Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

City To Do Video Inspections of Projects

With drop-off location for plans. Goal to protect workers yet keep construction going.

By - Mar 25th, 2020 05:03 pm
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Huron Building Construction. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Huron Building Construction. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The construction industry appeared to be stuck in a catch 22. The “safer at home” order specifically exempted the construction industry, allowing it to continue, while the City of Milwaukee closed its permit center to in-person visits and suspended sending inspectors into the field.

The combined impact of this allowed existing projects to finish, but blocked occupancy permits from being issued and new projects or sub-projects from starting.

NAIOP-Wisconsin, the Wisconsin chapter of the Commercial Real Estate Development Association, sent a letter to Mayor Tom Barrett raising concern. “In the interest of public safety, I cannot safely stress enough the importance of reopening the construction permitting and inspection functions of the Department of Neighborhood Services,” wrote NAIOP-Wisconsin CEO Jim Villa.

Under the state order “essential government functions” were allowed to continue, but the definition was left up to the individual government unit. The construction industry was protected as “essential infrastructure”, along with  “critical trades,” including plumbers, electricians, carpenters, laborers, sheet metal, ironworkers, masonry, pipe trades, fabricators and finishers. And for the past two weeks many of those workers could be spotted on different construction projects, some of which seemed to be observing “social distancing” practices.

A Wednesday afternoon release from the Department of Neighborhood Services (DNS) explains that things will start moving again on Thursday.

“Our highest priority is safety. That means full compliance with building codes and complete adherence to public health recommendations by our teams as well as our customers,” said DNS Commissioner Erica Lewandowski.  “We are in a challenging time, and, like everyone, we are adapting the way we do business.”

The Permit and Development Center at 809 N. Broadway will remain closed to the public, but will have a drop-off location for plans and staff will review plans and issue permits.

The department, mirroring a similar policy instituted by the state, will also incorporate live video inspection of project sites in lieu of some on-site inspections. On-site inspections will be allowed in certain cases.

In the event of an on-site inspection, the inspector will provide a 10-minute notice to allow the area to be cleared. Up to two individuals can accompany the inspector. “Failure to clear the area needing inspection or maintain adequate distance from the inspector will result in a failed inspection and the inspector leaving the site immediately,” says the DNS website.

Inspections of furnaces, air conditioners, water heaters or “other similar facilities” will not proceed until normal operations resume.

Those with inspection related questions can call 414-286-2268. Development center questions will be answered at 414-286-8207. More information is available on the DNS website.

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