Officials, developers question cities' call to drop building division

In the wake of Fairview's and Wood Village's decisions to terminate relations with Troutdale's Building Division, some area developers and businesspeople are concerned about what the future holds in the building inspection process.

Citing the need for more direct control over inspections, as well as a pattern of complaints about clear communication of building codes, the cities plan to separately pursue other options when their respective contracts with Troutdale expire July 1.

Fairview and Wood Village city administrators indicated they would issue bids, or requests for proposals (RFPs), to private inspection services. Switching to the private sector would end building inspection agreements with Troutdale that have stood for decades.

Curt Anderson, assistant principal of Walt Morey Middle School, is among those questioning the wisdom of the change. As the former operations director for the Reynolds School District, he's worked extensively with the Troutdale Building Division. In a letter to Troutdale city officials, he compared the city's inspectors favorably to those in other jurisdictions.

'Over the period of six years … of those (other) building departments, I can tell you that the city of Troutdale maintained the best communications with me,' he wrote. 'I cannot recall a time when they did not meet timelines or failed to clearly state expectations regarding planning or other related processes.'

Singling out Troutdale inspectors Dick Bohlman and Tom Sherbourne, Anderson touted their accessibility and efficiency.

'(They) were always available to answer questions and help me to better understand codes and requirements,' he wrote. 'I was always able to meet face to face on a regular basis with the building officials from the City of Troutdale.'

Troutdale Mayor Paul Thalhofer said he was disappointed when he learned Fairview and Wood Village were dropping his city's Building Division services. He felt the timing of the decision was bad after the city contracted with Collins Consulting Services to address concerns and improve services.

Wood Village City Administrator Sheila Ritz and her Fairview counterpart Joe Gall both indicated they were impressed with Troutdale's efforts, but felt they might inhibit the city's improvement efforts.

'The people in Troutdale are good people,' Ritz said. 'This Collins report did point out a number of organizational issues and things the consultant thought should be done to improve service. It's not going to be easy or an overnight process to implement these suggestions.'

Thalhofer disputes the notion that the Collins recommendations would do anything other than improve inspection services.

'That just means we'll put in a little more effort,' Thalhofer said of the Collins report. 'I don't see why there has to be such a donnybrook to think we can't handle that. We can chew gum and walk at the same time.'

Developer Dean Hereford, owner of the Fairview Center complex that houses Bumper's Bar and Grill and Scrubby's Car Wash, defended Troutdale's inspectors. An owner of properties in Troutdale and Fairview, he's worked with Troutdale's Building Division for about 14 years.

'I'm not happy with what's happening,' he said of the cities' pullout decision. 'Every (Troutdale) inspector has always been very helpful. That's the reason I like building in this area. They help you with your projects instead of putting up obstacles.'

Noting he's one of several developers he knows who are upset, Hereford doesn't like not knowing who he may be dealing with when Fairview chooses another inspection service.

He would prefer the cities get together and work out their differences on the issue.

'If (Fairview) is hiring someone, that's the part that makes me nervous,' he said. 'My properties are based on a relationship that's been so effective for 13 to 14 years. A new inspection program just makes me nervous.'

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