Commissioners table building codes resolution

John Richmeier
jrichmeier@leavenworthtimes.com
Krystal Voth, director of the Leavenworth County Planning and Zoning Department, participates Wednesday in a Leavenworth County Commission meeting. Pictured on the table are copies of the 2006 International Residential Code and 2006 International Building Code.

After conducting a public hearing to consider the adoption of building codes, Leavenworth County commissioners voted Wednesday to table the issue for several weeks.

Commissioners will revisit a proposal for adopting building codes for the county on Nov. 18.

While cities within Leavenworth County already have building codes, commissioners have never adopted building codes for unincorporated areas of the county.

A committee was formed last year to study the possible adoption of building codes for the county. The group recommended the adoption of the 2006 International Residential Code and 2006 International Building Code.

“This would apply only to new construction,” Krystal Voth, director of the Leavenworth County Planning and Zoning Department, said during Wednesday’s meeting. “It’s not retroactive.”

Voth said the codes would not apply to remodeling a kitchen or installing a new water heater.

But the codes would apply in cases in which more than 50% of a structure is being replaced or reconstructed.

Voth also said the codes also would not apply for structures intended for agricultural purposes. But she said event barns, which are used for commercial purposes, would be subject to the building codes.

Commissioners have stated that, even if the codes are adopted, they do not intend to have the county perform inspections on buildings.

A resolution had been drafted for Wednesday’s meeting for the adoption of the building codes. The resolution, if adopted, would remove portions of the codes dealing with inspections.

Commissioners heard comments from a few members of the public regarding building codes.

Tim Smith addressed commissioners ahead of the public hearing during a public comment period at the beginning of the meeting.

Smith, who is chief of the Tonganoxie Township Fire Department, said he is in favor of the county adopting building codes.

“I just feel this effort falls short,” he said.

Smith questioned why the county was not adopting newer versions of the building codes.

He also questioned why commissioners do not support an inspection component.

“Why adopt codes if you are not going to enforce them?” he said.

Wes Armstrong, who addressed commissioners during the public hearing, also expressed concern about the lack of inspections. He said this would make it hard to ensure that safe houses are being constructed in the county.

He also expressed concern about existing structures that are unsafe not being required to be brought up to code.

He also expressed concern about what he said was a lack of soil conservation measures.

“I think this is a great effort,” he said. “It just falls short in some areas.”

Armstrong is a member of an organization called Rural Leavenworth, Inc.

Sherri Grogan, president of the organization, also addressed commissioners during the public hearing. Grogan said the group conducted a survey of members regarding building codes. She said 54.5% of the respondents are in favor of the proposed resolution and 45.4% are not in favor of the resolution.

Voth said the committee that reviewed the issue felt the 2006 versions of the codes were appropriate and manageable. She said there were substantial changes made in the 2012 versions of the codes that committee members felt were not needed.

While inspections are not being contemplated, adoption of the building codes would create a civil liability for builders who do not meet the codes, according to Senior County Counselor David Van Parys.

He said this would be the enforcement mechanism for the building codes.

Van Parys said having the building codes in place makes it easier for a homeowner to hold a builder responsible.

“The liability is on the builder,” he said.

Commissioner Chad Schimke said commissioners can never bring every structure up to a particular standard at one time.

“All you can do is your best to improve things going forward,” he said.

Commissioner Mike Stieben said adoption of the building codes at least gets the county closer to where commissioners want it to be.

Commissioner Jeff Culbertson expressed opposition to the adoption of building codes. Culbertson, who represents northern Leavenworth County, said no one in his district has expressed support of building codes to him.

Culbertson expressed concern that adoption of the codes will increase insurance rates and eventually lead to county inspections.

He said a homebuyer already has the option of having a house inspected.

All five of the county commissioners are Republicans. Culbertson said he thought the goal of Republicans was to have less government oversight.

Culbertson asked his fellow commissioners to at least exclude barn homes and tiny homes from the building codes.

County Administer Mark Loughry said trying to write an exemption for barn homes would be going down a rabbit hole with no bottom.

“I don’t think there is a definition of a barn home,” he said.

Stieben said houses should have minimal standards including barn homes.

“I’m good with moving ahead,” he said.

He made a motion to approve the resolution to adopt the 2006 building codes.

Commissioner Vicky Kaaz provided a second to the motion.

Schimke said he believes there are enough questions out there that should be addressed before commissioners make wholesale changes.

Stieben ended up withdrawing his motion and made a new motion to table the matter for a few weeks.

This motion was approved 4-1 with Culbertson voting against it.

Loughry asked commissioners to submit specific questions to Voth so staff members know what to address.

Twitter: @LVTNewsJohnR

In other business

The Leavenworth County Commission:

• Approved a bid from Country Club Bank for the sale by the county of $8.8 million in general obligation sales tax bonds. Country Club Bank offered a 1.33% interest rate for repaying the bonds.

• Approved a five-year lease agreement with Victor L. Phillips Company for three backhoes that will be used by the county’s Solid Waste Department. The total cost of the five-year lease for the three machines is $208,680.