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1/27/01 Miami Herald


BY Don Finefrock

Private architects and engineers may replace county building officials as the construction cops on at least some jobs in unincorporated Miami-Dade County, under a proposal now being considered by Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas.

Although details of the proposal were sketchy, incoming County Manager Steve Shiver confirmed Friday that he and Penelas have discussed a proposal that would, in effect, allow builders and developers to police themselves.

Architects and engineers hired by the industry would perform building inspections to ensure that houses are built according to code. Those inspections are now performed by county employees.

``That is one alternative, Shiver said.

Those same professionals might also review the construction documents that builders submit to the Miami-Dade Building Department, eliminating another check performed by department employees.

Penelas spokesman Juan Mendieta said the mayor will address the county's permitting process on Wednesday in his annual State of the County address.

``We are going to be announcing some of those issues in the State of the County address. I can't give you specifics. A good portion of the State of the County address will address building issues, he said.

Critics have long complained that it takes too long to obtain a building permit or inspection approval from the county. Shiver, a building contractor by trade, said the process has improved, but not as much as needed.

``We clearly understand that there are some deficiencies in the way we conduct business in our building department, he said.

Shiver said architects and engineers are qualified to perform building inspections in the same way attorneys are qualified to give legal advice.

``If you have an attorney give you a legal opinion, you would not then go out and have a legal secretary review that before you rely on it, he said.

But if the architects and engineers are paid by the industry, not by the county, the industry would be policing itself.

``My concern is that this industry is not ready to police itself, said Charles Danger, the director of the county's building department. Danger discussed the proposal with the mayor and Shiver on Thursday.

The county considered a similar proposal three years ago, with one chief difference. Under that plan, the county would have hired architects and engineers to check building plans and perform inspections.

The proposal was shelved after Penelas fired former County Manager Armando Vidal and two top building officials were indicted, prompting a shake-up in the building department. Danger was recruited to lead a reorganized shop.

Danger said the proposal under study by Penelas could not be implemented under the current South Florida Building Code without changing it.

However, the local code is due to be replaced, possibly in July, with the new statewide building code.

The statewide building code allows architects and engineers to check plans and perform inspections under a system known as permitting by affidavit.