Building Inspector Maureen Eckman, along with “one and one half” assistant inspectors and two office assistants, makes up, at least on paper, the entire staff of Rye’s Building Department.
By Bill Lawyer
Building Inspector Maureen Eckman, along with “one and one half” assistant inspectors and two office assistants, makes up, at least on paper, the entire staff of Rye’s Building Department. With those few, she is responsible for, according to the City’s website, “Effective, timely, and consistent enforcement of local and state law, and the education of those whom they affect.”
Sounds easy. The reality is Eckman, who has a degree in civil technology, and her colleagues handle just about anything related to building: issuing of building, construction, electrical, demolition and floodplain management permits, along with monitoring and enforcing the “many City Codes” relating to the City’s buildings.
And if the monitoring of buildings results in the discovery of a violation of a building code, the building department issues “appearance tickets” to the alleged violator.
Housing is a serious business in Rye. According to figures included in the 2015 budget for the building department, its projected revenue in 2014 jumped from a budgeted $1.37 million to a projected $2.29 million – for a projected net margin of $1.73 million.
Working on and off for the City since 2000, Eckman says, “There is one thing I’ve learned: it never gets slow.” For example, permits for residential construction increased by 75% between 2011 and 2014; and, Eckman adds, “the scope and value has increased equally dramatically.”
How, with such a tiny staff, does the Building Department handle this ever-increasing workload? Technology helps. For example, the City’s website has a section on Frequently Asked Questions about building that saves applicants time. And, through the use of the City’s interactive mapping software, it’s much easier and quicker to locate properties, boundaries, etc.
Eckman tries to structure her time in a straightforward schedule, but she frequently gets sidetracked by requests from “above.” For example, the Legionnaire Disease outbreak in the Bronx resulted in the Rye Building Department having to compile a list of all cooling towers on buildings in the city.
Another recently added state-required duty is to determine that commercial buildings have the required carbon monoxide detectors. The law took effect on June 27, 2015, but there is a transition period to the same date in 2016.
As this article was being written, the threat of hurricane Joaquin had prompted the Building Department to make sure all steps were being taken to minimize the damage.
While everyone in Rye is familiar with the major construction projects going on, Eckman says that an issue that consumes much of staff time is – fences. There is a host of regulations regarding them, and the department gets lots of calls from neighbors complaining about alleged code violations.
Fortunately, code enforcement is not limited to the department’s small staff; the City’s police officers do it. Recently a policeman noticed and reported a major Forest Avenue project going on without a permit.
Meanwhile, the more “normal” business of the department goes on. Eckman notes that because the engineering, building, and planning departments are all together at City Hall, they can easily help each other processing applications, approving permits, making sure that work is done according to the approved plans, and closing out the permits with certificates of occupancy.
Nevertheless, Eckman wishes that the part-time assistant building inspector could be moved to full-time.
She says her biggest challenge is helping the general public and Rye residents have a good experience in working with her staff. She stressed to this reporter how important it is for all buildings to have the required smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
When asked about the impact that a rock chipping law might have on Rye’s building projects, she said that “Rye is a very desirable place to live, and homeowners will work within whatever law the Council passes.”