After more than three years of meetings and discussions, a change in state law, and complaints about slow plan review and permitting of townhomes from your HBA, Greenville County staff ended commercial plan review of townhomes on October 1. “It’s not often that we get to take an issue off of our list, so we are happy to move on from this episode in our relationship with Greenville County Government,” Michael Dey, Vice President of Government Affairs, said.
The plan review odyssey for townhomes, a single-family housing product, started in 2017 when your HBA agreed to support a limited review of the common wall construction detail. That review typically took three to five days. At the same time, your HBA supported a restructuring of building permit fees, which had not been changed since 1991. The fees are now tied to the rate of inflation. The restructuring, which nearly doubled building permit fees, allowed the county to more than double its inspection staff who were already struggling to keep pace with the increase in building permits that were ramping up at that time.
In 2019, the new Building Official, Darren Brock, initiated commercial plan review citing a sentence in the Architect’s Practice Act that conflicted with the Residential Builders Practice Act. “Our act exempts from the Architects Practice Act homes designed and built by licensed residential home builders and their employees and subcontractors. It always has,” Dey said. “But one word, ‘detached,’ led to this dispute,” he said.
In 2021, your Home Builders Association of South Carolina successfully lobbied to amend the Architects Practice Act to remove the conflicting language and clarify that townhomes are exempt from that act. “Even the architects supported the bill,” Dey said. “We had an agreement with Greenville County administration that they would return to reviewing the common wall detail after the act was amended, but Brock continued to require commercial plan review even after the act was changed,” Dey said.
In preparation for a new county budget, which will be adopted by County Council next Spring, your HBA began lobbying administrators to hire additional plan review staff so that the commercial plan review would be completed in 3-5 days. Some builders were waiting up to five months for building permits because the county did not increase its plan review staff when they started reviewing the plans for townhomes. “It wasn’t just townhomes that were waiting; all commercial and industrial projects were stuck in that line,” Dey said.
In late September, your HBA was notified that plan review for townhomes would end. The new building permit application for townhomes will require the signatures of Zoning Administration, Subdivision Administration, Land Development Division, and the Fire Marshal. Your HBA lobbied against the latter two, but county staff insists they need those signatures to issue a building permit. A copy of the new building permit application for townhomes is available here.
“We recommend that the developer get the “Townhouse Permitting Release Form” signed for all relevant tax map numbers,” Dey said. “We have in writing from the county that one form will be sufficient for all of the townhome lots in a community. But you should make sure that all tax map numbers are on that form when it is signed by each official,” Dey said.