By VERNON ROBISON
Moapa Valley Progress
Senior Clark County officials travelled to Moapa Valley last week to present a special seminar aimed to instruct local residents who have plans to build or renovate on their property. The seminar was held on Thursday night at the Overton Community Center. More than 60 people attended.
County Commissioner Marilyn Kirkpatrick, who was in attendance at the meeting, said that she had heard feedback from local residents about the complexities of getting through the project approval process with county staff. Kirkpatrick and her staff had arranged the seminar to inform the public about the process and help to simplify it.
“I am big on openness, transparency and communication,” Kirkpatrick said. “So I felt that bringing these folks out to meet and interact with you here might help to bridge some gaps.”
Representatives from three key county departments gave presentations at the seminar. In attendance were Sam Palmer, Acting Director of the Building Department; Sami Real, Planning Manager for the Department of Comprehensive Planning; and Erik Denman, Manager of Development Division of Department of Public Works.
Sami Real began with an overview of her department. She explained that it is usually the first stop for people who are looking to make changes to a property.
“This is where people should start,” she said. “You can come to us first to take a look at the property and make sure that, whatever you have planned, you can do it there within the regulations.”
Real said that the regulations are found within Title 30, which is the main resource staff members use to determine what can be done on any given parcel.
“Title 30 contains everything from how many animals you can have to how far does your home need to be set back from the street,” Real said. “We regulate the height of structures. We regulate whether or not you can have a pitched roof or a flat roof. You name it, we regulate it!”
This last comment received some knowing laughter from the crowd.
“Sami, you’re not helping me here,” joked Kirkpatrick to more general laughter from the audience.
Real said that she was only explaining this because she wanted to make it clear that people could come to Comprehensive Planning in advance as a resource, to determine how to navigate the complex code.
“It is always better to come to us first and ask ‘What can I do?’” Real said. “Then we can help you. It will just make everything so much easier. Our goal is to, not only give answers to your questions, but guide you down the easiest path possible to accomplish your goal.”
Next came a presentation by Erik Denman of County Public Works. The Development division office Denman manages works most frequently with big developers on large projects, he said. Less frequently, however, they work with common property holders who just want to do a minor item, such as subdividing their property into smaller lots.
“That is what most of you would be doing, and in our office we would refer to you as the ‘mom and pop’ applicants,” Denman said. “After spending all that time with big developers, we love to sit down and work with the ‘mom and pops’ and help them through the process.”
Denman explained that minor subdivisions that involve a maximum of four lots, would go through a parcel map process. He pointed out that the early stages of a parcel map could be very informal, and inexpensive for the applicant.
“You could, if you wanted, bring in your plan drawn on a napkin,” he said. “I wouldn’t recommend it, but you could.”
The staff would then review that rough outline, try to understand the vision behind it, and talk about the conditions in Title 30 to which the plan might be subject, Denman said.
“From that you will know a little of what you are getting into before spending much money on your part,” he said.
Beyond that point, the applicant would have to hire a surveyor and start to submit more formal plans, Denman added.
The process that follows might include drainage studies, structural designs, offsite and onsite improvements required, grading, mapping, and only occassionally, traffic studies, Denman said.
The third presentation was given by Sam Palmer from the Building Department. Palmer asked audience members to remember back to their school history studies of the early days of civilizations. He specifically referred to Hammurabi’s Code, enacted in ancient Mesopotamia.
“According to Hammurabi’s Code, if I built you a house and it caved in on you and killed you, what would happen to me?” he asked. “I would likely be put to death.”
He then shifted the subject to some of the great disasters of history such as the Chicago Fire and the San Francisco Earthquake.
“In the Chicago Fire, they learned what happens when you don’t plan buildings with the possibility of a fire in mind,” he said. “A lot of people were killed. And what resulted was stricter codes.”
Palmer explained that Title 30 is the law, enacted with the consent of the people, with the purpose to protect them. County staff is bound by that law, he said.
“It is the law made by all of us,” Palmer said. “The community has put these codes together because the citizens want protection. Our job is to apply the code equally the same for the mom and pop as for the 15 story high rise.”
Palmer explained that the function of the Building Department is to review plans and inspect construction projects; to ensure that they are safe to the public. He said that nearly every building built in Clark County requires a permit issued by the Building Department.
“There is no question that we need development,” he said. “It is good for all of us. But we need them to be safe. So we want to see what you are planning and make sure it meets the current code before you go to building it.”
After the presentations, the floor was opened to the public to ask questions. People inquired about specifics on their projects where they were running into problems. Most were advised to call the officials directly on the next business day to pursue a quick solution to the problem.
Kirkpatrick acknowledged that the approvals process through County staff has been complex and seems long. But it is getting faster and easier, she said.
“A few years ago, when the recession hit, a lot of our most experienced staff retired and we were left with a lot of holes to fill and with a very green staff,” she said. “We are working hard to build that bench back up again. That is why the process may seem long and frustrating now.”