You better finish construction in Belmont quick

More and more, San Mateo County residents who want to expand their homes are under a time crunch to make changes or they’ll find themselves owing money to the cities in which they reside.

Belmont is the most recent city in the county to begin penalizing homeowners and developers who don’t complete construction projects within strict time limits. Tuesday night, the Belmont City Council voted 5-0 to adopt an ordinance that would require projects that aren’t completed on time to pay $1,000 for a 60-day extension and up to $2,000 for later extensions.

The idea is to give the city a way to nudge along projects that “never seem to end,” said Mark Nolfi, a Belmont building official. Such projects are not the norm, he said. But those few cause misery for neighbors and increase costs for the city, he said.

“We spend 90 percent of our time on 10 percent of the applicants,” he said.

In 2005, Hillsborough was the first Peninsula city to adopt a penalizing policy, Nolfi said. It fines property owners between $200 and $1,000 a day for projects that drag on, said Liz Cullinan, Hillsborough’s building and planning director. She said it’s been effective in keeping construction projects on time.

But not everyone agrees that penalizing lengthy projects is reasonable.

Jason Born, a mortgage broker and realtor who has spoken out against the ordinance, said it’s not clear that long-term projects are even a problem in Belmont.

“They’re closing the door for the working-class owners who are trying to do work himself or herself,” he said.

Councilmember Coralin Feierbach disagrees.

“This is fair. It gives the building department the opportunity to give [landowners] latitude in case there’s illness, and it rewards people who obey time limits,” she said.

Mayor Warren Leiberman said Belmont’s approach is less punitive than other cities’ measures have been.

“I hope we see this in other communities,” Leiberman said. “I would love for Belmont to be taking the lead and setting the example that others follow because I think we are doing a very good and, I hope, a very effective thing.”

kworth@examiner.com

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