On November 5, 2012, the adoption of a new rule, plan release with conditions, was published in the New Jersey Register. It is effective immediately. This article seeks to provide a brief explanation for the development of this rule and then a summary of the changes it makes.
Background: The Department had received complaints about the lack of predictable timeframes in rehabilitation projects, particularly in tenant fit-outs upon a change of tenancy. The lack of predictability in timeframes meant that business owners and project managers could not provide an accurate move-in timeframe for their tenants or clients. In response to the concerns that were expressed, the Department formed a small working group. Serving on it were representatives of the business community, property managers, design professionals, and code enforcement officials. The focus of the small working group was to devise a process to provide predictability in the plan review process for changes of tenancy, including those changes in tenancy that involve construction projects. Upon discussion, it was found that the plan review process is extended by multiple revisions of the plans to ensure that the released drawings demonstrate code compliance. The initial plan review period, by statute, is 20 business days. The period for re-review is seven business days. The business professionals in the group asserted that they want the protection afforded by the plan review, but they are repeatedly frustrated in their efforts to give their clients accurate move-in dates because they could neither predict nor control the number of re-reviews of the plans that might be required.
Solution: The solution that gained the consensus of the small working group was a process that would allow for “plan release with conditions.” It is that process that has been adopted as an amendment to the Uniform Construction Code.
Plan Release with Conditions—Process: This rule amendment, plan release with conditions, would provide that, at the end of the 20-day plan review period, the plans for alteration or reconstruction projects in Groups B (Business), F (Factory), M (Mercantile), or S (Storage) would be released with a list of conditions specifying code deficiencies, enumerating deferred submittals, and listing pending prior approvals; the list of conditions will include a timeframe for the submittal of the corrections. If revised drawings are required in order to perform the inspection, a timeframe for their submittal must also be included in the list of conditions. Substantially deficient plans (plans that cannot be used to determine code compliance upon inspection) are not eligible for release with conditions. Upon written acceptance of the conditions by the permit applicant and once all prior approvals have been obtained, the permit is issued. The enforcing agency is required to send a copy of the list of conditions to the design professional of record. Code compliance will be determined at inspection. To facilitate inspections, the list of conditions must be attached both to the plans that are retained on site and to the plans that are retained by the enforcing agency. This “plan release with conditions” process does not apply to a project involving a change of use or change in the character of a use. The rehabilitation subcode addresses a change of use through a hierarchy of hazards in which the increase in hazard associated with the proposed change is evaluated on an item-by-item basis and specific code requirements result. Such a project could not be reasonably addressed through plan release with conditions. For the same reason, a change of character of use, in which the use designation of the building does not change, but the intensity of the use changes, could not be reasonably addressed through plan release with conditions. So, change of use and change of character of use were omitted from this amendment.
A bulleted summary follows: The regulatory amendment is at N.J.A.C. 5:23-2.16— Construction permits-procedure, titled:
Exception: Plan Release with Conditions and Issuance of Permit.
- This procedure applies to rehabilitation work in Groups B, F, M, or S; it does not apply to a change of use or to the change in the character of a use.
- Following a plan review by all applicable subcode officials, unless the plans are so deficient as to make determining code compliance through inspections impossible, plans will be released with a list of conditions attached identifying any deficiencies in code compliance and also identifying information that must be provided either before the permit can be issued (such as prior approvals) or during the course of the work (such as sprinkler shop drawings).
- To ensure that the deficiencies have been corrected at the time of inspection, a timeframe for providing the corrections or the missing information must be specified in the list of conditions.
- Revised drawings may be required before the Certificate of Approval or Certificate of Occupancy is issued. A timeframe for receipt of the revised drawings must be established in the conditional plan release. Issuance of a temporary certificate of occupancy (TCO) will be in accordance with N.J.A.C. 5:23-2.23(g).
- Upon written agreement of the permit applicant (owner or owner’s agent) to the list of identified deficiencies and to their correction during the course of work, the construction official will act on the permit application. The local enforcing agency will forward a copy of the conditions to the design professional of record.
- Upon inspection, if the deficiencies identified as conditions of the release have not been corrected, the work must be corrected; it will then be reinspected.
- Upon inspection, if the scope of the work has changed and work is found that was not included in the permit application, the standard UCC process, including issuing a stop work order and penalties will be followed.
The Department is looking into offering training on this process. In the meantime, questions should be directed to the Code Assistance Unit at (609) 984-7609.
Source: Emily W. Templeton, Division of Codes and Standards