How Iowa bills could change city codes for cities like Burlington
The Burlington City Council is concerned about two bills it says would hurt the city’s operations.
Both bills have one thing in common – they take things that have been locally regulated away from cities and give them to the state.
“It’s a total affront to home rule on the face of it,” City Manager Chad Bird said.
Bird said that in any city, staff members take the time to write rules that work well for the community in which they will be enforced. However, he said when the state enacts sweeping rules, it cannot anticipate the impact these will have on all communities in Iowa.
Burlington Mayor Jon Billups said he understands the state’s desire to want smaller towns to enforce a similar building code because they may not have the staff to make specific adjustments. to their community. But Bird and Billups believe forcing Burlington to adopt a state code is disrespectful to city employees and council members who worked to craft a code that works well for Burlington.
“That’s what it’s all about,” Bird said.
The bill, House File 2431, which is now in the Senate, affects regulations for home-based businesses, with no impact. If passed, these companies would not be registered with cities.
The bill defines a zero-impact home-based business as one whose operations are not visible from the street, does not create additional street parking, and does not cause the residence to exceed occupancy limits. .
“The problem here is that we don’t have residential occupancy rates,” said city planner Angela Andon, who presented the legislative concerns to council on Monday evening. “We don’t walk through a house and decide how many people are allowed in the residence.”
In theory, the city could inspect residences to ensure occupancy rates and compliance. However, since businesses are not required to register with the city, there is no way of knowing which residences require such an inspection. Bird said he didn’t think the city would be able to enforce such a policy.
This would end the city’s rule that home businesses require a special use permit. Houses in residential areas are not allowed to engage in commercial activities, which requires such a permit. Billups said the home-based business rules allow neighborhoods to retain the feel of a residential neighborhood.
Parks and Development Manager Eric Tysland said in Burlington that any kind of business that has inventory, like a clothing store, hasn’t been allowed to run out of house. Multi-level marketing parties, such as Avon or Scentsy, are permitted under city code.
Another aspect of the bill allows zero-impact home businesses to operate at the business owner’s doorstep and in the yard of the house, as long as the activities are not visible from the street.
Concerns about forcing business owners to operate from their doorsteps emerged after a Burlington woman was sexually assaulted after a man entered her home during a sale.
“I’m happy with anything that’s going to keep our business owners safe,” Billups said. “But let’s create our own codes.”
Additions to labor bill include city inspector and fire chief
Senate File 2361 has been dubbed the Governor’s Workforce Bill, but the majority revolves around creating state building codes.
The bill would require all cities that have a building code to drop it and instead follow a state code.
“Part of the disturbing thing is that it’s so broad and so encompassing,” Bird said. “There are really two things here, one is the aspect of the building code that says we’re going to do the building code and locally you don’t; and then the non-compliance thing.
Part of the bill specifies which version of the international electrical, plumbing, energy and building codes are established by professional agencies. The law proposes that the 2015 standards be followed, with state-specified modifications. Burlington adopted varying year codes, based on recommendations from Chief Building Inspector Larry Caston.
Caston said Burlington also uses a very different energy code than the one proposed by the Legislative Assembly. The difference could add thousands of dollars to the cost of building a home in Burlington, he said.
Caston said it’s hard to say how the bill would affect property inspection times. On average, Caston said, it takes the state about 10 days to complete an electrical inspection of a home after it’s requested, because only six electrical inspectors travel around the state. The state is responsible for conducting inspections for homes outside the incorporated city limits.
In Burlington, the city manages inspections. But the new code could require the state to carry out inspections. Without more inspectors to cover this load, these wait times could increase.
Caston also said those who use state inspectors pay up to eight times what Burlington citizens pay.
Under the bill, the city would be responsible for building code enforcement, but an appeal would be handled by the state.
Burlington Fire Chief Matt Trexel is concerned about new fire code rules in the bill.
It makes sense on paper, Trexel said, to have a code for the state. But imposing a single set of rules does not reflect the unique nature of each community, he said.
“We have a lot of buildings that were built in the 1800s. There’s nothing like it in West Des Moines or Ankeny,” he said. “When we adopt codes, we don’t just say, ‘Here’s the 2015 code, let’s adopt it.’ We review and make changes based on Burlington.
One of the major fire code changes that cities could lose the ability to restrict is when residents can burn in the open. Burn bans are often ordered based on a combination of high wind speeds and low humidity, which not only increases the risk of fire, but also its spread.
A concern for Tysland is the bill making it difficult for the city to enforce its zoning ordinances.
Under the bill, 80% of properties in a zoning area will have to comply with zoning laws or the city will lose the ability to enforce its zoning laws in that area.
Andon said the bill doesn’t define what a zoning area is, but could refer to a specific designation, such as C-2 or R-1. She said she doesn’t know how many properties are non-compliant, but 80% of properties are unlikely to be compliant.
The problem is the flexible nature of Burlington’s zoning ordinances. The city often allows deviations, which is when a parcel of land does not meet part of the code, but the city finds it not possible to require the parcel to meet the standards. The new law will not allow cities to make these decisions.
The bill has not yet had a hearing or left its original committee. However, since it is a Governor’s bill, special rules allow it to sit longer in committee.