of people built a lot of stuff and it didn’t go through anyone’s book.”