Permitting 101: How Permitting Works

In this blog post, we delve into the critical topic of commercial construction permitting in the US. Understanding the permitting process is essential for any developer, contractor, architect, or civil engineer looking to embark on a construction project. From navigating local regulations to ensuring compliance with building codes, this article aims to provide a comprehensive guide to demystify the permitting process and help streamline your construction projects.

What is a Construction Permit?

Before we get into the specifics, let's define what a construction permit is. In essence, a construction permit is an official document issued by a local government authority that grants permission to undertake a specific scope of construction work on a piece of land within that authority’s jurisdiction. This approval ensures that the proposed project complies with relevant building codes, zoning laws, and other ordinances.


Types of Permits

The permitting process can vary depending on the type and scale of the construction project. Although there are several different permit types, for this overview we are going to focus on building permits and site permits.

Building Permit: This is the most common permit required for any construction project. It covers everything about vertical construction, everything built on the land, and all aspects of the construction (including structural, mechanical, electrical, fire safety, accessibility, energy use, and more), ensuring it meets safety standards and adheres to the local building codes. Building permits regulate the construction from the ground up. Typically, jurisdictions have separate permit processes for residential building permits and commercial building permits and each type of permit has its own submittal, compliance, and prerequisite requirements. Timelines for building permits vary depending on the scope, jurisdiction, and approvals.

Site Permit: Sometimes called a land use permit or site development permit, this is a permit that grants permission to develop or use a specific parcel of land for a particular purpose. The purpose of a site permit is to ensure that any proposed development on a piece of land meets the necessary standards for site layouts, utility infrastructure, emergency service access, parking requirements, traffic implications, public road connections, and rights of way. The site permit or plan is a collaboration between the property owner and the city to ensure the project meets local needs and integrates well with the surrounding environment. These can typically take between 6 months and a year or in some cases even 18+ months for approval.


The Permitting Process

While the permitting process and requirements may differ depending on the locality, the general steps are common across the country. Let's take a closer look at the typical commercial construction permitting process:

1. Pre-Application Research: Before beginning the application process, it's essential to research the specific requirements and regulations of the local jurisdiction where the construction will take place. Each city or county might have different zoning laws, building codes, and permit fees. It’s important to look up your specific site and understand any special overlay and/or restrictions that apply to that specific parcel.

2. Develop Detailed Plans: Once you have a clear understanding of the local requirements that apply to your project, you need to create comprehensive construction plans and specifications. These plans should include architectural drawings, engineering plans, and other relevant documentation.

3. Submitting the Application: After preparing the necessary documents, you'll submit the permit application to the appropriate government agency. It's crucial to ensure that all required information is complete and accurate to prevent delays.

4. Plan Review: The submitted plans will undergo a rigorous review process by various departments, such as building, zoning, and fire safety. The review is to ensure the project complies with all relevant regulations and safety standards.

5. Potential Revisions: During the review process, it's common for the permitting authority to request revisions or additional information via comments to address any concerns or discrepancies in the plans.

6. Permit Approval: Once the plans meet all the requirements, and any comments are addressed, the permit will be approved, and you'll receive an official permit document.

7. Commencement of Construction: With the approved permit in hand, you can now begin construction following the approved plans and adhering to the stipulated guidelines.


Challenges in the Permitting Process

While obtaining construction permits is essential, it can also be one of the most time-consuming and challenging aspects of any commercial construction project. Some common challenges include:

1. Complexity and Bureaucracy: The permitting process can be complex, involving multiple agencies and departments, each with its own set of rules and regulations. Navigating through bureaucracy can be frustrating and may lead to delays.

2. Varied Timelines: The time it takes to secure permits can vary widely from one locality to another. Some permits may be issued relatively quickly, while others can take several weeks or even months.

3. Code Compliance: Ensuring that your construction plans are compliant with all applicable building codes and regulations can be demanding, especially if there are frequent updates or changes to the codes.

4. Costly Delays: Permitting delays can have a significant impact on project timelines and budgets. It's crucial to plan for potential delays when scheduling construction activities.

5. Cross-Discipline Coordination: The permitting process requires input from multiple disciplines which are each represented by different companies and stakeholders. Coordinating between these groups, who have differing priorities and deadlines, becomes challenging. For a project manager leading the team through the permit process, the challenge is maintaining a constant stream of communication and clear expectations for the project team to avoid unexpected delays or constraints and keep the permitting timeline on track.


Challenging but Necessary

Navigating the permitting process in the US can be challenging, but it's a necessary step to ensure the safety and compliance of your project. Understanding the types of permits, the steps involved, and the potential challenges can better equip you to manage the process effectively.

Early engagement with local authorities, thorough documentation, and the assistance of experienced professionals are invaluable assets in streamlining the permitting process. By embracing these practices, you can move closer to the successful realization of your commercial construction project.

At Pulley, we're committed to helping project teams break ground faster.