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Do Permits and Approvals Give You The Chills? Hire a Project Manager and Breathe Easy! 

Most developments need several approvals and permits before work can start, Getting them takes lots of precious time. If you’re planning a construction project, you may fret about the tsunami of paperwork and requirements headed your way.

In this post, we will discuss the basics of permitting and why you should hire a project manager to streamline this process.

What is the difference between permits and planning approvals?

They’re both needed for a construction project to proceed but have vastly different aims. Permitting concerns building safety and compliance with codes, while the approval process assesses a building’s impact on the community and the jurisdiction’s master plan.

Simply put, a permit is an authorization to build, contingent on compliance with local building codes. Building officials use the project’s drawings and specs to assess its code compliance.

Approvals, on the other hand, are issued to projects that meet zoning and land use standards. Depending on its type and location, a project may need the green light from various local agencies, such as historical preservation and coastal committees, public works, transit, health, and fire authorities.

Does my project need planning approvals?

Your project will most likely need approvals. Establishing which ones are required is often the first step to getting the project authorized.

Most small, residential projects only have local zoning ordinances to satisfy. These cover the building’s land use, size, and appearance, and include the following: 

  • Building setbacks – the distance between the building’s exterior and the property line
  • Height – most jurisdictions specify the maximum building height for various zones.
  • Appearance – many locales demand that your building and its landscaping design conforms to the neighborhood’s character and city standards.
  • Land use – the building you intend to construct must be of the same land use prescribed for its zone or qualify for a variance.
  • Parking – many jurisdictions require a set number of parking spaces for your development

Larger, residential, commercial, and industrial developments may need to conform with other codes that regulate the project’s community impact. For instance:

  • Historical preservation – are you altering a heritage building? The commission will check your plans to ensure that your design intent aligns with their vision.
  • Coastal commission – if your project is slated for a coastal zone, the State’s Coastal Commission will need to review your project before issuing a Coastal Development Permit. With a few exceptions, all construction activities within coastal zones need these permits.

And there are plenty of other approvals you may require before your project can proceed.

How do I get approvals for my project?

On a minor residential project, your architect or contractor should be able to navigate through the approvals process. Larger, more complex developments would benefit from a project management company’s expertise in preparing the submittals and applying on their behalf.

While the process varies between jurisdictions, it typically starts with a pre-application consultation at the local planning department. The staff assess your project and identify all the committees it must face before all the required approvals and permits can be issued.

After this preliminary meeting, you will have the chance to prepare and present your submittal. Once submitted, your application may circulate through some of the committees we’ve discussed and appear before a public meeting. The project may also need an environmental review.

If some of the reviewers are dissatisfied with your submittal, you’ll get feedback and have to resubmit your application. The cycle will go on until your project meets all the relevant requirements.

Does my project need permits?

With approvals in your hands, you’ll feel you’ve won an uphill battle. But you’re only halfway there. Your project must still convince the building officials that it’s safe, and you may need to get a range of permits before shovels can hit the dirt.

Depending on the occupancy, building type, size, and location, you may require a permit for any of the activities below:

  • Building – includes demolition, addition, new construction, and alteration
  • Electrical work
  • Elevators
  • Fire sprinklers – any modification or installation of a new sprinkler system
  • Grading – removal, re-compaction, backfill
  • Mechanical work
  • Plumbing
  • Green Building – most new construction, addition, and alteration projects are subject to review for compliance with the California Green Building Standards Code (CALGreen)

The building department should tell you which of these permits you will need.

How do I get permits for my project?

When you find out which permits are mandatory for your development, your construction project manager will compile the plan check submittal package. Typically, it would comprise:

  • site plan
  • grading plan
  • floor plan
  • building elevations
  • Mechanical, Electrical, and Plumbing plans
  • Title 24 compliance forms
  • plans for any other permitted activity
  • all requisite approvals you’ve already obtained

Once submitted, your package goes through plan reviews. You can expect several cycles of feedback, revision, and re-submittal before all your permits are issued.

Who can help me get approvals and permits for my project?

Permitting is a tangled process. You can request some help from your planning and building officials, who will tell you which approvals and permits your project needs, and which documents you must submit.

But with several revision cycles and no professional assistance, you’ll be quickly overwhelmed. To take the burden off your shoulders and make the process smoother, it’s always best to hire a manager to coordinate your permitting and inspections.

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