CRESTLINE -- Developer Joshua Williams said Tuesday he's happy the Richland County Building Department will now handle residential building code enforcement for the Village of Crestline.
It was his concerns over the village's inability to provide needed inspections and documentation that ultimately led to the change, an agreement approved by Richland County commissioners on Tuesday.
Williams, a Baltimore, Md. resident who purchased 33 acres on the east side of the village two years ago for his Willow Run active adult community, had been placing and selling manufactured homes on the site he was developing with roads, water lines and other needed infrastructure.
Manufactured homes are approved through the Ohio Department of Commerce and do not require local construction approval.
But when he made the switch to begin building "stick homes" in the fall of 2022, Williams said he noticed something was wrong with the village's response.
"We got to the point where we needed inspections to look at things like the plumbing, electrical and the foundation. We would pay $330 for a permit fee and nothing happened," Williams said.
He said village ordinances called for the village to inspect residential structures and issue certificates of occupancy if the structure is approved.
The state's building code states no "building or structure shall be used or occupied until the building official has issued an approval in the form of a certificate of occupancy."
"The village was not able to produce that certificate," Williams said. "That certificate is important to builders. It lets the homeowner know the building is ready to live in and it establishes the integrity of the process."
It's not unusual for a small community such as Crestline not to have its own building department. But if it does have such a department, it must have licensed staff needed for such work, he said.
"There are 'black holes' around the state in smaller communities that don't have building departments," said Williams, who said the village should not have been charging permitting fees for services it could not provide.
Williams said he went to the State of Ohio with his concerns and that a state investigator became involved.
(Click above to download and read the agreement between the Village of Crestline and Richland County.)
Corey Spackey, who took over as Crestline's administrator three years ago, acknowledged Williams' concerns and said he had discussions with previous village officials about the issue.
"None of them could remember issuing that certificate of occupancy," he said, dating back at least a decade and possibly longer.
"The State of Ohio has made changes to requirements over the years on what is needed to be a certified, licensed inspector," he said. "But no one I spoke to could remember issuing one.
"Once we were notified (by the state), we began discussions about the paths we could use to move forward. We talked through options and dissolving our building department was the last option," Spackey said.
He said finding certified building officials is difficult.
"Our intention is for Richland County to operate our building department under a contract. If the time comes when we have certified staff, we can do the work ourselves again," Spackey said.
The Richland County Building Dept. already does commercial inspections in the village. Kara Russell, who heads the department, told commissioners the residential work in Crestline can be absorbed without adding additional staff.
"It'll be kind of the same set up that we have now (in which) people just apply to us. We collect the fees, we do the work. There's no charge between Richland County and the Village of Crestline. We are just paid for our services through the fees that we collect," Russell said.
Spackey said he is pleased to have Richland County involved.
"Richland County jumped on board and said they do this work for a lot of communities, so it should work out decent," he said.
"Outside of Willow Run, we don't have a lot of new residential development due to a moratorium on new sewer taps until we get the new wastewater treatment plant completed," he said.
Spackey said it's yet to be decided what to do about residential development that has occurred already without proper inspection and certificates of occupancy.
"We wanted to right the ship first and do what was needed to be done (going forward)," he said. "Then we can talk about what (village) council wants to handle, what Richland County thinks needs to be done, etc. We will revisit that after everything is handed over."
Russell said it's not unusual for smaller communities to have difficulties hiring licensed building officials, which may require engineering or architectural backgrouds.
"It is becoming harder to find the certified staff because we are competing with the private industry. It's harder to find staff and if you have a smaller department, you might not be able to offer full-time positions and that makes it harder," she said.
Williams, who has invested about $10 million into his Crestline development for residents 55 and older, said it was a needed change.
"I am happy Crestline is taking this step. It will be very helpful. Hopefully, it will give other developers the confidence to come into Crestline. Getting the permitting process out of the (village) administration's hands is a wonderful thing," he said.
"Richland County's standards we know. They will be open and communicative throughout the (permitting) process and will let us know what else we need to provide.
"Crestline was a massive gray area and we were often met with silence," he said.
"We are doing our part to change Crestline and we hope to continue," he said, adding his total development will be around 70 homes. "We have buyers coming from Columbus, Cleveland, Texas, Las Vegas ... we are building a home right now for people from Pennsylvania.
"I am only 31. I made a big investment here when I was just 29. I took a big risk on Crestline and everything we have done here in the last two years has been difficult," he said.
"What we want to do is offer people affordable luxury without killing them on the price," Williams said.
Crestline Mayor Linda Horning Pitt said Tuesday she is also pleased Richland County is involved.
"We just don't have the manpower. This is one less thing on Corey's plate," she said. "He was just following suit and doing what previous administrators had done.
"We are moving forward. I said when I became mayor four years ago that everything I saw was a mess and that it needed to be fixed. Too many things had been neglected," she said.