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Time is Money: The real value in clearly defined permit strategies

Updated: Feb 6, 2023

One of the items from our blog post on “How to control costs on your next construction project"

was defining permit strategies. Lately, we have received calls from owners who have engaged with architects unfamiliar with the permitting process with disastrous results. The typical four-to-eight week building permit window (managed under inexperienced hands) now lasts five, six, even seven months to get approved. Often, the delays are due to minor mistakes like using the wrong project address or not clearly showing the scope of a renovation fit out within a larger building.

To help clients avoid these headaches, and others, here are a few things to keep in mind. We encourage you to ensure that the architect you hire has local experience in the city you are building. For our purposes below, we will provide tips pertaining to our headquarters city of Austin.

The City of Austin offers a QT (2-day) review process for small projects. However, you will not be allowed to submit a revision if anything changes. So, if there is a potential for changes down the road, its best opting for the 7-day review. The city also offers an expedited building permit review process. It is more expensive, but the permit deadline is predictable and offers a chance to discuss the project with reviewers during the online review meeting.

Avoid unnecessary site exemption delays. If a renovation project is changing land use, a common mistake is to overlook site exemption application or parking revisions. An approved site exemption is a prerequisite for building permit approval and if not completed, you can expect delays. We suggest submitting a simple site exemption for land use or parking revisions before a building permit application, which allows you to address any comments early.

Know your jurisdiction! Some jurisdictions require a simple online application and drawing upload with a 2-to-3 week turnaround for the first round of comments. Others require multiple applications, special inspection forms, dumpster permit applications, etc. For example, when working in the City of Austin, we always have an experienced permit expediter on our team to focus on making this submittal process as smoothly as possible. Mercury Permits is a team we know, like, and trust.

Other jurisdictions require separate submittals, like to the fire department and/or the water utility. It's important to discover if the primary jurisdiction shares plans with other reviewers or if your team is required to own this communication. A misstep here can cause month-long delays. Make sure your architect partner understands your jurisdiction.

David Steele, President at Mercury Permits, says, “Having a design team that understands the basic requirements that any jurisdiction expects to see for life safety, code analysis, and design elements is an important component in reducing the overall time the permit process takes. The partnership between design team and permitting consultant becomes critically important in a city like Austin, where processes and requirements change frequently meaning communication, flexibility, and creating thinking within the team needs to be top notch.

We are happy to help walk you through the process or discuss ways you can improve your project delivery.


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