There has been a lot of talk about Berkley’s codes and the enforcement of those codes. I have heard from residents and current and prospective business owners who believe that Berkley’s codes are too restrictive. Berkley’s Downtown Development Authority Director is even on record via email that our parking codes are “anti-business”.
I have also seen posts on Facebook where some residents feel codes they do not like or agree with should be ignored and/or code violations should be overlooked if a business spends a lot of money renovating a building.
Codes are put in place to ensure properties are maintained and the City is safe for its stakeholders. However, some residents feel that Berkley’s code enforcement inspectors and Building Department officials are not consistently applying code requirements. The appearance of one set of rules for some and a different set for others, erodes trust.
Here are examples of two businesses in Berkley. The first business requested a parking variance so they could have more chairs but was denied by the Zoning Board of Appeals. This business then somehow acquired a “shared” parking agreement that goes against our codes. The Building Department appears to have looked away or has gone out of their way to try to negotiate a proper shared parking agreement on behalf of that business.
The second business, who believed they were working with the Building Department to find a solution to their parking issues, was denied approval of their plans by the Planning Commission (PC) and City Council. This lead to an ongoing lawsuit and neighbors unable to navigate or park on their own street.
There are numerous other examples involving drainage, windows, projections, sidewalks and driveways where building officials have approved construction sites or plans, either administratively or by the prior official, because “this is how Berkley has always done it”. There seems to be the misguided belief if the Building Department does not allow builders to do what they want, they will stop building in Berkley.
The City’s codes should be enforced consistently for residents and business owners. Do our codes need to be reviewed? Yes. In the meantime, however, we cannot ignore or condone selective enforcement of the current codes simply because we do not like them.
Berkley recently entered into a contract with McKenna to act as our code enforcers but there still seems to be a slowness in issuing citations or stop work orders for violations. One of my goals is to make sure McKenna has the tools and direction to oversee those working in Berkley so compliance is achieved by both business owners and residents. If McKenna is the problem, then my goal would be to replace them as quickly as possible because codes do matter.
As for the City’s codes, the only effort that seems to have been exerted is related to the draft of the design overlay guidelines. I feel that these same resources could have been used to update our codes that would have benefited both, residents and business owners. I would like to encourage the PC to focus on updating our codes, even spending more time during their meetings to address them.