Several weeks ago, Highland Park experienced a minor structural change in its municipal staffing that may have a major impact on the way construction projects are accomplished in the community. The Construction Code Enforcement Department was restructured so that the/Building Sub Code Official’s job was increased from a part-time to a fulltime position. In addition, the zoning officer and the construction code official are now two different individuals, where as formerly one person held those two jobs.
A construction official reviews all new construction and/or renovation projects in town. The threshold that decides whether a construction permit is needed depends upon the extent of the construction changes being proposed. The general rule of thumb is anytime a system or structure is being changed and it’s more than a ‘one for one’ change, then zoning officer’s approval is required. For instance, if a window is being replaced and the proposed window is the same size then that is a ‘one for one change’. If the proposed window is bigger than the existing window to the point where the construction official believes it will alter the structural, electrical, or plumbing system of the building or pose a fire hazard, then a permit is required. The construction official has to be available to answer questions regarding what may or may not require which permit and is responsible for directing people to the zoning official when a project impacts the zoning requirements and/or the conditions set forth in as planning board approval. Examples of construction requiring construction permits (building, electrical, fire, plumbing) include: accessibility modifications, additions, alterations, decks, electrical and plumbing upgrades, porches, roofing, siding.
Prior to receiving a building permit, zoning approval may be required for the modifications, including new use to an existing structure, installations or construction activity for both residential and commercial property. The zoning officer administers the enforcement of the zoning ordinance which can be found on the website by searching Land Development or section 230 of the municipal code. In addition, the zoning officer has the responsibility of making sure that the proposed project complies with the conditions set forth in prior planning board approvals.
Zoning permit applications are available in the Code Enforcement Department or can be downloaded from the website (www.hpboro.com) or mailed by calling or emailing the Zoning Clerk. Along with the application please include a copy of the survey for the property highlighting the proposed changes and the required fee, which is listed on the application. When the zoning application is approved building permits can be applied for.
In the last quarter of 2015, the construction/building sub code/zoning official (Scott Luthman) resigned and the zoning/planning board clerk (Diane Reh) retired. This left an opportunity to restructure the Code Enforcement Department. Ms. Reh’s responsibilities are now being absorbed by the Deputy Clerk, Jennifer Santiago. Scott Luthman’s job was divided between a part-time zoning official and a full-time construction official/building sub code official.
The division of Scott Luthman’s job was done in response to feedback within the department and citizens. According to Mayor Gayle Brill Mittler, “What the zoning official does is separate from what the construction official does. So it just made sense to split those jobs up.”
Building and construction codes exist for safety while Highland Park’s zoning reflects intents that are additionally driven by aesthetic or functional purposes. Since those intents do not always align the zoning official can give approval on something a construction official would deny and vice versa.
It becomes very crucial that if denial/approval is given for a zoning or a construction reason there can be no confusion as to why it’s being given and who is giving it. The new construction official Scott Brescher said, “I won’t even give (zoning) advice to my friends, simply because I’m not the zoning official. If I speak out of turn and verbally approve of something that is not in my scope, then we get into this game of, ‘but this person said I could do this.’ Do I know how the zoning code works? Of course, but that’s the miscommunication that we want to avoid because I am not the correct authority, Mike Mullin (the zoning official) is.”
The new construction and building sub-code official in the borough is Highland Park’s former Building Inspector Scott Brescher. Scott Brescher is a seasoned contractor and in possession of all three licenses (R.C.S., I.C.S. and H.H.S.). According to Mayor Gayle Brill MIttler, “is the right fit for the job and we are really satisfied with his work ethic.”