Backlog Of Building Permit Applications Scrutinized As Demand For Permits Increases | Falmouth News

Falmouth Select Board is fielding complaints from residents and builders who are frustrated after waiting months to get building permits approved. This week, there are 200 new residential building permits applications in various stages of approval at the town’s building department. While about half of them are awaiting action from […]

Falmouth Select Board is fielding complaints from residents and builders who are frustrated after waiting months to get building permits approved.

This week, there are 200 new residential building permits applications in various stages of approval at the town’s building department.

While about half of them are awaiting action from either the applicant or another town department, there is a mounting queue of 100 new permits that homeowners and contractors are waiting on.

“Right now I have about 100 applications that we have not look at yet,” Falmouth Building Commissioner Rodman L. Palmer told the select board Monday night, April 5.

“There’s such a great number of applications coming in on a daily basis, and these are substantial permits, for new homes, additions, new commercial buildings and commercial alternations,” he said. “There’s even more permits coming in for smaller items like new roofing, siding, plumbing, electrical, HVAC.”

Select board member Nancy R. Taylor said she has been hearing of problems with permit backlogs since last summer.

“There seems to be a real problem,” she said at the meeting. “I’ve heard of people submitting their permit application in January and still have not heard.”

Mr. Palmer was before the select board to field questions about an outstanding permits report he generated at the board’s request to gauge the size and scope of the backlog.

“It’s not uncommon to have permits that arrived six or seven months ago, or even a year,” Mr. Palmer said. “We try to act on permits within a week or two, sometimes three, depending on volume and staff.”

Select board member Samuel H. Patterson asked Mr. Palmer how he manages the backlog.

“Delays for any of these business represents money, especially when the costs of materials is going up so quickly,” he said.

Mr. Palmer said his staff, three administrative assistant and three building inspectors, review the information and contacts the applicants if the department needs further information.

“Sometimes we wait for months before we hear back from the applicant,” he said.

According to Falmouth Town Code, the building commissioner shall act within 30 days of receiving the application.

One developer who said Falmouth is one of the busiest town on Cape Cod for construction said he and his staff try to plan accordingly and submit permits as soon as possible with the expectation the permit process will take longer than it used to.

“They are working hard to get them out. Obviously the demand has increased and we can’t expect them to process permits at the same pace,” Mark Bogosian of Longfellow Design Build said.

From all appearances, the uptick in construction activity in Falmouth, coupled with COVID-related staffing shortages, is to blame for the delays.

Town Manager Julian M. Suso said the town is experiencing a 34 percent increase in permit applications that began during the pandemic.

“We certainly see a 34 percent increase in activity, but certainly not a 34 percent increase in staffing,” he said. “There is an extraordinary amount of activity in Falmouth, which is a positive development, but certainly presents challenges for staff.”

Mr. Palmer noted his office has been beset with challenges during COVID. Right after the pandemic hit, he lost three of his support staff. Since then, the town hired a building inspector to fill a vacancy, but right now, two of the three administrative staff are out of work for health reasons with no set date to return.

“I’m not trying to complain, just give you the facts,” he said.

The review process is time consuming as well, with several departments reviewing the project, from engineering to the board of health and the conservation commission.

“Each application has a great number of people looking at it. It is time consuming,” he said.

Builders and contractors say Falmouth was already experiencing a robust construction and remodeling market, and the pandemic caused even more demand.

Select board member Douglas C. Brown, owner of Brown Builders, said COVID accelerated the demand for home repairs once second home owners began living in their summer homes year-round.

“They came to Falmouth to ride out the pandemic and then stayed when they realized they did not need to return to the office as often. Homeowners began noticing what needed to be done to turn a vacation home into a year-round residence,” he said.

Christian Valle, president of The Valle Group in East Falmouth, noticed a similar trend.

We are very busy right now. I think a lot of people are moving to the Cape to work remotely, because if you could live here, why not,” he said.

“People sat around inside all last winter and spring, looking around the house all day, and began thinking about adding a home office or refinishing the basement. Basically, the surge is driven by the fact that we can now work remotely.”

The select board asked if converting to online permitting would help.

“It would be extremely beneficial and a time-saver,” he said.

Mr. Valle said many other towns, on and off Cape have online permitting.

“It streamlines the process, and I know it has been talked about here. It would take some burden off town employees who I know are understaffed,” he said.

There is a warrant article on the Spring Town Meeting to fund such an online system. If it passes it still would be months before it was implemented and ready for the public to access.

Select board Chairwoman Megan E. English Braga called the situation the “perfect storm” of an economic bubble and a pandemic, and said the town needed to talk about support for the department and perhaps hiring extra help.

“It may be the perfect storm, but we are charged with navigating these storms.”

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