Getting the Green Light

Jan. 12, 2021

Follow these tips to make the permitting and planning process a little easier when building or remodeling.

Brandon Burt didn’t realize how difficult the permit process was until he had to deal with it firsthand. As a co-owner of Burt Brothers Tire and Auto, he’s been involved with building the Burt Brothers brand across Utah for the past nine years, and he says each project has been a completely different learning experience, some more challenging than others.

When looking to expand into a new market, Burt says it's helpful to talk to other business owners or city officials in the area before you make the deal. This way, you’ll be able to wrap your head around how hard it will be to get your business up and running, or add on to a current location. 

Burt realized the importance of this after investing a little too much in an expansion before looking into it first. They thought it would be easy to simply remodel their showroom to make it just a little bit bigger, but Burt says the city wasn’t keen on the idea and made it harder to achieve their goal.

“What happened is we got emotionally invested and wanted to grow in this particular city, but we didn’t realize it would take over a year to do and would cost a lot more than expected,” Burt says. “It doubled our time to do the add-on than we would have wanted and it hurt our existing business during that time.”

Because of this, Burt says it’s important to keep these tips in mind to make the permit process as quick and smooth as possible.

Tip No. 1: Hire an architect.

Burt’s No. 1 piece of advice? Adding an architect as an extra set of eyes on your project. He says having one significantly helps in the beginning of the process, as most already know what the city requires from past projects they’ve worked on, and are the perfect liaison between you and the city. Burt Brothers has had the same architect for all of their buildings. Their architect has already worked within the areas they’re looking to expand in and knows the different guidelines of each.

For example, in one city, Burt Brothers is adding on a three-bay lube center, where they learned they needed to get the neighbors’ permission for the add-on. Their architect helped in the process, instructing them to send out mailers to the neighbors to complete this step of the process.

“Then they will send you down the path on what you need to do,” Burt says.

Tip No. 2: Go to the city first.

You may have a plan in your mind of what you want for your new development, but it all comes down to the city’s guidelines of where you’re building. Burt says if you work with your contractors and architects prior to going to the city to figure out their guidelines, it’s likely you’ll have to go back and re-evaluate your existing plans.

“We like to go to the city first and then start working with them so we can do what the city wants us to do,” Burt says. “It creates a more realistic timeline.”

Tip No. 3: Less is more.

When talking with the city, keep it simple. In constructing a new building, you do have to outline every single aspect to keep up with code. With an add-on to your current facility, the same rules don’t apply as much.

Burt realized on one project that they overstated to the city of all the detailed plans. In reality, they weren’t changing the original facility, but the city made Burt Brothers go through more inspections, more checkpoints, and made him retrofit—get your current building up to standard code—his existing building.

“You don’t want to go into the city and talk about all of the grand things you want to do,” Burt says. “They are going to make you jump through more hoops.”

For example, some stores have fire sprinkler systems in them, some do not, and if he wanted to add on to a store without them, the city will make him retrofit the whole building with fire sprinklers. It’s a huge additional cost to the business.

For another project where they added on, he decided to take a different approach, saying the business was adding on three additional bays due to demand and needed a bigger space to do more work. The difference between this project and the other for Burt was night and day. There were little to no headaches involved for a much smoother process.

Tip No. 4: Have a thought-out plan in mind.

Once you know what’s required of the city, have a thorough plan of what you want for your new development so you don’t have to make any changes and backtrack the process. Especially consider how long the process actually takes.

“In some cities, it’s only been a month or so before construction can already begin,” Burt says. “In others, it can take five to six months to get through multiple committees.”

In one particular city where it built a location, Burt Brothers had to go through six different departments, and each department could only take two weeks to forward the request. And if any changes arose, you had to go back to the city for approval, which could add an additional four weeks to the timeline.

Tip No. 5: Overplease.

Go out of your way to be helpful and attentive when working with the local jurisdiction. For Burt, that’s especially true when it comes to dealing with city workers.

“If you go in with a defensive attitude and want to fight them on everything, you’re going to make it extra hard for yourself,” Burt says.

Burt says it’s not worth trying to fight them on anything. They’re not going to budge, especially if you resort to anger and frustration. 

Instead, he suggests going in with a great attitude and making sure you’re not impeding the work of the city or county that has the final say in permitting.