By Lisa Carolin
It’s been 20 years since the Chelsea Area Construction Agency (CACA) was formed, and that fact has not gone unnoticed by anyone who has sought any sort of building permit in the northwestern part of Washtenaw County.
On June 1, 2020 CACA began serving the City of Chelsea as well as Lima, Sylvan, Lyndon, and Dexter townships.
The purpose of the local construction authority is to ensure safety standards of building, electrical, mechanical, and plumbing systems for both residential and commercial buildings.
CACA administers and enforces the building codes, which include new building construction, additions, renovations, and alterations of existing buildings, as well as demolitions.
Jim Drolett has been on CACA board since its inception as the City of Chelsea representative. He says that the idea for the agency began in the late 1990s with Earl Heller, who talked about the northwest section of Washtenaw County forming its own building department with electricians and contractors who were experiencing long delays on receiving inspections through the county.
At that time, the county building inspection department was located in Pittsfield Township.
Also on that original board were:
Terry Wesner representing Lima Township, George Coash from Lyndon Township, Heller of Sylvan Township and Bill Eisenbeiser from Dexter Township.
“Earl engaged Jerry Dresselhouse, the Sylvan Township supervisor, and the Village of Chelsea in the conversation, and the wheels started to turn,” said Drolett.
Terry Wesner from Lima Township became very involved, eventually becoming the first board chairman.
“After a year or so of getting permission from the state, the process began of writing an interlocal agreement and getting it adopted between the Village of Chelsea and the townships of Lima, Lyndon, Dexter and Sylvan,” Drolett said.
Each municipality appointed a representative and new by-laws and personnel policies were written and adopted. The first task was to hire a new building official. Bruce Connell, who had been with Washtenaw County for years, was hired as the agency’s building official, and he still serves in that capacity today.
The agency’s first headquarters was located in the basement of Sylvan Township Hall.
All the participating municipalities loaned the agency $7,000 apiece to purchase the necessary equipment and forms to start up. The furniture was donated to the agency by the Washtenaw County Property Control Department that was getting new furniture for its offices.
During the last 20 years, the agency has issued more than 40,000 permits and performed more than 108,000 inspections, Connell said.
The first residential permit was issued to Eisenbeiser for the construction of a single-story home, Connell said, and the first commercial permit was issued to Donna Lane for the construction of Lane Animal Hospital at the corner of Sibley Road and M-52.
As the agency got busier, and the board approved purchasing a much-needed larger space, the property at 12172 Jackson Road, where the current office building still stands.
“Lima Township, Western Washtenaw Value Express (WAVE) and Rural Reach all currently lease space for their offices from CACA in the building,” Connell said, adding, “In addition to the building department, the soil erosion and sediment control (SESC) department operates out of the office.”
The agency permits building, mechanical, electrical, plumbing and soil erosion for the five municipalities it serves.
The permits issued range from decks, additions, new homes, condominiums, apartments, Jiffy silos and even include construction/renovations at the Chelsea Hospital, Connell said.
There are two full-time employees, Connell as the building official and Devin Morgan as the office manager. All of the inspectors have been in the trades for years and work on a per-inspection basis.
Drolett says there’s been a real uptick in residential building in the townships in CACA’s service area, as well as commercial development in the City of Chelsea.
“The success of CACA has been because of the ability to deliver rapid and professional inspection services to our residents and contractors,” said Drolett. “We pride ourselves on not being punitive but instead being instructional in helping our customers build safe and code compliant structures.”