City to certify whether buildings meet code

From Local Sources

HUNTINGBURG — With two major housing projects in the works, the city of Huntingburg took a step forward in its endeavor to make itself more attractive to both developer and homeowner.

The Huntingburg Common Council Tuesday approved an ordinance amending and restating chapter 152 of the city’s municipal regulating the construction, alteration, use and occupancy of buildings and structures within the city, as well as incorporating Indiana building and fire code into the city’s regulations. Language in the ordinance will allow Huntingburg to issue a certificate of occupancy to developers or homeowners who build new structures or improve those already existing. A certificate of occupancy certifies a building’s compliance with applicable building codes and other laws, and indicates it is in a condition suitable for occupancy.

Dubois Strong President Ed Cole and Ben Miller of Morley & Associates of Jasper were on hand to discuss the importance — in Huntingburg and across the county — of giving the authority to issue a certificate of occupancy.

“We felt like this was a really important step to be able to really move forward and encourage development. Without the certificate of occupancy it’s hard to encourage development,” Cole said.

Miller agreed, and explained how it may hinder investment in Huntingburg or Dubois County by not having a certificate of occupancy easily available to obtain.

“By not having the certificate of occupancy, it requires developers to spend extra money to get approval in the private market where, with the city being able to issue that, it’s a lot smoother for them and typically less costly,” Miller said. “We’re still in conversations with the town of Ferdinand and city of Jasper. They haven’t moved forward to adopt it yet, but we’re hopeful they’ll see progress in Huntingburg, see how this works and then be able to take that next step.”

The authority to issue certificates of occupancy is particularly important to Huntingburg with the culmination of Miller-Valentine Group’s Lofts at St. Joseph’s project in the coming months, as well as the beginning of work on the Hunters Crossing workforce housing development led by Jane Hendrickson and Boxer Girl LLC.

City Planning Director Paul Lake told the council that certificates of occupancy are becoming more important to developers, lenders and homeowners across the country, and Dubois County is sort of an anomaly due to the fact most places in southern Indiana have already adopted the certification process.

“Huntingburg is addressing a need that’s out there, and it’s an increasing need. What we’ve seen across the board is that our lenders, locally and outside the region, it’s something they’re requesting,” Lake said. “It’s a mechanism to protect the homeowner and the financial institution to make sure the investment is being used the way they’d like it to be used. The other thing is from the insurance industry — what it says is that there’s been some due diligence to make sure that what was developed is in accordance with the Indiana fire codes and local building codes. It’s a protection for everybody, and it’s a need that’s not being met short of using the state for Fire Marshall’s inspection services, or for a developer to find their own licensed inspector.”

The next step is for the ordinance to be reviewed and approved by the Indiana Fire Prevention and Building Safety Commission at its July meeting.

The city will initially contract Morley & Associates to complete inspections to issue certificates of occupancy until the city can provide certified training so the city can start completing the inspections internally. The fee structure for obtaining a certificate of occupancy will be broken down into two classes: Class 1 will cost $500 and includes all industrial and commercial structures, Class 2 covers single family residential homes and will cost between $50 and $150 depending on square footage.

Huntingburg Mayor Denny Spinner talked to the council about how this ordinance will not only benefit large developers, but individual homeowners as well.

“When (an individual citizen) constructs a new home or adds to their home, a certificate of occupancy is something beneficial to them when it comes to insurance rates, funding from lending institutions and at resale,” Spinner said. “It’s something that would be in their portfolio that, as they move the property to the next owner, they have the certificate to show when the building was constructed that it met all city codes at the time.”

Spinner said he’s particularly proud of Huntingburg’s “forward thinking” council which was able to work through the process to get this ordinance passed and move the city into the future. The ordinance was initially introduced two weeks ago, but all of the council’s five members agreed they needed more time to review the issue, speak with constituents and do a little research into the long-term implications of this new procedure.

“First of all, it was a group effort working with our fellow communities. We kind of led the way on it because we had the most pressing projects with Miller-Valentine. The discussion we had here among the council this evening was very diligent,” Spinner said. “We asked the questions that needed to be asked to move this process forward, and I think it shows we have a forward thinking council. We want to make Huntingburg an attractive place for development, not only on a large scale, but a small scale as well. This is something that we can move the ball forward and make our community more attractive.”