Dealing with Permits and Municipal Approvals

This phase of a construction project is often the most misunderstood, and frustrating for the Owner who wants to quote Nike, and “Just do it”.

When one wants to remodel, build an addition or build new, it will require approvals (i.e. a building permit) from the local municipality. This process includes submission of applications, fees, drawings and related documentation to explain the project to an agency within the municipality. Often the application requires further review by various committees and boards who review and opine on topics varying from appearance to environmental to zoning.

These municipal agencies, such as a building department or engineering department, are typically composed of qualified employees that may have experience and education in their field of review.  Often, there is a mixture of agencies, boards and committees that will generally review the project together.

Often these boards and agencies points of view differ and can cause delays even within the same department.  Additionally, submission requirements, codes and regulations are constantly changing -which can also wreak havoc for municipal agencies and design professionals alike.

From experience, I suggest to get as much information related to submission requirements and carefully package your submission while observing submission deadlines to avoid later disappointments. Make sure to make copies for your records…’nuf said.

The Boards or committees might include professionals, volunteers or a combination of both.  The committees may also include county-based, state based or regional reviews depending on the scope of the project.  These boards address additional aspects of compliance such as environmental conservation, zoning regulations, appearance, traffic impact, neighborhood or town planning, etc. . The Boards usually work in concert to advise the Municipal agencies of their findings. In addition to this, many areas have local Landowners or Neighborhood Associations that may require their blessing before submitting a project to the Municipality.

Since the municipal agencies staffing is based on revenue derived from tax collections, which is presently short due to the recession and related lay-offs, most building departments are presently running short-staffed despite having fewer projects to review.

So what length of time should one expect at this time for these reviews and related approvals?

For most smaller projects that our office has done over the past 16 years.: It generally takes between 2 – 6 weeks for your project to be reviewed and sent to one board for review. If all goes smoothly and there are not objections or revisions needed, we advise our clients that an additional 2-4 weeks usually are needed to obtain a building permit and allow construction to start.

For larger projects,  projects that are built in environmentally sensitive areas, or projects that may face neighbor opposition a period of 3-6 months is very common for obtaining necessary approvals.  Larger projects like subdivisions or office building often take between 6-12 months.

Projects built without permits are easily discovered by the building department officials.  The tell-tale signs of dumpsters, calls from nosy neighbors, contractors with an axe to grind, and property transfers each signal the building department that work may have commenced without proper approvals.  At this juncture a stop-work order or other form of violation may be issued.

These penalties create delays, involve punitive fines, possible tax increases and will involve far more effort resolving than having obtained the approvals in the proper manner.

Give us a call to review your specific situation 914 674 2950!