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New center will speed rebuilding for fire victims

A new one-stop shop will help streamline the permit process for those rebuilding in unincorporated areas of Jackson County after the Almeda and South Obenchain fires.

In preparation for a flood of new building permit applications from wildfire victims, a new Wildfire Resiliency Permit Center will open Monday with plans to fast track planning and building permits, according to a press release from Jackson County Development Services.

County Administrator Danny Jordan, speaking at the “Our Path Forward” webinar hosted by State Rep. Pam Marsh of Ashland, said the new permit center will offer expedited plan reviews and permitting from the county’s planning and building divisions.

“It will be a one-stop shop for expedited planning and building permits,” Jordan said at the online public meeting held via Zoom.

County staff hope to cut the time for “simple” residential permits to between five and seven days, according to Jackson County Development Services Director Ted Zuk. Under state law, residential plans must be answered within 10 business days.

“It’s definitely expedited,” Zuk said.

Zuk said that most residential structures get legally classified as “complex” these days, but in all rebuild situations the new center will facilitate an “aggressively expedited review process.”

County staff, helped by planning and permit experts with the third-party 4-Leaf, would also expedite the process for commercial building permits. The center and the extra staff will be funded through the state’s Municipal Wildfire Assistance Program.

The Almeda fire destroyed or extensively damaged 1,132 residences in unincorporated areas of Jackson County, according to Jordan, including 131 single-family dwellings, 48 multi-family dwellings, 49 manufactured homes on single lots and 904 manufactured homes in parks.

Another 49 residences were lost in the South Obenchain fire, of which 41% are currently being rebuilt, according to Jordan. One permit was issued for a manufactured home, 19 were issued for single-family residences, and the county has issued five certificates of occupancy for the wildfire that struck portions of Shady Cove, Butte Falls and Eagle Point.

The center will also serve as a resource center for Jackson County victims impacted by the 2020 Labor Day fires, such as grant-funded programs to be administered by the county to cover residents’ extra-cost “fire hardening.”

“It will be for all burn areas — city jurisdictions included,” Jordan said.

Jordan said other grant programs are possible from the Oregon Department of Energy, Energy Trust of Oregon or for rental assistance, but those programs aren’t finalized and may or may not be administered through the county.

“Our goal is whether it is administered there or not, we will help point people to various resources and help in the process,” Jordan posted in the Zoom meeting.

Zuk said that fire survivors are dealing with a lot of agencies, and the county wants to reduce the amount of searching.

“We would like to see this as more of a resource center than a permit center when we’re fully operational,” Zuk said.

Other ways the county is looking to speed the building process and keep rebuilding costs down include new remote inspection tools to “keep contractors moving more effectively,” according to Jordan, and authorization for those impacted by the fires to use the 2008 building code, “which is a potential savings on things like energy-efficiency requirements.”

The county is also working to develop a building plan library that will be free to access for those rebuilding.

Beginning Sept. 20, the center will be open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday at 808 W. Main St., in Medford.

Reach web editor Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTCrimeBeat.