Pool builders in Southern Florida are frustrated with a painfully slow permit process bogged down by what they see as excessive municipal oversight.
Builders say it’s taking as long as two months to get the green light to dig pools in some jurisdictions within Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.
The problem has reached crisis level, causing the Florida Swimming Pool Association to collaborate with other industries to find relief.
Fort Lauderdale has been particularly difficult to work with. Builders contend with what they describe as overly strict regulations stemming from the city’s engineering department. Plans pass through various disciplines within the building department, such as plumbing and electrical, without issue in most cases. But once they reach the engineering department, “things come to a screeching halt,” said Stephanie Taggart, vice president of Signature Pools & Spas, serving Broward County and surrounding areas.
Problems began earlier this year when the city instituted a $2,500 bond fee. This left some builders out of pocket tens of thousands of dollars when they had multiple plans being processed. The fee was issued to protect city-owned property, such as right-of-ways and sidewalks, from damage that may occur during construction. The cracking of city-maintained pavement by heavy equipment happens on occasion, but not nearly enough to justify the fee, builders argued.
Blindsided by the cost, builders banded together and, with the help of FSPA, convinced the city to rescind it. That was in June. However, problems persist.
Builders say Fort Lauderdale’s engineering department has been granted more oversight in the permit process and that is where most of the push-back occurs. Taggart recalled a set of pool plans being denied because they didn’t include the deck, which was under the home builder’s purview. That fight dragged on and on.
“They’re just exercising too much authority,” she said.
Homeowners are losing patience —sometimes with builders. Taggart has been giving her clients the tracking numbers to the permits so they can see for themselves where their proposed pools stand with the city. Some customers are taking matters into their own hands, calling officials to find the reason for the holdup.
One of the biggest sticking points is groundwater. It used to be that if water was found during excavation, it was simply pumped out. Now that practice is coming under intense scrutiny.
Rather than let the water run off into drains, builders have been instructed to try to retain it on site by channeling the water into pits filed with rock.
“That’s not always possible,” said Ron Burr, co-owner of Rite-Way Pools in Fort Lauderdale. “In all the years I’ve been building pools, I’ve never had to worry about pumping water. … It seems like they’re going way overboard.”
In some cases, builders have had to arrange for elevation surveys so the city could determine where unearthed water would wind up.
“This drainage issue has been a nuisance,” Burr said.
Surrounding cities have their challenges, too. Some are requiring that builders replace any trees removed during excavation with trees of “equal value,” Burr noted.
There are also the ever-rising costs of the permits themselves, which run anywhere from $300 to more than $1,000, depending on the city.
The pool industry isn’t alone in its frustration. Southern Florida cities are causing a lot of pain for other trades, too. Because of this, the Florida Swimming Pool Association’s government relations consultant, Jennifer Hatfield, is working closely with the Construction Coalition, a Florida group of lobbyists, to try to cap fees and streamline the permit process.