Sample Letter and Petition for Public Hearing on Minor Work

Use the following letter and petition to have your town request a public hearing just change the names.
Please feel free to change and send to your Mayor and Council

To:

From:    Construction Official, and Zoning Officer

Page:  1 of 3 (with enclosure)

Re:      Proposed Amendments to UCC –

Request for Public Hearing

Date:   , 2017

Following up on our discussion a few weeks ago, the NJ Department of Community Affairs has proposed impactful amendments to the Uniform Construction Code (UCC) regulations that I believe will have adverse consequences on the citizens of [ Your town ] and statewide. While I support streamlining processes and paperwork where appropriate, that does not extend to cases where safety is compromised. The Department’s own reason statement says that these smaller projects will be required to comply with the UCC, but there will be no inspections to confirm compliance.

As with any rule proposed by the Executive Branch, there is a mandatory public comment period, in this case 60 days from the August 7th date of the proposal. I, along with many of my fellow safety professionals, intend to provide extensive written comments exposing the shortcomings of the proposed changes.

My request to you and to Mayor and Council is a simple one. The Administrative Procedures Act requires the state agency proposing the regulations to also hold a public hearing on the matter if there is significant public interest raised (which there clearly is) or if any NJ municipality so requests. As there is no real measurable standard to significant public interest, the DCA can decide either way. My understanding is that a few construction code officials are asking their communities on their behalf to request a public hearing so that a full airing of the proposal can take place in a setting of transparency. I would not ask Council to take any position either way with respect to the appropriateness of the proposal, rather only to endorse a request for the hearing.
I have summarized a number of the particularly harmful aspects of the draft proposal:

The gist of the proposal is to expand what is defined in the code as ‘ordinary maintenance’. The concept of ordinary maintenance is that there are no requirements for a permit, no construction controls and no inspections to confirm that the work has been done safely. This maintenance is allowed now in residences for things like changing electrical outlets or light fixtures, replacing sinks or toilets, kitchen cabinets, roof and siding repairs. We have a difficult time now sorting out between legitimate ordinary maintenance and alterations/renovations that require and need permits and inspections, but I support the maintenance provisions. These are currently limited, though to true repairs and limited replacements (<25%).

The replacement of interior finish (drywall), currently limited to 25% of a room to be considered ordinary maintenance, would be expanded to 25% of the entire house if approved. We have a perpetual battle now with illegally subdivided rooms and unsafe sleeping quarters that would now be incredibly difficult, nigh impossible, to keep ahead of. Equally unsafe is many modern (last 40 years) dwellings require fire-resistant sheetrock in certain high-risk locations. Without permit, plan, or inspections, there is absolutely no construction controls ensuring any subsequent replacement finish in these areas maintains the appropriate fire safety. Similarly, partitions inside dwellings could now be repaired or replaced, with no assurance they are put back in the same location and arrangement in certain rental occupancies.

I am equally concerned about roof replacement. Currently, the code allows for repairs and replacement of up to 25% of an existing roof as ordinary repair. The proposal would allow for complete re-roofing without permit or inspections. Our current system enables us to confirm that maximum load-carrying capabilities are not being exceeded, that proper underlayment is called for in leak-risk locations and low-slope roofs, and that proper roof ventilation and drip edge methods are employed, all of which directly benefit our residents. Without permit or inspection, we cannot protect them against unscrupulous contractors wielding super-competitive rates and the unwitting harm that follows. The state readily admits that inspections are the tool for compliance.

Similar concerns exist for the proposal’s handling of siding; less than 25% could always be replaced without concern. The proposal exempts certain siding products from the ordinary maintenance provisions because of their combustibility…..it will be impossible for us to effectively communicate this information, including which products are okay versus which would require a permit…..nor is there any way to confirm in the field whether or not an ineligible product was installed in violation. Our inspectors would face a nightmare in the field, not knowing which jobs require permit and which are exempt. Certain siding is also required to have a fire-resistance rating when close to the property line….again, replacement without permit would preclude the Construction Office from ensuring that proper materials were proposed.

One of the most egregious components of the draft rule concerns decks. While owners have always had the ability to re-surface an existing deck, or repair a part of the structural frame, the proposal would now allow for full replacement of any deck without permit or inspection, including foundations, columns and framing, as long as the deck height did not exceed 30”. DCA somehow equates decks to stoops and porches, completely in error. As treated lumber materials have changed, so have joist hanger and column base brackets. The metal hangers and brackets found at popular home improvement centers are not protected properly against chemical reaction from the new treatment formulations. Do-it-yourselfers and unskilled contractors who purchase their supplies at such centers will be constructing decks destined to fail in just a few years. Not to mention that the permit system ensures that deck structures are built in compliance with Townships zoning provisions; I foresee a myriad of zoning violations that would arise from non-permitted, uninspected deck construction that would complicate real estate closings.

I could detail a number of similar permissions in the proposal that pose real risks to Scotch Plains residents in the areas of plumbing piping replacements,( hot water heaters would be considered as Plumbing Fixtures similar to Sinks Tubs and faucetsvalves, plumbing fixtures and even kitchen range hoods that, absent construction controls, could be done in such a manner as to pose a safety threat to the unwitting resident.

The issue here is that this proposal would not be optional or discretionary. If adopted by the state, it would become the prevailing rule for [Your Town  ] and everywhere. The Township of Scotch Plains cannot, by statute, have more restrictive construction provisions than the state code, even if we chose to.

What I am requesting of The Mayor and Council is simply a resolution petitioning the NJ Department of Community Affairs for a public hearing on their rule proposal (copy attached) PRN 2017-171. The request should be sent to:

Charles Richman, Commissioner

NJ Department of Community Affairs

P.O. Box 800

Trenton, NJ 08625

and emailed to:

kathleen.asher@dca.nj.gov

My advance apologies for the length……I would be more than happy to address the Council if needed.

 

PETITION THE NEW JERSEY DEPARTMENT OF COMMUNITY AFFAIRS TO REQUEST A PUBLIC HEARING TO DISCUSS ITS PROPOSED RULE PRN 2017-171

 October 3, 2017

WHEREAS, in a memo dated September 27, 2017, the Construction Official advises that  the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (NJDCA) has proposed impactful amendments to the Uniform Construction Code  (UCC) regulations  that  will  have adverse consequences  on the [ Your Town  ]and statewide, and

WHEREAS, the Administrative Procedures Act requires that a state agency proposing regulations also hold a public hearing on the matter, if there is a significant public interest raised, or if any New Jersey municipality requests a public hearing, and

WHEREAS, the Construction Official further advises, if the proposal is adopted, that it would become a prevailing rule for all municipalities in the state, and

WHEREAS, due to this concern, the Construction Official is requesting that the Your Town     ] petition the NJDCA to request a public hearing  to  voice  concerns  regarding  its rule  proposal, PRN 2017-171.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE Mayor and Council Of the [ Your Town ]

l . That this resolution does hereby serve as a petition to the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, to respectfully request a public hearing be scheduled to discuss its proposed  rule – PRN 2017-171.

  1. That a copy of this resolution be sent to Charles Richman, Commissioner  of the  New  Jersey Department  of Community  Affairs.

 

Dated: September 19, 2017

I, Clerk of the [Your Town], do hereby certify that the foregoing resolution was duly adopted by the Common Council of said City at a regular meeting held on Tuesday evening,  October 3, 2017.                                                –