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A WATCHUNG COMMUNICATIONS, INC. PUBLICATION The Westfield Leader and THE TIMES of Scotch Plains - Fanwood Thursday, April 22, 1999 Page 7


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Since1947 Westfield Building Official Outlines Conditions,

Guidelines for Residents to Obtain Permits

very seriously.” He acknowledged that the number of permits being taken out in Westfield have increased the last few years. In 1998, a record number of 2,038 new permits and 401 permit updates were taken out. In 1997, the number of new permits was 1,912 and permit updates was 397. Those numbers compare to previous years when only 505 new permits and 48 updates were taken out in 1992.

The number of permits being taken out yearly climbed steadily from 1992, Mr. Scelsa said.

In response to that increase and because of complaints about the permit process, Mr. Scelsa has beefed up the department, adding two parttime “upfront” office staff to assist the two full-time employees who were already there. He also would like to add more plan review and inspectors and has asked the town administrators to consider budgeting those additional staff.

Mr. Scelsa said he is also working on a booklet, to be made available to all Westfield residents, that he hopes will take some of the mystery out of applying for building permits. The booklet, which he expects will be ready in late spring or early summer, will mark the first time the town has had such a step-by-step manual for its citizens.

In the meantime, the Building Department has filled-out, sample permits and other explanatory materials in the reception area of the department’s offices, which are located at 959 North Avenue, separately from the town’s administration building.

Once homeowners have determined whether or not a permit is needed for their work, they need to fill out the appropriate paperwork and submit it to the Building Department, Mr. Scelsa said. The necessary paperwork may be obtained from the department. Either the homeowner or the contractor hired to do the work can seek the permit.

There are a range of permit fees covering various types of work, and residents can get a rough idea from

the Building Department how much a complicated project, such as an addition, could cost them prior to applying for a permit.

For some work, such as a new chimney liner or a swimming pool, there is a flat fee due when the permit is approved. For example, a permit for a wood deck up to 100 square feet is $65, while the fee for building a fireplace is $100.

When the completed permit arrives at the Building Department, it goes to the appropriate area for review. For instance, a permit being sought for a new heating system would be reviewed by an official overseeing that category of home improvement.

Some permits, such as those for minor electrical work and roofing or siding, are “turned around quickly,” Mr. Scelsa said.

Other permit requests, such as those for major additions, however, must first be reviewed by the zoning official, Mr. Scelsa said. The official must review the homeowner’s survey, making sure that all requirements are met and in keeping with the zoning laws governing the area where the property is located. The plans then travel to each appropriate subcode reviewer and eventually end up in Mr. Scelsa’s office.

And very detailed alterations, such as those involving a downtown store or a large lot divided into parcels, must first be approved by the Planning Board, he said. In those cases, prior approvals must be granted before the Building Department can even consider granting a permit.

“People don’t realize that the Building Department’s clock doesn’t start ticking until the permit gets back to our department and our staff can start looking over everything,” Mr. Scelsa said.

He pointed out that the state mandates that building departments review a permit within 20 business days. He said, however, that it is not always possible for his office to do that because of too few staff to handle an overload of permit applications.

The zoning official, Mr. Scelsa pointed out, is not mandated to fin

ish his review within a certain time frame, and residents’ applications can be held up at a certain stage due to problems before they even reach the Building Department.

If a permit is not approved, the applicant will be notified about what problems exist and will have a chance to fix them. In the past, Mr. Scelsa said, only the designer was notified about problems, and often the actual homeowner was not apprised about the status of the permit and plan.

But under a new Building Department policy, the homeowner, designer and contractor will be notified so that everyone knows what is going on.

The “problem” application is then put into a pending file until changes are made and it receives a second review.

Once a permit is approved, the homeowner is subjected to a number of inspections. A general overview of inspection procedures is listed on the back of the permit placard that a homeowner must display in his or her window when work begins.

The homeowner or the contractor must be aware of the schedule of inspections and make their own arrangements to have the necessary inspections completed by the town.

Mr. Scelsa said that the Building Department advises homeowners not to make their final payment to contractors until all final inspections are completed.

The most common mistakes made by homeowners?

According to Mr. Scelsa, “The most frequent mistake is that new homeowners come into a town and honestly and sincerely don’t think they need a permit for work they do to their new homes. It is best to ask.”

