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In Fact Daily

Monday, July 16, 2001 by

Janet Gallagher talks about

Building Regulation Division

Applications down with slower economy

By David Ansel

Janet Gallagher has managed the recently renamed Building Regulation Division of the Watershed Protection and Development Services Department since 1997. With a background in construction, she began her inspection work in the 1980’s in Georgetown. Gallagher worked as a Commercial Inspector for the City of Austin before her promotion to Chief Building Inspector.

The Commercial Building Plan Review Section (CBPR) asserts itself in construction projects between site plan review and vertical construction. This is where Gallagher’s team of inspectors examines building plans for electrical, mechanical, building and plumbing code compliance. CBPR is the coordinating point for Fire Department, Health Department and Water and Wastewater Department feedback on the project. The Fire Department reviews plans for sprinkler, alarm and mechanical fire suppression syste The Health Department’s concerns vary with the type of construction project. Restaurants require compliance with the city’s health code from the planning phase forward. Even such construction projects as swimming pools are subject to Health Department review. Water and Wastewater analyzes design documents in order to size meters and plan for backflow prevention.

CBPR also concerns itself with Energy Code compliance. “Austin is more progressive on Energy Code than almost anywhere in the states,” said Gallagher. “In 1996, when we redid the Energy Code, we were more progressive in areas such as using heat pumps instead of electric heat and natural gas water heaters.” Reviewers look at plans and make sure lighting and HVAC systems meet Energy Code calculations.

The seventeen-person staff of CBPR consists of architects and various construction masters that attempt to smooth the permitting process for contractors. “We try to catch the problems before they get to the field because it’s far easier to correct it on paper.”

The Permit Center also falls under Gallagher’s supervision. Four technicians and a supervisor handle all of Austin’s construction permit issuances. Over a hundred people come through the office each day seeking permits. All applications must have gone through Plan Review before being processed in the Permit Center. The Permit Center estimates that permits issued for the current fiscal year (FY01) will fall about 17% short of this year's goal, marking an 11% decline from last year. Permit applications are about 24% lower than FY01 projections, down 15% from last year.

The Building Inspection Section steps in during the construction phase. Nearly sixty inspectors visit every site to determine code and plan compliance. They visit before concrete is poured, before insulation, before sheetrock is hung and before move-in. “All these inspections are about life safety. Contractors are given a correction notice and time to fix it,” says Gallagher. “If they can’t or won’t fix it, the job is issued a red tag and halted.” Building Inspectors also lend a helping hand to Environmental Inspectors, keeping an eye on erosion fences and drainage of construction sites. The Building Inspection Section indicates that it is on pace to meet FY01 projections for inspections performed.

In order to streamline the inspection request process, Gallagher has been involved in the development of her division’s first attempt at e-goverment: an extranet site that allows contractors 24/7 access to request inspections and view permits over the Internet. The site is currently in internal testing and will be released to production late this summer.

Gallagher’s mission extends beyond pure regulatory enforcement. “We really try to shoot for one victory a day here. We’re regulatory, so we’re not always able to say, ‘Yes, I like being able to help,’ so we try to help applicants out when we can. If they’re stuck or have a bad contractor through no fault of their own, we’ll say, ‘If you can fix these three things, we’ll let you into your house.’”

Gallagher is married, and has three daughters to whom she happily devotes the majority of her free time.

Planning Commission

Grants Doggett variance

Commission adopts Environmental Board recommendations

Last week, the Planning Commission approved a variance for Clayton’s Crossing, a proposed development on a 40-acre tract west of Loop 360. The property, owned by Congressman Lloyd Doggett and his wife, Libby, lies northwest of Spicewood Springs Road and Yaupon Drive. The preliminary plan subdivides the tract into six large lots that rise up from the bottomland and 15 lots high on the ridge, which would be accessed from Yaupon Drive.

The commission granted the variance with conditions suggested by the Environmental Board earlier this year. (See In Fact Daily, May 22, 2001). Opposition to the variance was centered on possible degradation of Bull Creek caused by the additional development. However, representatives for Doggett argued that failing to grant the variance would lead to a less environmentally-friendly design for the development. The property is within the city’s ETJ.

Documentary maker seeks

Funds for Austin history film

Film to be distributed to libraries and schools

A University of Texas film professor is making the rounds of Austin groups, seeking financial support for a documentary on the city’s history.

“Austin Past and Present” is a computer-based documentary about Austin intended for distribution to public libraries and area schools. Karen Kocher, who is directing the project, presented the basic outline of the effort to the tourism committee of the Historic Landmark Commission last week. The total cost of the project—which will be underwritten by grants and donations—is estimated at just over $400,000.

Primary research and design of the project has already been completed. Archival material from the Austin History Center will be woven throughout the project, which will be in the form of 125 vignettes. The overview divides Austin history into nine eras, each with a four- to six-minute video description as well as biographies of key individuals, facts about the era and an overall timeline. A geographic tour of Austin is also included in the history. Advisors include the staff of the Austin History Center and the Harry Ransom Center, as well as David Humphrey, author of“Austin: An Illustrated History.”

The time tours will include Geologic Formation; Frontier Capital; Civil War; The Railroad and the University; City of the Violet Crown; Depression and World War II; Civil Rights; Modern Austin; and On to the Future. The project will memorialize historic sites such as the Driskill Hotel, Treaty Oak and the O’Henry Museum, and tell the stories of people like William Barton, Elisabet Ney and James Michener.

Kocher demonstrated some of the technology of the project in the form of a video from one vignette and a virtual tour of one of the city’s historic homes. She plans to gather at least 10 homes for the project. Those using the DVD would be able to take a virtual look around any room, as well as click on markers that provide further descriptions of historic items in the room.

The tourism committee gave its enthusiastic support for the project, which will be presented to the full Historic Landmark Commission later this month. So far, Kocher has raised $37,000. The project’s tax-exempt status through the Austin Film Society qualified it for $25,000 in grants. Additional grant applications are pending before the Austin Community and H-E-B Foundations.

Kocher is the producer of the recent CD-ROM, “Barton Springs Interactive,” distributed to schools in the Austin and Eanes school districts. Her most recent film, “Springs Symphony,” is currently installed at the education center at Barton Springs.

Kocher told commissioners it was her intention to turn the project over to the Austin History Center as soon as it is finished. Her goal is to get the DVD distributed by January 2003. Those who are interested in the project can contact Kocher at 478-4614 or karenkocher@mail.utexas.edu.

2001 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Names at the top . . . After finishing her first session as a legislator, Austin Rep. Ann Kitchen is already raising funds for her next race. Potential mayoral candidates Gus Garcia and Robin Rather want to show their support for her. Their names, along with those of other major supporters, appear on Kitchen’s invitation to a July 24 fundraiser. The party will be from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Serrano’s Symphony Square . . . Changes at the Planning Commission . . . The Commission is expected to hear a report Tuesday on division of labor between the Zoning and Platting Commission (ZAP) and the Planning Commission. Commissioner Jim Robertson has said he will be joining Commissioners Robin Cravey and Ray Vrudhula in stepping down from the Planning Commission when the new appointees are named. Robertson said he needs more time to study for the architect’s licensing exam and to be with his family. Former commission member Dave Sullivan has applied for appointment to the new Planning Commission, which is expected to begin work in September. Commissioners Ben Heimsath and Lydia Ortiz are said to be leaning towards the Planning Commission also, as opposed to ZAP. The Planning Commission’s current chair, Betty Baker and Commissioner Jean Mather have indicated interest in ZAP. Joseph Martinez, a current member of the Electric Utility Commission and a leader in the East Cesar Chavez neighborhood, has applied for ZAP . . . Barton Springs swimmers honored . . . The city’s Parks and Recreation Department has asked the City Council to approve issuance of free lifetime swimming passes to avid Barton Springs swimmers Dorothy Richter, Dr. Vlastimil Koseticky and Jane Pitkin..

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