Legislation Aims to Ignite Stalled Building Projects in S.C.

June 20, 2013

Investigative Reports

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Building PermitOne of the greatest casualties of the Great Recession in the Palmetto State was the sharp decline in commercial building projects, as one by one, present and future contracts either were suspended or canceled due to a lack of cash, credit or collateral.

As the economy slowly has recovered from the collapse, many of those projects have come back to life, albeit often at a snail’s pace, as banks now have more stringent loan requirements, and companies have fewer resources to commit.

Complicating matters is a governmental permitting system that can present as many hoops and challenges as the projects themselves. As the economy rebounds, many businesses small and large face lapsed or expired permits at both the state and local level for everything from water to sewer to zoning and more.

Easing that transition back to an active development economy is the focus of state legislation (H.3774) that was approved Wednesday by a House and Senate conference committee. The full House and Senate subsequently voted unanimously to approve the final version of the joint resolution, which will be sent to Gov. Nikki Haley to either approve or veto.

The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Dwight Loftis, R-Greenville, would suspend the elapsing of approved state Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) permits and approvals “affecting the development of real property within the state” for four years, dating from January 1, 2013, to Dec. 31, 2017, so as to “prevent the wholesale abandonment of already approved projects and activities due to present unfavorable economic conditions … thereby preventing a waste of public and private resources.”

In addition to DHEC permits, the bill also extends to approvals issued by “an agency or subdivision of the state, or a unit of local government, regardless of the form of the approval, that is for the development of land,” and “extend a permit or approval issued by the United States or its agencies and instrumentalities.”

The precise number of business enterprises statewide that could be revived if H. 3774 becomes law is unknown, though it could affect hundreds, if not thousands, of projects over the next four years.

In a 20-minute meeting Wednesday morning in a conference room on the third floor of the State House, representatives from the House and Senate cemented final language in the legislation. Present were Sens. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg; Ray Cleary, R-Georgetown; and Greg Hembree, R-Horry; and Reps. Nelson Hardwick, R-Horry; Ken Hodges, D-Colleton; and Alan Clemmons, R-Horry.

“We have a permitting process for everything from air permits to water permits to building permits to dock permits,” Hutto, the conference committee chairman, told The Nerve at the conclusion of the meeting. “Generally, we try to adhere to the permit process, but because of the economic downturn in 2008, particularly along the coast, a lot of people who had permits lost their financing.

“Now that the economy is turning around, they’re going back to these projects that still are viable and finding that the permits that were issued had expired. If we didn’t extend the permits, they would have to go back through the permitting process from the beginning, which would be costly and time-consuming both for the person seeking the permit and for the regulator reviewing the permit, particularly if it’s something they’ve already looked at and approved.”

Hutto said the bottom line to the public is that countless projects that are hanging in the balance from a permitting perspective, from large construction jobs to simple residential dock permits, can move forward.

“The economic benefit is there only if you believe that these projects add to tourism and the economy in general and quality of life,” he said. “I think they certainly do.”

Reach Ron at (803) 200-8809 or ron@thenerve.org. Follow him on Twitter @RonAiken. Follow The Nerve on Facebook and Twitter @thenervesc.