And for those who do know to take out an application, he said, “One of the biggest hold-ups to the process is not filling out the paperwork properly. People leave many things out that we need to process the application. It makes everyone’s life easier to take the time to fill it out with all the necessary information.”


Specially Written for The Westfield Leader and The Times

Renovation fever is spreading in Westfield.

Drive through almost any neighborhood and dumpsters filled with debris sit in the street and contractor signs dot lawns.

More and more Westfield residents are willing to disrupt their lives for months and shell out thousands of dollars to upgrade their current homes. But yet, for many, the most anxiety-filled part of the renovation process starts before any work actually begins.

Applying for building permits from the town can be overwhelming for even the most seasoned homeowner. Questions such as what type of permits are needed, how much they cost, and if they will even be granted face many residents contemplating renovations.

But Anthony Scelsa, 3rd, construction official and building subcode official of Westfield’s Building Department, said it need not be so stressful.

“Anyone anticipating doing any kind of work should first call the Building Department office,” Mr. Scelsa said. “Someone answering the phone can usually tell the caller if a permit is needed, and if they can’t, they put the caller through to someone in the office who can.”

The types of work requiring a permit from the Building Department cover a broad spectrum, he explained, so it’s best to check if a homeowner is uncertain.

A new heating system, a new roof and siding, interior alterations, new water line, new hot water heater, new sewer connection, inside and outside sprinkler systems, decks, chimney liners, any additions and new structures are just some of the work that requires permits, he pointed out. In addition, business owners must seek permits for new signage or demolition work.

“There are so, so many variables,” Mr. Scelsa said. A good rule of thumb for interior work is “anything that involves more than 25 percent of a room” requires a permit, he said.

Each New Jersey municipality sets its own permit requirements and rules in accordance with state guidelines, he pointed out. The reason behind obtaining building permits is to insure safe, uniform environments that will not endanger lives, Mr. Scelsa said, “so we do take it The proposed budget was an in

crease of 1.59 percent over the 1998-99 spending plan. The proposed 1999-2000 budget is $27,404,938, compared to $26,974,599 in 1998. The increase reflects the hiring of additional staff, including a grant writer, and various school equipment, Mr. Van Tassel said.

He attributed the defeat to three factors. The township recently did a reassessment and some unease over how that will affect tax bills may have caused voters to turn down the budget, he speculated.

The board also has been discussing publicly how to deal with growing enrollment and some people may have become concerned that an additional expenditure to fund an addition may be necessary, he added.

Mr. Van Tassel also said that the vote may have been affected by a low voter turnout. Only 1,135 of the 8,370 eligible voters went to the polls.

The township also experienced a

Berkeley Heights Voters Reject School Budget


Westfield Lions Club Granted Resolution From Freeholders IN APPRECIATION…Union County Freeholder Donald Goncalves, left, pre

sents a resolution to William A. Doyle, President of the Westfield Lions Club, in celebration of the club’s 75th anniversary on April 18.

WESTFIELD — Union County Freeholder Donald Goncalves recently presented a resolution to William A. Doyle, President of the Westfield Lions Club, in recognition of the club’s 75th anniversary on April 18.

“As a longtime member of Lions Clubs International, I was pleased to be able to publicly acknowledge the work of this local chapter,” Freeholder Goncalves stated.

“The history of this club covers many good deeds,” he continued. “They purchased ambulances for the town in 1928 and 1933; supported the Union County Association for the Blind, The Lions Eye Bank and Recordings for the Blind. They also

collect used eyeglasses for Eyes for the Needy.”

Added Freeholder Chairman Nicholas P. Scutari, “Through participation in projects which include the Adopt-A-Street cleanup program, and sponsorship of a Leo Club at the Roosevelt Intermediate School, they stay committed to the good of others, beginning at the local level.

“They began an Easter Egg Hunt in Mindowaskin Park that takes place to this very day,” Mr. Scutari added.

Noting that the motto of every Lion is “We Serve,” Freeholder Goncalves maintained that the Westfield Lions have lived up to that motto for 75 years.

tax increase in 1998 and a group of concerned taxpayers formed an association to talk about rising taxes. A spokesman for that group, Alan Boyance, however, said that the group had not taken a stance on the proposed school budget.

School budget materials are now being given to the Township Committee, who have until May 19 to decide whether to make cuts or approve it without changes.
Copyright 1999 - The Westfield Leader and The Times of Scotch Plains-Fanwood