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New coalition wants to tackle plethora of St. Louis County building codes

Mary Delach Leonard
St. Louis Public Radio
The St. Louis Realtors is among the groups pushing to simplify building and occupancy codes throughout St. Louis County.

A new coalition led by real estate and building trade industry groups wants to make building and occupancy codes in St. Louis County more consistent.

“We have about 42 different code books active across six code areas in St. Louis County,” said Charlie Hinderliter, government affairs director for the St. Louis Realtors, which is part of Safer, Simpler St. Louis County. “That’s 17,000 pages, nearly twice the size of the Internal Revenue Code.”

The codes govern such details as how many exits a building must have and the color of cement used to join PVC pipes, Hinderliter said. Having so many codes is not only confusing for contractors, it can also present a safety issue.

A study by the Realtors group found that some municipalities are using codes from the early 2000s, he said.

“Those best practices that we have been learning have not been applied and do not have to be applied when people go and build in those municipalities,” Hinderliter said. “We've got some municipalities here that are very small, and they don't have the staff to go through what are really complicated building codes and make sure they're up to date.”

Safer, Simpler St. Louis County has no interest in addressing zoning or architectural review policies, Hinderliter said. Local governments, he said, should be allowed to control the look and feel of their communities.

Pat Kelly, executive director of the Municipal League of Metropolitan St. Louis, said his organization’s members support the idea of simplifying the codes. But he was annoyed by inconsistencies he cited in a report from the Realtors.

For example, Kelly said, the report shows the City of Black Jack using a building code from 1996 written by an organization that no longer exists. But Kelly said Black Jack has had a contract with St. Louis County to do its permitting since the early 2000s, which means it has by default adopted St. Louis County’s codes.

“We don’t need the falsehoods,” Kelly said. “We’d be better off if we just communicate and try to work together to resolve and come up with a collaborative solution for what they’re trying to do.”

Hinderliter said the coalition expects code simplification to be a multiyear effort.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.