Avoid the Pitfalls of Permitting

Avoid the Pitfalls of Permitting

How to navigate the process of permitting when adding foodservice to multi-site facilities.

From redesigning the floor plan and layout of the store to coordinating electrical, plumbing and construction, facility managers (FMs) adding foodservice to their multi-site facilities have a seemingly endless number of tasks — many of which require permits. And while these permits may seem like an annoying formality on a long list of to-dos, they’re actually a vital part of a safe and successful expansion into foodservice. Ignoring them could mean safety hazards, exorbitant fines, delayed construction dates or, worse, complete project shutdown.

So what steps should FMs take during the planning stages of a project to ensure they have the right permits in place and avoid these issues? Permitting expert Vaun Podlogar, President, State Permits Inc., a company that manages building permits across the United States and Canada, gave us his advice.

Assessing Your Permit Needs

Before the project even breaks ground, FMs should ask for advice from peers who have similar experience locally or consult a permit management firm. Consulting your building’s architect and any engineers involved with the property is necessary as well.

For FMs who are adding foodservice to their facility, Podlogar relayed a checklist of specific permit categories to plan for:

  • electrical
  • mechanical
  • plumbing
  • sprinkler
  • building
  • fire
  • planning/zoning
  • any health department-related regulations

Keep in mind, each type of permit requires proper research. The municipality and county a business is located in may have vastly different requirements, creating some confusion about overlapping obligations. Podlogar said that necessary due diligence can make the application process easier. “Take, for example, four different businesses at each corner of a four-way cross street,” he said. “Each one of those four corners may have different zoning requirements, even if they’re part of the same jurisdiction, so each business may require unique permits.”

It’s also important to recognize that local/state laws change all the time, so the permits needed for a past project may not be the same for the next one.

Applying for Permits: Who To Use?

When the time comes to apply for permits, FMs must determine who is up for the task. Podlogar presented the options, with issues to consider for each:

  • The architect. If the architect applies for permits, just ensure he or she is familiar with your locale. “Some architects who build properties on a national scale may not know the specific permit requirements for your jurisdiction,” Podlogar said.
  • Your general contractor. While contractors may not know all the details of each specific permit, they can consult with the suppliers associated with the project. (Podlogar warns against having each individual supplier apply for their permits, as they may not have the necessary bigger-picture knowledge.)
  • The owner/operator. Before going this route, ensure the owner is well-versed in the details of the project to avoid any missteps. “Confusion at the top can lead to even more headaches,” said Podlogar.
  • A permit management company. Podlogar emphasized how management companies can be a productive solution. “They usually have significantly more experience with permit application in bulk, which would save an FM time and money, while reducing stress,” he said.

Podlogar explained how his company handles all of the red tape involved in municipal requirements through Planning and Zoning, the Health Department and the Building Department.

Avoiding Dire Consequences

The process of securing the right permits does more than just ensure you’re up to code — it also helps you avoid serious repercussions due to violations, including hefty fines or delays.

“The biggest consequence would be that they shut your store down until you agree to comply,” Podlogar said. “Local officials can also fine your business. If you don’t correct the violation, these fines can double, triple or even quadruple over time.”

Because statutes are always evolving, and projects always have unexpected obstacles, violations can happen any time, during even the most well-organized projects — that’s where it pays to have the help of a professional.

“Existing violations may creep up as you’re planning the project,” Podlogar said. “So, this is where the help of a permit managing company, or other field experts, would be extremely beneficial. We ask an extensive list of questions to dig deep and uncover important information about the project to avoid violations and resolve the ones that do come up.”

The project itself may be tiring and stressful, but FMs must remember to stay on top of permitting issues for their new foodservice addition. Seek out experts or peers in your area who have experience managing the process. Not being up-to-code means valuable time lost and financial losses for your company, even before the eatery is up and running.

 Stepping Stones

Vaun Podlogar, President, State Permits, Inc., identified the immediate permitting steps an FM should take when adding a kitchen or restaurant

to an existing store:

  • Identify AHJs — Authorities having jurisdiction are usually government entities, including the municipality, county or state. Identifying the proper departments to contact beforehand makes planning significantly easier.
  • Determine Zoning — Things like size, bulk and placement of different components of your new foodservice addition must be accounted for. Call your local zoning department and double check to ensure your addition is up to the standards required by local governments.
  • Contact the Building Department — Make sure you know all the individual permits required for inside your building, including electrical, water/sewer, mechanical, etc.
  • Health Department Requirements— Depending upon where your building is located, different health-related requirements may be necessary. For example, commercial kitchens have a feature called a grease interceptor. This device helps to catch grease and solids before they enter the sewer system. Some jurisdictions require these to be in-line, or in the water, while other municipalities don’t have such regulations.
  • Submit a Menu — Many jurisdictions have consumer advisory requirements. These could require stating the correct nutritional value of the food you’ll be serving or providing proper warnings to diners who will be ordering meat prepared a certain way. Informing local authorities beforehand about what you plan to serve can save time and money down the line with compliance.
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Published: July 01, 2019