Over the past 18 years, Paul Andreassen has served as building inspector in a number of Ulster County municipalities. On May 16 he began his latest gig as the new building inspector at Town of Ulster, after resigning from his position as chief building inspector at Woodstock.
Andreassen has his work cut out for him. Ulster, with a population of approximately 12,000 people, twice the size of Woodstock’s. Ulster, the county’s commercial hub, has for several years lacked a full-time building inspector. Ulster town supervisor James Quigley said that his predecessor, Nick Woerner, chose to assume responsibility for the job himself after the last full-time inspector, Paul Economos, left in October 2008.
Quigley, who began his tenure in January 2010, said he held off hiring a full-time inspector because he needed time to assess the situation and understand the issues. In the meantime, he put assessor James Maloney in charge of the building department, which included three part-time building inspectors. Maloney “did a great job and helped identify a lot of the issues,” Quigley said. Now Andreassen has 90 days to identify what he sees as the key issues and develop a plan for corrective action.
The problems uncovered by Maloney revealed a lax culture at the building department. Permitting procedures weren’t always followed, said Quigley. For example, one project had been given a building permit without prior review by the planning board, as required. “We shut the job down and made the owner go through the proper approval processes,” said Quigley. “We wanted to made sure the job was done right.” Because the facility was three weeks away from opening, he conceded, “We expedited the process.”
In another case, a building permit had been issued for interior renovation, although the work also involved exterior changes, as revealed by the presence of a backhoe on the property. Quigley said that Maloney also discovered the town had undercharged certain developers for building permits and subsequently recovered approximately $10,000.
Especially considering the large-scale commercial properties in the town, including the Hudson Valley Mall, numerous big-box stores, and TechCity, which is poised to attract new tenants, it was essential the new building inspector have extensive experience and proven administrative skills, Quigley said. Andreassen fit the bill perfectly and “has the full support of the town board to make the necessary changes.”
Andreassen’s involvement in the controversial Woodstock Commons project, developed by the Rural Ulster Preservation Company, was good preparation. “He is no stranger to complexity,” Quigley said.
Andreassen was first employed as a building inspector in New Paltz, followed by a ten-year stint in Saugerties. After a stretch working for the New York State Department of State codes division as a trainer and a brief tenure as the Ulster County ARC director of plant operations, he was hired as chief building inspector at Woodstock in 2009. He remains on the Woodstock payroll on an as-needed basis until his former position gets filled.
Into his eighth week on the Ulster job, Andreassen said he’s still “feeling my way around.” He acknowledged that Woodstock, which is 51 percent second-home owners, had “a different vision and climate” than Ulster, with its preponderance of commercial properties.
Andreassen said it was too soon for him to make any blanket statement that there were egregious errors. “So far it’s not sloppier or neater than any other municipal government-run operations,” he said. “You’re dealing with a lot of people and paperwork, and sometimes things just fall through the cracks. I’d be the last one to point a finger at anyone at this point.”
Currently he’s in the process of looking at fee schedules. “I’d like to amend them, to make them user-friendly and more narrative as to what type of project needs a permit and how we calculate the fees,” he said.
He is also reviewing the capacity of his staff. His staff consists of two part-time fire inspectors, a full-time zoning enforcement officer and two clerks, one for the ZBA and the other the secretary to the planning board.
Andreassen admitted that it isn’t always easy being the town building inspector. In carrying out his or her responsibility for ensuring buildings are safe and conforming to town codes, the building inspector is often perceived as obstructionist. Other complications may arise as well. For example, in Woodstock he caused controversy after accusing the head of the town planning board, Paul Shultis Jr., of conflict of interest in a letter to the county district attorney.
Andreassen claimed that Shultis was employed by developer Michael Bacodari while the planning board was considering Bacodari’s application for a subdivision. He also accused Shultis of discussing future employment with the Rural Ulster Preservation Company during the review of RUPCO’s proposed Woodstock Commons project.
Woodstock’s ethics board ruled that Shultis had violated two provisions of municipal law relating to conflict of interest. Though the ethics board recommended that Shultis be suspended from his position at the planning board for three months, the town did not enforce the suspension.
“The best thing to do is try to keep your integrity,” Andreassen said. “If we make mistakes we make mistakes. If we deliberately make mistakes we put ourselves in a position to compromise, which is not a good place to be.” A lot of variables can affect a project, from human personalities to the weather, so some flexibility is required. “By the same token, you should be firm but fair with everybody across the board.”
While Andreassen said the economy had caused a slowdown in new development, Ulster seemed “pretty vibrant,” he said. “People are being more frugal and getting more estimates. But I think it looks positive. It’s active, and there’s not a lot of empty spaces.” Currently he’s involved with the 8,000-square-foot Romeo Chevrolet facility on Route 9W. “It’s gotten through the planning board and they’re starting to lay the foundation,” he said.
So far, he joked, the biggest challenge has been finding the roads. “There’s quite a few,” noted Andreassen, who resides in Malden-on-Hudson and is being paid a salary of $55,000. “Like any new job, I’m finding my way around the office and getting to know the other employees. I’m happy to be here.”