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City: Lack of permits for portables frequent problem; Homeowner in recent case given time to correct some issues

This photo taken by city staff in February shows the portable building erected in 2017 by a installation company on Michael Garcia’s southwest side property. City staff said the portable is too close to electrical lines and property lines. The photo also shows a steep slope to the driveway, which city documents state is not in compliance with code. (Submitted Photo)

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City planning staff and commission members say there is a common problem in the city and the county. Many times people erect portables or temporary structures without permits, often using contractors from outside the city or state for the work.

City staff say people often erect portables or temporary buildings, such as this one on the southwest side of Roswell, without the necessary permits. According to city documents, this structure is too close to electrical lines and property lines and the steep slope of the driveway is not in compliance with city codes. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

“Every month we have a case of a shed that’s in the wrong place or a carport,” said City Planning Manager Bill Morris said to the City of Roswell Planning and Zoning Commission during its Tuesday night hearing.

That night it was a Roswell man living on the southwest side of the city who found himself in a bind because he has put a portable structure on his property without a building permit. According to city staff, the new garage and the associated driveway don’t comply with city codes.

Ultimately, after several minutes of questions and discussions, the commission voted to table the action regarding whether to grant property owner Michael Garcia exceptions, or variances, to city codes, asking Garcia to correct some of the major safety concerns.

“We wish they would have come in first, because the number of variances requested is significant,” said Morris. “Our policy has been that, if you don’t have a building permit, we are going to say no.”

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Garcia, who uses a wheelchair and said he lives alone on the southwest side of the city, told commissioners that he purchased the building and hired a company to install it in 2017 as a way to provide more secure access to his house.

“I built the building for some independence and some security for myself,” said Garcia, who mentioned that he had a wheelchair stolen from his yard a few years ago. “This way I can go into my building and unload. I don’t have to worry about somebody coming up behind me.”

Although the portable has not prompted neighbors’ complaints, according to city staff, it was red-tagged by code enforcement officers for being non-compliant.

Before considering Garcia’s variances request at a future meeting, commissioners have asked him to move the electrical lines that are only inches away from the garage, which reaches 14 feet at its peak, and to tear down the old garage to provide 10 feet of space between the house and the new structure as a fire safety precaution.

While the commissioners offer no guarantee that the variances will be granted after those steps, they told Garcia that they would look more favorably on his action if he did as they suggested.

At the very least, the situation is going to cost Garcia some money. He said moving the power lines will cost about $2,000, and city staff said he could be fined for a building permit after the fact if the variances are granted.

If the commission and city council ultimately decide not to grant the variances, Garcia will have to remove the structure or modify it substantially to comply with codes, said Morris.

In addition to concerns about the electrical lines and the lack of space between structures on the property, the portable, as it stands now, would need variances regarding setbacks from property lines and the slope of the driveway leading up to it, according to city documents.

City staff and commissioners discussed if at least some responsibility for such situations rests with the companies that sell portables or the companies that install them. Installers sometimes do not have city business licenses, staff said.

The owner of the company that sold Garcia his structure said that all purchasers are informed through signs and other means that they must obtain permits, but Garcia told commissioners that he was unaware that he needed one.

City staff told commissioners that, in an effort to prevent similar problems in the future, they will be communicating with portable building sellers and installers around the area to make sure that they, their subcontractors and their customers understand the need for business licenses and permits.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 310, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.