Update: Unpermitted Work at County Admin Building

Dawn Kitterman
BRADENTON — In recent weeks, TBT has reported on two separate renovation projects undertaken by the county to its downtown administration building. As previously reported, both renovations were without permit applications, plan review, issuance of a building permit, or inspections by the city or fire authority. As a follow-up to our previous reporting, TBT has received additional comments from the City of Bradenton, Manatee County, and the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation.  

Between December 2021 and the Spring of 2022, an extensive renovation to the county building's ninth floor provided significant upgrades to the administrative wing, including to the offices of the county administrator, his assistant, and at least one office of a deputy county administrator.  

Between March and July of 2022, the county building received an additional extensive renovation to its second floor. The project on the second floor included the construction of a new media production studio, an employee break room, offices for the records management division, as well as the construction of office space that was originally intended for employees of the county's Department of Development Services—including the division of building and permitting.

Both renovations included the demolition of existing walls, ceilings, and light fixtures, as well as tens of thousands of dollars for alteration/additions to each floor's electrical systems. On at least one floor, the county altered and/or added to the mechanical A/C system, and on both floors paid invoices showed work had been performed on the building's fire suppression system. The hundreds of invoices from both projects demonstrated the sizable scope of work involved in the renovations. 

When it was uncovered that the county had failed to follow Florida's Building Code (FBC) by not obtaining a permit from the City of Bradenton—the county's administration building is under the city's jurisdictional authority—for either of its renovation projects, TBT sought more information about the matter. As part of our investigation, we reached out to multiple entities within the city as well as sent an inquiry to the state's Building Commission. TBT had not received a response from the building commission prior to the publication of last weekend's story—but did receive a reply after publication. 

On Wednesday, our emailed inquiry to officials at the Florida Building Commission was answered by the Department of Business and Professional Regulations (DBPR). The respondent, Beth N. Pannell, is the Director of Communications for DBPR. The Florida Building Commission is created and located within the Department of Business and Professional Regulation for administrative purposes.

Our questions sought information and confirmation of TBT’s understanding of the FBC. Pannell's emailed responses were detailed and identified specific portions of the FBC and its relevant statutes.

Below are questions TBT included with our inquiry followed by DBPR Communication Director's replies: 

What exceptions does Florida Building Code allow under the statute concerning permit and inspection requirements for a construction project that includes demolition, framing, changes to floor plans, and electrical work? Our understanding (having read FBC) is that school districts and state-owned buildings are not required to obtain permits, submit plans for review, or have a local building and fire inspector complete inspections under the authority of local governments. Are there any additional municipalities or entities which may be exempt from statute requirements as detailed by FBC?

"With regard to the list of exceptions/exemptions from permit as per the current Florida Building Code "7th Edition (2020) Florida Building Code (FBC)," please see 105.2 Work exempt from permit of the FBC. Also, as per section 102.2 of the FBC, state-owned buildings and schools are required to meet the technical and administrative requirements of the FBC including permitting, plans review and inspection requirements as outlined in sections 105, 107 and 110 of the FBC."

Can cities and counties make interlocal agreements that would lessen the requirements of Florida's building code? (Example: If a city government owns a building that resides within the county government's jurisdiction, would a county have the authority to allow the city to build/renovate/construct a city-owned property outside of the building code requirements, per its discretion?) 

"No. Pursuant to section 553.73 (4)(a), Florida Statutes, local governments are permitted to adopt amendments to the technical and administrative provisions of the Florida Building Code as long as the said amendments are more stringent than those of the FBC."   
 
Does Florida's Building Code allow for the two local governments to agree to any waiver of plan review, permit application and/or permit fee, or inspections?

"No, with the exception to permit fees, which falls outside the scope of the FBC and those exceptions as permitted pursuant to section 102.2.5 of the FBC."

Are any portions of Florida's building code under federal rule? (Example: does the federal government set any laws pertaining to building/construction for electrical, structural, or mechanical or requirements for permits or inspections of such work?) 

"The Florida Building Code is a statewide code that is mandated by Florida Statutes 553.73(1)(a). The Florida Building Code contains within it minimum energy efficiency standards for various heating, ventilation, and air conditioning products. Certain energy efficiency standards for these products are promulgated at the federal level by the Department of Energy. 10 C.F.R. § 430.33(a), provides that "[a]ny State regulation providing for any energy conservation standard… of a covered product that is not identical to a Federal standard in effect under this subpart is preempted by that standard," and so the Florida Building Code provisions conform to the controlling federal regulations. Also, the FBC provides for construction requirements consistent with the Federal 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) flood protection requirements for buildings and structures.
 
