By GIB SNYDER
OBSERVER City Editor
Although there were no new houses constructed in the city of Dunkirk in 2012, the city's Housing, Building and Zoning Department kept busy keeping an eye on plenty of other work.
OBSERVER Photo by Gib Snyder
Building and Zoning Office Secretary Carol Ahlstrom is often the starting point for residents looking for information on city codes involving building alterations, repairs and demolition. Pictured with Ahlstrom (left) is city resident Dawn Ransom filling out a permit application.
According to its annual report for 2012, a total of 396 building permits for $3,872,480 of work were issued in 2012, with the city collecting $9,738 in fees. Alterations and repairs to non-residential buildings led the list with $1,745,193 of work on 40 permits. There were 138 roofing permits issued for $804,919 of work. Alterations and repairs to residential buildings had 52 permits issued for $560,114 of work; 93 electrical permits for $299,564 of work; 43 for $290,190 of new non-residential work and 29 permits for $164,000 of work in the reside residential category.
Code Enforcement Officer Allan Zurawski said his office instituted roof permits two years ago.
"We are getting the contractors accustomed to getting permits. The reason for that is to make sure they are doing the correct thing in following the code and have their insurance requirements met," he explained. "There's limitations on how many layers you can put on and we want to make sure the contractors are properly insured."
There were a total of 29 building permits issued in 2012 for amounts of $20,000 or more.
Leading the way was Fieldbrook Farms, with $540,000 in renovations to its interior of the property along with another $90,000 in electrical work in office renovations; Dunkirk Power LLC (NRG) got a permit for $450,000 in heating units work; G.H. Graf Realty got a permit for $268,000 for a remodel of the basement at 319 Central Ave. for a clinic; and Brooks Memorial Hospital was issued a $170,00 permit for construction of a parking lot.
Chautauqua County's Industrial Development Agency and Special Metals teamed up on a $95,000 permit to construct a storage addition at the Willowbrook Avenue plant.
Permits for other business purposes included United Refining for tank removal and pump replacement at its Lucas and Central avenues gas station; First Niagara Bank at $42,000 for signage installation; Sweetland Properties for a $40,000 permit to rehab the first floor of 201 Central Ave. for a restaurant/bar; Zoom Tab at $40,000 for rehab of a tanning facility at 1190 Central Ave.; Dunkirk Acquisitions at $35,000 to repair exterior and patch masonry at 830 Brigham Road; Family Video at $25,000 for separate tenancies at 1190 Central Ave.; and LHD Holdings at $20,000 to renovate property at 516 Central Ave. for law offices.
In addition, Chautauqua Opportunities got a permit for $34,960 worth of rehab at 424 Park Ave.; St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church got a $34,000 permit to re-roof a building; and Rexford Johnson got a permit at $25,000 to reconstruct a roof at 9 Lake Shore Drive W.
There were 13 permits of $20,000 or more listed for work on homes; with $70,000 the top figure, one at $48,300, two at $40,000, one at $35,000 and the rest of the 13 at $31,000 or less. One of the permits was for a solar panel installation while the rest involved additions and repairs.
There were nine demolitions listed in the report, including the former church at the corner of Fifth Street and Central Avenue and the demolition of a pickle room and lime building at Dunkirk Specialty Steel on Brigham Road. The other seven were residential demolitions with the city picking up the tab on three of the jobs.
In 2012 the city sent 2,234 violation notices with another 37 sent for other reasons.
Leading the way was notices for yard refuse/clutter at 666 while weeds/tall grass was second at 657. Housing code violations (335); unregistered vehicles (222); front yard parking (57); properties tagged (56); hedge notices (56); illegal location of signs (55); working without permits (53); covered containers (37) and furniture on porch (27).
"If there are high weeds and grass we're going to send a notice anyway," Zurawski explained. "If it's an abandoned property we will have the grass cut, pick the yard up and then have that billed to whoever owns that address."
He was asked if unregistered vehicles have become a bigger problem.
"No, I don't think so, it's always going to occur," he replied. "That includes vehicles that are being sold or switched over, demo vehicles, accident vehicles. I think it's getting better as a matter of fact because we are proactive."
He added the general rule of thumb for unregistered vehicle is seven days before an owner is in violation.
Properties tagged includes people ticketed for having bulk items at the curb for pickup.
"You shouldn't have bulk out, we don't have a bulk pickup. You should be making arrangements to have that picked up," he stated. "If it doesn't get picked up then we will do so and bill the property owner."
Another area of concern is indoor furniture being used in outdoor settings, usually on a porch.
"Sometimes it's turned in by neighbors but we do a lot that's progressive. When we're in the neighborhood we keep an eye out for all of it," he said. "It kind of lessens the complaints."
There were 11 appearance tickets issued with three defendants found guilty, three pending cases and five tickets not executed. A total of $700 in fines was levied.
The office spent $88,000 on contracted services in 2012, including demolition, weed abatement, securing and cleaning of properties and the property maintenance board. In 2012 the total spent in this category was $104,000 while in 2011 the figure was $44,500. The report lists $88,000 available in 2013.
Zurawski was asked if had any words of advice for potential renovators.
"If they're doing electrical work, and if they're not doing the work, get licensed electricians and plumbers to do the work," he replied. "For us, utilize the licensed inspectors for electrical and of course, use our city plumber to inspect the work."
Zurawski said there could be liability issues for an owner if he uses an unlicensed person to do certain work.
"It's a little ticklish. If they're owner-occupied they can do the work," he explained. "If it's not owner-occupied they're liable for a stop-work order if they don't. Always check with us zoning-wise for zoning requirements on any additions, sheds, pools; any structures that would go in the yard."
He added permits are needed for roofs, siding replacement and windows if the sizes are changed.
"Steps, not necessarily, but I would certainly like to look at them," he added. "That is one of the most liable things if someone falls off them and they aren't properly made. ... Normal repairs don't require a permit."
Properties in need of painting have been a growing concern in the city and Zurawski was asked what the requirements are when it comes to painting.
"When you see the paint scaling and falling off the trim, or the main siding of the house, then it's time to paint," he replied. "If they don't make arrangements with the contractors or themselves the ultimate would be legal action. We prefer voluntary compliance. We'd rather have them spend their money and time, the short period of time we have in summers around here, to get it scraped and painted. It's a large job on most houses.
"Each individual project may require other reviews, depending on what zoning area you're in. They can always check our website. Always call here if there's a question."
The office number is 366-9859 while the office website can be reached at dunkirktoday.com.