Now that the village of Riverside has streamlined its development review process, officials are now in the process of overhauling the building department with an eye on improving economic development efforts and cracking down on code enforcement.

Village Manager Peter Scalera confirmed last week that Bob Caraher, the village’s building commissioner since 2005, will be leaving this spring to make way for a new community development director.

The new director, according to Scalera, will be village hall’s primary contact for the new Planning and Zoning Commission and will play a more active role in the Economic Development Commission as well.

The new director likely will have a background in community planning.

“We’re hoping to hire someone who has economic development experience,” said Scalera. “We’re looking for someone coming from a planning background, who is looking to become a director in a planning department and who can bring new ideas or different ways of looking at issues we’re dealing with and provide a different perspective.”

Caraher, 60, is not being considered for the new position. In an interview with the Landmark last week, Caraher confirmed he would stay on until sometime in May or June to help the department transition.

“I’ll be actively seeking employment elsewhere along the lines of what we’ve done here,” said Caraher. “They’re going in one direction, and I’ve chosen to go in another.”

 Prior to joining the Riverside Building Department, Caraher worked in the River Forest Building Department where he was hired in 1999 after a 25-year career as an independent building contractor in the Oak Park and River Forest area.

“I’m more of a building guy,” said Caraher.

While acknowledging that the village and Caraher were parting ways, Scalera praised Caraher’s work during his nine years with the village.

“I’m very thankful I had the opportunity to work with Bob. I learned a lot from him,” Scalera said. “He did a great job with the limited resources he’s had. But Riverside is at a point where change is needed to move us forward.”

Village President Ben Sells said the village board, and Trustee Doug Pollock in particular, pushed for the building department reorganization. Pollock is a municipal planner for the village of Burr Ridge. The village board first changed the commission structure, combining the Riverside Plan Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals. 

At the same time, the village board voted to cut the Riverside Preservation Commission and Landscape Advisory Commission out of the development review process in order to streamline it.

“We’ve done everything we can on the commission side,” said Sells. “What was missing was the same effort on the staff side.”

The new community development director will be the go-to person for anyone seeking to open a business in the village or who already has a business in Riverside. The goal is to make the village more “customer friendly” when it comes to welcoming new development and business.

“It’s more important to have a welcoming and efficient structure, so if you want to do something, it’s easier and more effective for them,” said Sells. “We haven’t been able to provide the customer service aspect.”

Hiring building inspector

In addition to finding a new community development director, Riverside will also hire a part-time building inspector who will be able to aggressively police building code violations and inspect work sites.

The village has no staff building inspector apart from Caraher at this time and hasn’t since 2006. As a result, the village’s approach to building code enforcement is largely reactive. Last fall, the village’s contract property maintenance inspector did a sweep of the village for compliance issues, but it was an isolated campaign.

“The other part of this [change] is enforcing our laws,” Sells said. “We have the right things on the books, but if we’re not enforcing them, they’re worthless.”

He plan is to have the building inspector work 24 hours per week, allowing Riverside the ability to respond immediately to property maintenance complaints and deal with any builders who have questions.

“Property maintenance is an area we’re going to be a lot more active in,” Scalera said. “The inspector will be out looking for stuff. It’s going to be more proactive than reactive.”

With building activity increasing in the past couple of years, it has become harder for the department’s director to concentrate on property maintenance and community development. In 2013, the building department issued 718 building permits (up from 614 in 2012) and completed more than 1,300 general and resale inspections.

“Since 2009, the numbers have been inching up,” said Scalera. “Although it’s not drastic, when you group in new construction and the people who are renovating their homes, we do anticipate that the building inspector will be busy.”

Scalera will be accepting applications for the community development director until March 14. The goal is to have someone on board by May 1, he said.

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