Friday, October 2, 2009

State building codes not business friendly, business owners say

Published on July 1, 2008 in the Antrim Review
(Archived version available at

By Melissa Lee

BELLAIRE-Bellaire business owner Becky Folker spent a lot of time and money getting her new shop Sassy Sunflower up and running this spring, so when the Antrim County Building Department suddenly told her, at the last minute, that
she had to come up with more money to place a drinking fountain in the center of her shop, it really threw her for a loop.

She sought a variance from the Building Department’s Board of Appeals and although she wasn’t surprised when she was turned down last month, she believes it’s issues like these that are keeping more new businesses from opening shop. “We really need to take a look at why there are so many vacant buildings around here,” Folker said. “We need to make it easier for business owners to get started, not create more obstacles.”

Other Antrim County new business owners agreed with Folker, saying they know all too well how difficult the state mandated codes can be to navigate through.

Especially Bellaire cafe owner Bill Peterson of Moka, who endured four extra months of expensive renovations in order to meet state codes enforced by the county. “They need to be more of a part of the solution,” said Peterson of the Building Department. “Instead of coming in and red tagging you at the drop of a hat, they should be more willing to offer their help.”

Peterson said he doesn’t blame the Building Department entirely for his problems however, noting that the contractors he dealt with weren’t as knowledgeable or up to date on code changes as they should have been.

Although the county appears to be the villain, Antrim County Building Official Bob Massey said that the issue really lies with the State of Michigan. Massey, who sits on the Board of Appeals, said that Folker’s drinking fountain problem was a direct requirement of a state code which they had no authority to overturn. “Without knowing the background of the codes, it might seem excessive for a small town shop,” he said. “But this is something the state has developed as a standard for everyone to follow.”

Massey explained that the state requires county Building Departments to follow standards they create and allows variances only when they do not compromise the code itself. “If they allowed for variances to the overall code in specific situations, counties would have code books the size of encyclopedias,” he said.

After Folker mentioned the situation to a member of the Bellaire Planning Commission recently, the Bellaire Village Council was asked to consider creating their own Building Department, which could possibly help to rectify situations like Sassy Sunflower’s from happening in the future in the Village of Bellaire by offering their own alternative building codes, circumventing state codes.
However, at their last meeting in June, the Council decided not to take action on the proposal, citing the expense and time involved.

As of last week Sassy Sunflower had yet to install the controversial drinking fountain, but Folker said she has every intention of complying with the code as soon as she raises enough money to do so. The project is estimated to cost Folker $1,800.

“It’s just one more expense of many that I’ve had to make to make the State of Michigan happy,” she said. “It’s just so hard for people like me. They should at least make an attempt to work with small business owners.”

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