Atlantic City and other shore towns aren’t charging construction and other fees normally required for home and business repair projects stemming from Hurricane Sandy.
Officials hope the break will expedite recovery from the storm, which cost Atlantic City alone an estimated $26 million in property damage, overtime pay for first responders and other related expenses, city Emergency Management Director Tom Foley said Monday.
“All we’re trying to do is accommodate people and (cut some) slack on the normal process to restore some normalcy for them and get back in their homes,” city Construction Official Wally Shields said.
Ventnor and Longport haven’t been requiring permits for tearing out flood-damaged paneling and wall board, nor to use trash bins and construction pods. Both cities, however, will resume normal permitting Dec. 10, Ventnor Mayor Mike Bagnell said.
Brigantine won’t charge for permits for Sandy-related repairs through March 2013. Margate has suspended the fees indefinitely, City Clerk Tom Hiltner said.
Atlantic City officials did not set a deadline in the City Council resolution spelling out the terms of fee forgiveness there. They likely will start charging again in late January or early February, but it could be longer if things are not back to normal then, Shields said.
Construction permit fees depend on the job and size of a structure. Replacing a heater in a single-family home, for example, starts at $100, but it would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to replace boilers in an apartment complex or large commercial building, Shields said.
“Permits are still required. It doesn’t change anything about making application and conforming to the code. The only thing it does is waive the fee for the permit,” Shields said.
The fee forgiveness resolution, which passed unanimously at City Council's Nov. 20 meeting, is retroactive to Oct. 31 for permits issued for storm-related projects, said sponsoring Councilman George Tibbitt.
Anyone who wants a refund must apply for it, Tibbitt said.
“We aren’t trying to beat people up. If we see a contractor, we get their name, note the address and ask them to come into the office to take care of permits when they can,” Shields said. “We told them to just do (the work) so we could get people back in their homes as quickly as possible.”
The citywide damage report detailing the estimated $26 million in costs is not yet complete, Foley said.
That report, however, won’t include any structures destroyed by the storm, Shields said.
About 700 buildings remain uninhabitable. Those include city-owned structures such as the Police Athletic League and All Wars Memorial building as well as nearly 500 single-family homes, duplexes and multi-unit apartment buildings, Shields said.
“We haven't found any that became structurally unsound because of the storm,” Shields said. “A lot of homes are unoccupiable due to water damage, but ... the property owners would determine whether they have the resources to repair that.”
Location and age seem the main factors in whether homes were hit hard by Sandy.
After 1985, all structures had to be built at least 10 feet off the ground in Atlantic City to comply with federal insurance guidelines. In those homes, damage has been limited to garages and any appliance or equipment stored in them, Shields said.
“I think that new system has worked very well in this case,” he said.
Low-lying areas near the bays suffered, too, Foley said.
The city has long planned to replace bayfront bulkheads citywide. So far, that’s happened only in Venice Park. A $13 million bulkhead replacement project was completed there in 2009.
“It was hit hard enough as it is,” Foley said of the water-logged neighborhood. “Can you imagine what it would’ve been like without that?”
The bulkhead replacement is one of several flood-mitigation projects the city wants to do. Others include installing a bulkhead along West End Avenue — also known as the Mile Stretch — between Chelsea Heights and Ventnor Heights and elevating Texas, Massachusetts and Georgia avenues, Foley and England said.
Another is elevating traffic control boxes at least 2 feet to protect them from floods.
Some boxes have been raised during recent years when traffic lights were replaced. Boxes rewired as part of storm repairs, however, won’t be elevated, because that would require extending power cables and other infrastructure. The city does not want to endure the delay inherent in coordinating with other agencies to do so, city Engineer Bill England said.
England estimated it will cost $1.75 million to rewire traffic control boxes at the 28 intersections where signals and lights failed during the storm and the days afterward. Seven remained broken Monday and are expected to be online within four weeks.
The reconfiguring of control boxes will not improve the timing of lights that, in some sections of the resort, frequently infuriates drivers.
“That timing issue, we’ll get to it, but it’s totally independent of getting the intersections operational, and that’s our main focus,” England said.
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