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Miami News Today: 7/5/01
COUNTY PERMITTING BY AFFIDAVIT UNDER FIRE FROM ARCHITECTURAL INSTITUTE
By Victor Cruz
Despite a series of changes to a plan for privatize the construction-permitting
process in Miami-Dade County, the American Institute of Architects remains unsatisfied
with the proposal.
The changes would allow privately retained architects and engineers to check buildings
and issue permits. At issue is the transfer of liability from county building inspectors
who cannot be sued for a bad inspection and privately hired architects and engineers
who can, said county Building Department Director Charles Danger.
Architects are not happy with the county's requirement that the same professional
who reviews the design plan be the one called to sign off on whether the building
in question meets all code requirements, said Rafael Sixto, institute president.
The county's new process, called "permitting by affidavit" - an option
that must become available according to a state building code that becomes effective
in January - is subject to commission approval July 10.
It is the builder or contractor who should sign off on the final inspection and
bear the subsequent liability, Mr. Sixto said.
"Unless the architect or engineer is on-site 100% of the time," he said,
"there is no way he can certify that the building has been erected according
to all codes." The county's handling of the matter, he said, "is going
to put the homeowner in a position where the owner can control the plan-review process
and the inspections."
Mr. Sixto said architects and engineers who rely on clients for business could be
unfairly pressured to approve or hurry inspections. But the process, now in a second
version, has support from key members of the South Florida building community.
"We strongly support the ordinance," said Builders Association of South
Florida President Bernie Offenberg. "The architects are the ones who are supposed
to design the product to meet code. What they are saying is that they don't want
to take on the additional responsibility."
Association President-elect Lester Goldstein, a lawyer with Bilzin Sumberg Dunn
Baena Price & Axelrod, said language in the new plan reduces the liability for
architects who inspect. "Nothing in this section," he said, "shall
be construed to make the registered person the guaranteer of the construction or
in any way responsible for the means and methods of the construction."
County documents show the new plan also calls for insurance requirements for registered
professionals of $250,000, with a deductible not to exceed $25,000. Mr. Offenberg,
vice president of Brookman Fels Inc., said it's the smaller architects who could
be hurt by the added burden of insurance. "But remember, this is totally optional,"
Mr. Offenberg said.
The use of affidavits to gain building permits can cut design time and approvals
"that normally take five, six, seven, months," he said. Mr. Danger said
it now takes up to 81 days for commercial projects and 54 for residential projects
from the time an application is made to the time a permit is issued. That, he said,
does not count down time, when plans sit around waiting to be looked at. The process
involves personnel in seven county departments, he said. Opting for an affidavit
can save about two weeks.
Assistant county attorney Hugo Benitez, who drafted the ordinance outlining the
program, said if it's approved July 10 affidavit-permitting would be available for
commercial building for a 180-day trial test before it's available for residential
construction. When it starts, said senior assistant county manager Alicia Cuervo-Schreiber,
officials expect to review a minimum of 20% of all plans in the process and 50%