The Southampton Village Building Department this summer scaled back the times when its office is open and available to the public, embracing abbreviated hours of operation that some other village building departments on the East End have already adopted.
The move was made to allow the department’s staff to redirect its attention and ensure that every application for a building permit is thoroughly reviewed to avoid overlooking potential violations before the application gets the green light, according to village officials.
Jon Foster, the chief building inspector in Southampton Village, recently explained that the shorter office hours seem to be helping, as it now takes the Building Department only two weeks to issue permits from the time of the application. “It’s not really like a backlog, it’s just steady, between real estate agents, architects, potential owners, attorneys, environmental companies, etc.,” he explained. “We try treating everybody fair, and that takes time.”
The department is certainly busy, though. “We have been averaging over 300 [building permits] a year—it could be a house or a swimming pool, or some commercial alterations,” Mr. Foster said. In terms of why there are so many people applying for building permits, he noted, “The village is only so big—it’s one of the most popular places in the country.”
He went on: “What happens is, you have properties that were more of a workers’ area, but now people are buying lots in there, and the lots are $500,000 to $1 million. Now, the family is saying, ‘Let’s sell Mom and Dad’s house for $1.5 million,’ and they try to go to the extreme on zoning.”
This, he said, is one of the reasons the village cut the hours devoted to interacting with the public: The village often contests applications when homeowners try to work the boundaries of zoning regulations. In the village, “zoning has downsized, believe it or not,” Mr. Foster said. “When you apply for a building permit application, you are going to go to the Architectural Review Board, and if it’s something that is controversial, it could go for months,” he explained. If the new construction is not controversial, the permit application could be approved within one or two meetings.
“I’m not saying the other building departments aren’t spending time—I’ll even meet people on Saturdays and Sundays, and maybe I go a little overboard,” Mr. Foster said.
The East Hampton Village Building Department is not quite so busy, even though the number of building permits issued has risen this year. Ken Collum, a code enforcement officer and fire marshal, said earlier this month that since January 1, there had been 94 building permit applications, compared to last year, when there were 74 applications for the same time period. “It’s been pretty much the same for the last two years,” he said. The department is getting between 15 and 20 applications per month, mostly for residential projects. It has had only two commercial projects to review, Mr. Collum said.
Building permit applications for “residential houses” include any type of project on a residence, even if it is an old house, The permits are not just for new residences waiting to be built. Mr. Collum said the projects could consist of adding “a tennis court, swimming pool, new residence, an addition, porch, gazebo …” Right now, the time frame in East Hampton Village is also about two to three weeks, from the time the department receives the permit application to the time it gets it out, he explained.
Although Mr. Collum did not describe East Hampton’s Village Building Department as extremely busy, the building permit applications do not come without problems, he said. “We always find issues and send them to the zoning board, or the people may turn around and redesign their project,” he explained. Specifically, Mr. Collum said, when the department is reviewing the applications, “we look to see if they meet all of the zoning requirements and all of the New York State residential code building requirements.”
In Sag Harbor Village, Jose Escalante, the building inspector for the Village Building Department, said there is currently a backlog—“eight weeks from when it gets the initial approval from boards, and then to me,” he said, adding, “I know that now is the busiest it has really ever been. It picked up two years ago.”
The department is getting between 20 and 30 building permit applications a month, Mr. Escalante said, and most are for improvements, “whether they knock the whole house down or building and redo it, or just renovate the whole thing.”