Opinion: Inconsistent building codes across St. Louis County put region at disadvantage for growth, equity, economic development

By Charlie Hinderliter – Coalition Director, Safer + Simpler St. Louis County

New research reinforces a startling truth: St. Louis County’s 89 local governments have inconsistent building codes that cause confusion and higher costs, discouraging investment and growth.

The new study shows no other metro area nationwide manages building codes like the scores of fragmented local jurisdictions in St. Louis County, or with the same negative combined effects.

This is why a dozen partner organizations launched Safer + Simpler St. Louis County, a coalition committed to our region’s safety and economic growth.

Our partners believe residents and businesses need and deserve equity and consistency in building codes intended to protect our health and safety. That is why we are leading local good-faith conversations about potential solutions.

The newest study by coalition partner St. Louis REALTORS® finds the confusing, costly, fractured web of building codes adversely sets our region apart from the best practices used by our competitors.

The study compares the chaotic maze of local building codes across St. Louis County with peer competitor cities, including Nashville, Oklahoma City, Louisville, Indianapolis, and Cincinnati. The research shows those metro areas have consistent building codes because their minimum codes are set by their respective states, they don’t have as many small jurisdictions, or their cities don’t have total responsibility for setting codes.

Missouri doesn’t have a statewide minimum building code. Neither does neighboring Illinois (or five other states). But when compared with our competitor Chicago and surrounding Cook County, Illinois, the only jurisdiction somewhat similar in having a multiplicity of cities with their own codes, St. Louis County compares unfavorably because of its sheer number of small municipalities. For example, the smallest municipality in Cook County is 25 times larger than the tiniest in St. Louis County.

The research follows up on last fall’s St. Louis REALTORS® study, which found at least 42 building codebooks are used across the 89 local jurisdictions in St. Louis County. Together, these codes had a whopping 809 chapters totaling about 17,000 pages. For comparison, that’s nearly double the IRS Code’s 9,000 pages.

Safer + Simpler St. Louis County will build on the research identifying flaws in our system by its founding partner St. Louis REALTORS® as the coalition seeks to identify solutions to those challenges.

Safer + Simpler St. Louis County seeks to simplify building codes, inspections, and permitting to remove barriers to doing business, facilitate economic development, and improve residents’ health and safety. We hope to improve economic development opportunities by modernizing the process of building and investing in St. Louis County.

The studies are available to review online, at www.stlrealtors.com/codes, where you may also share stories about inconsistent building codes, inspections, and permitting across St. Louis County.

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