COEUR d'ALENE — Residential property owners who live in Kootenai County are nailing down the opt-out option on building permits while they can.
After county commissioners last month voted 2-1 to drop the year-long opt-out option on the building permit process, property owners have until Friday at 4 p.m. to apply for that route in person at the Community Development Department. They also have until midnight Sunday online for their residential construction projects.
"We've had a rush on opt-out," said David Callahan, the county's community development director.
"For the near-year that the opt-out program was in place, we were averaging about 17 requests a week. For the past two weeks, we've been getting nearly that many requests each day."
As of Friday, the total opt-out requests were outpacing those of the regular building permit process, 868 to 729, since the opt-out program went into effect on April 30, 2018.
During that time, there were 258 opt-out requests for single-family homes and 283 regular building permit requests for that purpose.
In the pole building category, there was a bigger difference: 254 requests for opt-out and 88 regular.
As the county phases out the opt-out program, Callahan said, a common question for his department is how long residents have to construct their project after the opt-out application is approved.
"The permit does not expire," he said.
However, there are a few caveats.
The Community Development staff will notify the property owner when the opt-out permit, called a location permit, is ready to be picked up.
"The permit is not valid until it is picked up by the owner," Callahan said.
He said staff will also notify property owners when a location permit is incomplete or can't be issued because the request does not meet other applicable regulations.
"If the permit application is not completed or revised to meet current code, it will be considered to be abandoned after 120 days," Callahan said.
He said the opt-out permit can be amended once it’s approved, but new plans depicting the proposed revisions will need to be reviewed and approved by staff.
Anyone with questions about the opt-out program phaseout can call (208) 446-1070.
The opt-out program does not impact the building permit processes within city limits.
Property owners who apply to opt out still are required to meet state requirements for electrical, plumbing and mechanical permits. Panhandle Health District and fire district requirements still apply as well.
Opt-out proponents believe the option cuts bureaucracy, while opponents say it opens the door to substandard construction.
Athol's Robert White, who has experience as a general contractor, said during last month’s hearing that many homeowners construct improvement projects without permits and there isn't a crisis of shoddy construction.
"We don't see homes falling down and people getting hurt," he said.
Harrison's Patrick Stroud said at the hearing that he supports opt-out because he believes there's already enough government control.
"Let the lending institutions decide what they want to finance," he said.
Callahan said, on average, property owners going the opt-out route save about $1 per square foot on building permit costs.
"I can see advantages both ways," he said. "For the people who opt out, it's certainly faster and less of an imposition on them because they don't have to call us to schedule appointments. On the other side, we've had homes built without a permit so we don't know what that will mean in the next two years, five years or even 10 years."
Callahan said the changes — both implementing the opt-out program and now phasing it out a year later — have kept his department hopping.
"It's been a challenging time," he said. "Five people left our department expressly because of this situation (after the opt-out program was approved). When you have a staff of 28, five people is a significant percentage."
Callahan said he believes the turnover was more due to pioneering new ground than work overload.
"In my 38 years of (community development) experience, I've never bumped into anything quite like this one," he said, adding that, to his knowledge, no other county has implemented an opt-out program just like Kootenai County's.