Bismarck-Mandan homebuilders are aiming to help shape local building code.
In a meeting with Bismarck city commissioners Tuesday, homebuilders told commissioners they would like to take part in early discussions on potential building code changes.
Chad Moldenhauer, of K&L Homes, said several code changes have been enacted over the past year in which homebuilders would have liked to provide more input.
While the city ordinance process does provide opportunity for public comment, homebuilders say they would like to get ahead of policy changes, joining the conversation when city staff first start discussing the need for them rather than when they start appearing on public meeting agendas.
“We want to avoid seeing it in (the consent agenda) and having to be like, ‘What? Where did this come from?’" said Dot Frank, the Bismarck-Mandan Homebuilders Association's executive officer.
Homebuilders are worried that the benefits brought on by some of the new ordinances might be outweighed by the added cost to homebuyers in Bismarck-Mandan’s already expensive housing market.
Moldenhauer gave the example of the city’s decision to eliminate “mountable” or slanted curbs. The cost for putting in full curbs and then taking them out to replace them with slanted “aprons” when a home is built is about $80,000 per 100 houses or $800 per home, he said.
The change eliminating the use of mountable curbs, which do nothave to be replaced after homes are built because their slant already allows homeowners access, was made because of city staff concerns with stormwater drainage. Stormwater is a major issue in parts of the city but one builders felt could be addressed through stormwater plans submitted in the platting and permitting process.
Rob Sattler, of Sattler Homes, said he found out about a potential change when an inspector told his excavator operator they would soon have to dig two separate trenches for water and sewer lines. He said that practice had been previously been done but was switched to one trench when pipe and equipment got larger.
The added cost of digging and backfilling a second trench is about $2,500, Moldenhauer said.
“And my house does not become more valuable because I have two trenches,” he said.
The homebuilders said, while ordinance changes may seem small, those small costs add up.
Construction costs make up 61.8 percent of a home’s cost, Frank said. Of that 14.6 percent of cost is tied to construction regulations and 9.7 percent is tied to development regulations.
“Those have real costs associated with them,” said Brian Eiseman, of Stoneshire Builders.
Eric Brenden, of Northwest Contracting, had raised concern over the requirement that vertical rebar be added to certain basement foundations. He said Northwest Contracting has poured thousands of basements without vertical rebar without any issues and questioned the need for it now.
Brenden called the meeting with city commissioners was a good first step. City building official Brady Blaskowski agreed the meeting could help find the disconnect in communication between builders and officials.
Blaskowski has already participated in monthly meetings set up by the homebuilders association. He said he thought he had been transparent in communicating to homebuilders that his office was seeking to adopt building code changes that would align Bismarck as close as possible with statewide building code.
Commissioners Shawn Oban, Nancy Guy and Steve Marquardt said the homebuilders’ suggestion of quarterly meetings with department heads to discuss upcoming issues could be one way to address communication problems. They also called on homebuilders to help open the lines of communication themselves.