Pursuant to section 553.73(1)(a), F.S., "[t]he commission shall adopt, by rule pursuant to ss.120.536(1) and 120.54, the Florida Building Code which shall contain or incorporate by reference all laws and rules which pertain to and govern the design, construction, erection, alteration, modification, repair, and demolition of public and private buildings, structures, and facilities and enforcement of such laws and rules, except as otherwise provided in this section."

In our reporting last weekend, a spokesperson from the City of Bradenton’s Fire Department confirmed to TBT by email that the department was unaware of the county's renovation projects and that inspections had not been conducted by fire officials during the course of the building projects. The spokesperson included in their emailed response, "We are involved now and the issue is being addressed and will be inspected." 

Any work completed by the county that required inspection under Florida's fire codes would be inspected by a fire marshal on an "after the fact" review. 

TBT also included a response received from the City of Bradenton PIO via email, who told our publication that the county had applied for and received an "after the fact" permit for the renovations to the county administration building's ninth floor. The PIO also wrote that a permit application had been received by the city from the county for its second-floor renovation on July 12. The permit application and construction plans were reviewed and approved by city building officials and a second-floor renovation permit was issued to the county on August 24. 

TBT sent a follow-up email to the city seeking clarification on the permit issued for the second floor's renovations—a permit that was issued months after a large portion of renovations had already been completed on the floor. TBT asked whether work done on that floor would also undergo "after the fact" inspections by the city as on the ninth floor. We had not heard back by the publication deadline for our September 11 reporting. 

Following the publication of our story last Sunday, a Bradenton City official responded to our follow-up email. The response was received on Monday, September 12. 

City of Bradenton's Director of Planning and Community Development, Robin Singer, emailed TBT directly, writing, "We will not be able to determine what the inspections will entail until our inspectors have assessed the job. In some cases, uncovering work that has been done will be required in order to conduct the inspection. Our inspectors will make that determination in the field." 

Singer added, "Work done prior to obtaining a permit is considered after the fact."

On Thursday, TBT reached Manatee County Government's PIO by email seeking comment from the county in regards to our recent reporting of the unpermitted renovations at the downtown county building. The county's PIO responded to our request by email, writing, "There is no comment from Manatee County Government."

Dawn Kitterman is a staff reporter for The Bradenton Times. She covers local government and entertainment news. She can be reached at [email protected]

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Barbara A. Angelucci
SEP 17, 2022  •  Wonder what the property insurance company thinks about this; if they even know about it. Think they should be notified as it presents a potential liability...no permits/inspections, etc.
Ron W.
SEP 17, 2022  •  Manatee County residents are very fortunate to have remarkable Watch Dogs such as The Bradenton Times. In Sarasota, very similar issues have occurred and have been reported. Where : at two industrial properties and even a section of a County aphalt roadway was excavated and then poured with reinforced concrete, more than 2,000 sq. ft. Without having (2) required rights-of-way permits ever being applied for. The County Administrator, fully informed and 11 other County Employees too. All twelve are completely allowed this unpermitted Roadway work. Then, after-the-fact they falsified/counterfeited public records and they've ultimately waived serious amounts of Sarasota County revenue. All benefiting others. If only, TBT would expand their coverage area and consider investigating and reporting this very corrupt story occurring here in Sarasota County. When there's substantial public record evidence that proves everything I just stated and then some...
Cat L
SEP 16, 2022  •  And maybe, if you are trying to pass an unpermitted renovation by unnoticed, perhaps don't with the room that gets broadcast on TV...
HK
SEP 16, 2022  •  "There is no comment from Manatee County Government."
Valerie Fisher
SEP 16, 2022  •  Thank you TBT for bringing this issue to light. As a resident of Manatee County, I find it totally disconcerting that our county government ignored laws and rules that were passed to insure safety. Even more disturbing, they apparently did not seek approval for the funds spent on these 'renovations.' Do we have a dollar figure yet? Sadly, with at least 2 new board members, and commissioners Servia and Whitmore leaving, we can probably expect more of the same.


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