WEST HAVEN — A measure that would give developers additional wiggle room in handling inspections of homes they’re building is generating strong backlash from leaders of several Northern Utah cities.

Kim Dixon, a member of the West Haven City Council, has been reaching out to city leaders across Utah, trying to drum up support in fighting House Bill 98, sponsored by Utah Rep. Paul Ray, a Clearfield Republican. She worries the measure, if approved, would erode the power of city officials to oversee and manage development in their locales and, instead, put it in the hands of developers.

“We have to stop them now because next year it’s going to be a little bit more,” she said.

HB98, if approved, would allow developers to bypass city building inspectors when they take too long and hire their own inspectors instead to process requests for certificates of occupancy for new homes. Some cities take longer than the three days spelled out in law, delaying builders, Ray maintains. The measure, yet to be heard by the House Political Subdivision Committee, is a bid to keep the inspection process moving when cities act too slowly.

HB98 would also prohibit locales from stipulating certain design elements of new homes, a bid, Ray says, to prevent ballooning costs of new homes as Utah wrestles with a shortfall of affordable housing. He thinks the measure may get a committee hearing later this week. “We’re trying to keep the cost to build down,” Ray said.

At any rate, the measure — which comes amid a boom in housing demand along the Wasatch Front and rapid growth — is generating sharp opposition from many municipal officials. The city councils in West Haven, South Weber and Kaysville have already passed resolutions voicing objections and the North Ogden City Council on Tuesday is to debate passing its own resolution on the matter.

“This allows a builder to actually hire their own inspector under their payroll. So instead of having a third-party, independent inspection of your home, they would be looking at their own stuff,” Kaysville City Councilperson Mike Blackham said last Thursday, when the council there took up the matter. “It’s kind of the old fox-watching-the-henhouse type thing.”

A memo from North Ogden City Attorney Jon Call to City Council members in that city voices a similar concern. “Staff has some real concerns with the proposed language of House Bill 98 because it doesn’t limit who the inspectors can be employed by or even require a 3rd party to do the inspection. Staff would support sending an official communication to the governor expressing concerns over this type of legislation,” reads the memo, in the agenda packet for Tuesday’s meeting.

The letter of opposition approved by the West Haven City Council last Wednesday rebuffs Ray’s contention that cities are unresponsive in carrying out inspections. West Haven is one of the fastest-growing cities in Weber County, with new housing sprouting at a fast clip.

Most Utah cities, including West Haven, “have worked diligently during the past decade to handle the incredible growth rates that Utah has experienced,” reads the West Haven letter of opposition, addressed to Gov. Spencer Cox. Moreover, it goes on, HB98 “encroaches upon a municipality’s ability to provide essential public safety measures to residents and businesses in favor of a conceived efficiency for developers.”

West Haven City Councilperson Nina Morse said she’s not aware of any issues with inspections in the city. Moreover, she rebuffs the contention that HB98 would somehow rein in home costs, one of Ray’s stated intents by prohibiting cities from regulating certain building “design elements.”

“Gone will be the days of requiring rock and brick, pitch of a roof, what color the door is and other things that should be up to the buyer. I am tired of government redlining neighborhoods to keep lower-income families out,” Ray said in a legislative update on HB98 that foes like Dixon have seized on in lobbying against the measure.

West Haven, at least, doesn’t dictate aesthetics of homes, maintains Morse, just requires that builders use quality materials. Dixon, moreover, said cities are only allowed to create construction guidelines that pertain to safety and health, not looks.

Ray wouldn’t call out the cities that are slow in carrying out occupancy inspections, but he thinks most locales in Davis and Weber counties wouldn’t be impacted because they’ve generally been responsive to builders. Moreover, he doesn’t see the shift as that dramatic, noting that he’s amending the original bill to read that builders could tap their own inspectors only if cities took longer than three days to act. The original version allowed builders to bypass city inspectors altogether.

Furthermore, he questions the contention that builders would cut corners with inspections or have their own staffers handle inspections if HB98 were turned into law. “That would just be a conflict. That would get them in a lot of trouble,” Ray said. Licensed inspectors, he went on, aren’t going “to ruin their livelihood on a $300 inspection.”

Ray heads the Northern Wasatch Home Builders Association, a South Ogden-based trade group that represents Northern Utah’s construction industry. His role in the group, which includes home builders, has also come under fire by some HB98 foes.

“This bill will greatly diminish local control and lower the standards of structures built. As CEO of the Northern Wasatch Home Builders Association, it is clear who Rep. Ray is truly representing, and it is not his constituents,” Hayley Alberts, a member of the South Weber City Council, said in a statement.

Ray rejected the criticism. “That’s just a cheap shot. That’s not true,” he said.

Elected leaders in Bountiful, Clearfield, Clinton, Fruit Heights, Hooper, Huntsville, Kaysville, North Ogden, North Salt Lake, Plain City, Pleasant View, Riverdale, South Weber, Syracuse, Uintah, Washington Terrace and West Haven have come out against HB98, according to Dixon and Morse.

Contact reporter Tim Vandenack at tvandenack@standard.net, follow him on Twitter at @timvandenack or like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/timvandenackreporter.

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