Editor's note: In an earlier version of this story, quotes attributed to Rick Vasquez, planning director, should have been attributed to David Ewald, the city's building official.
GALVESTON — The project architect and the contractor for the five-story, 60,000-square-foot Sea Scout Base on the shores of Offatts Bayou were scheduled to go before the city council today to discuss permitting problems they say contributed to delays in the $30 million development.
Architect Bob Randall and Jeff Mickler, president of Jacob White Construction Co., say they hope to resolve issues and speed up work so classes can commence in June at what will be a nautical adventure, maritime and aquatic education/training facility for the Boy Scout program.
The city council today is expected to consider a plan to expedite a “remedy in overcoming repeated delays in the permitting process” to ensure that the Sea Scout Camp can open on time.
It’s highly unusual for a contractor or developer to take such issues before City Council. Such matters are usually resolved by city staff. And some city officials fear it could set an unwelcome precedent if the City Council intervenes or shows preferential treatment to developers.
“My biggest concern is, I don’t want anyone to get the City Council to leap-frog them ahead,” Brian Maxwell, Galveston’s interim city manager, said. If that happens, it could open the doors to more developers seeking to resolve issues through the City Council, Maxwell said.
As of Wednesday, the development, 7511 Broadway, had most of the permits it needed after many calls and discussions. But Mickler said he’s frustrated by a permitting system he called “broken.”
Mickler and Randall still planned to go before the City Council. The men had hoped a discussion today with the City Council would ward off any future problems in getting temporary occupancy permits that would allow use of some of the buildings on campus this summer as construction continues.
One of the biggest issues is the number of permits required for the project, Mickler said. Three separate buildings are underway at the Sea Scout Base — the five-story building for dormitories and housing for counselors; a 1,500-square-foot restroom facility; and a 2,500-square-foot Ranger House.
Mickler said he could understand needing perhaps three separate building permits. But the city so far has required 15, including for a trellis around the pool, a cistern on the site and a canopy in front of the main building.
“It’s terribly inefficient,” Mickler said. “I’ve never done a project where we had to have so many separate permits.”
Randall said he also was frustrated by the city attempting to do the state’s job. Randall said he complied with state rules in which he had a licensed third party make the required architectural barriers inspection to ensure compliance with the American with Disabilities Act. But the city pressed for more information. After weeks of frustration, Randall asked the state to write the city and inform it the development was in compliance, Randall said.
“I think the most astonishing fact is that building officials crossed the threshold into state business, which is really not their domain,” Randall said.
David Ewald, the city's building official, said he and other officials had worked closely with the Sea Scout Base developers. City building officials treat everyone the same, Ewald said.
“We’re working as quickly as possible,” Ewald said. “Our job is to ensure safety for the public and comply with ordinances.”
Maxwell said neither Randall nor Mickler had contacted him directly about problems.
Ordinances and regulations are more complicated in coastal communities such as Galveston, Maxwell said.
Some cities might assign one permit number with 15 “sub” numbers, while Galveston assigns 15 different permit numbers for tracking, Maxwell said. There was nothing unusual about that, he said.
Because children would be main users of the buildings, the city had no intention of “skimping,” Maxwell said.
“Not when health and safety is concerned,” Maxwell said.
Maxwell, however, was not accusing the developer of skimping on safety code compliance, he said.
As for the issue of Americans with Disabilities compliance, the city has sought to greatly improve accessibility, Maxwell said.
“We take this pretty seriously,” Maxwell said.
Builders often meet with city staff, not elected officials, to resolve issues, Maxwell said.
The developers and Maxwell agree the facility is important for Galveston, promising to attract about 18,000 visitors a year to the island. But Maxwell said no project is more important than another.
The Sea Scout Base-Galveston, which has secured accreditations and licenses from Boy Scouts of America and the Texas Department of Health Services, already has been offering summer sessions in kayaking and sailing, but in a limited capacity while construction continues. In June, managers had hoped to expand class offerings.
The very private Doolin family has made a large part of the development’s financing possible.
What: The city council is expected to consider a plan to expedite a remedy in overcoming repeated delays in the permitting process to ensure that the Sea Scout Base opens on time in June.
When: The city council meeting begins at 1 p.m. today.
Where: Council chambers at City Hall, 823 25th St.
Follow the Galveston City Council meeting live on Twitter. Follow @JohnWFerguson or search #GalvestonCC