Part 2: Getting Your Permit Processed
By: Bob Brown, Principal
So you have your planning application and fees submitted and have overcome the roadblocks put in your way. Now what? The normal reaction is to wait…get back to working on your business plan or product expansion, pick out the carpet colors, celebrate, etc.
The following is what you should know about how your application will be processed and a couple steps to take next.
- And So It Begins… What happens to the information submitted? A file will be set up (Applicant’s name or APN Number), and the referral process begins. Your information will be sent off to other city/county departments including public works, engineering, health dept. and may also be sent off to state agencies or neighboring jurisdictions. The planning department is looking for any comments, concerns, costs or requirements that these departments might have. Typically it is wise of you to follow up a week after you submit your application to see if or when the referrals get sent. A week after the referrals are sent out you should be calling up the referral department to find out if they have any questions about your project and to ask about any concerns or requirements they might have. Ask if they will be getting their written comments in on time and if they would email a copy to you.
- Chase. A few days after the deadline for submitting referral comments you should contact the staff planner assigned to your project and see if they received all the referral comments. Contact those who have not returned their comments to see if they will be submitting soon. Figure out the most effective way to communicate with them; phone call, email or in person. Each person is different.
- They Want More? Based on the comments received the planner may request additional studies (e.g. traffic, wetland delineation) or tell you that you need to hire someone to do an environmental study (CEQA document). There are specialists, such as Streamline Planning, that do this type of work. You often do not need to hire an engineer firm at higher rates to do this type of work.
- A Determined Look. The Staff Planner’s next step is to determine if your application is complete. Technically the State Permit Streamlining Act requires that they notify you within 30 days of your application submittal whether they have a complete application. This is another step to push to get a response. If they request additional information of you they are saying that your application is incomplete and it stops the deadlines in the Permit Streamlining Act until you respond and submit that information. In reality the Permit Streamlining Act deadlines are rarely met or enforced; there are plenty of loopholes to the specified time limits.
- Don’t Take No for an Answer. There may come a time in the process when you get worn down. It looks like nothing is going right. Expenses are increasing. Your staff planner just dumped a big restriction on you that seems insurmountable. They look at you with a ‘Sure you want to go through with this?” look. What you hear all around is ‘No’. But don’t give in. Fight the urge to give up. Your second wind is just around the corner. Find out what the problem is and there is often a solution around it. The creative juices begin to flow and you find yourself addressing the concerns and digging out of the hole. ‘You can do it, yes you can’. This is a pivotal point in the process. You’ve heard of ‘last person standing’; this is the time to take your stand and wear the other side down.
- Many Ways to Cook a Potato. After you have submitted an application the Planner’s role is to process your application to completion. During this project they may receive additional comments from agencies, find other restrictions in the zoning code but basically they will be looking for ways to approve your project and may find it necessary to add conditions to your project to make it conform to the zoning ordinance, to the community and to state and local environmental regulations. Some of these (e.g. noise or creek setbacks) are standard; some are the planners preferred way of addressing the concern. At this point it is important for you or your consultant to represent you to come up with innovative solutions that adequately address both the agency’s concerns and your project needs. There is often more than one way to solve a problem; you shouldn’t be stuck with the most expensive solution.
- Friends in High Places. When is it appropriate to contact a friend who may also be a Planning Director, Planning Commissioner or City Manager, Supervisor or Councilperson? First beware that such contacts may need to be disclosed during a decision making process and may even disqualify a decision maker who was contacted from voting on your project. Second if dissatisfied with a staff person’s response I suggest working up the ranks. If you can’t get answers from the planner, go to their supervisor and work upward. There is a difference between requesting a satisfactory answer to your questions and trying to influence the decisions.
Okay you have made it this far. What can you expect to happen next? Maybe it has been a while since you have heard from the Planning Department. You got busy managing your business, expecting your application to be almost approved. You call up and find that it is sitting on a desk collecting dust. What now?
Streamline Planning Consultants is a local permitting / business advocacy firm and has obtained permits for many local business expansions and relocations. They offer free consultations if you are considering a business move.