Permits – Dealing with the City

Ok, if you’ve done everything so far – you have found a good building, and you have potential financing set up. Before you pull the trigger and buy this building, you have to make sure the city will allow you to run your business there. If you go to the city hall, there is an office that deals with getting a CO (certificate of occupancy). What you need to do is go talk to them before you spend much money, and see if they will approve an indoor facility at that location. There are many aspects that they will look at.

One of the first things is zoning. There are rules on what kind of business can be run in different locations. Let’s be honest, you would not want someone opening a slaughter house, or a huge industrial manufacturing plant right next to your house. The city will have a Zoning map – showing what area’s are zoned for different usages. The book on zoning requirements gets updated about every 10 years, and when I went in to check on zoning – paintball was not listed. So they find the closest category – and that was “other amusements”. They listed examples of miniature golf, shooting ranges, etc, and figured my use would fall into that category. And then it shows that in my area, it was required to have the property zoned as “light industrial” to run “other amusements”.

If you are already zoned for that – or heavy industrial – you are probably fine. If not, if listed as “retail”, you may have to do a little begging and pleading with the PNZ (planning and zoning commission) to allow you to run your business there. When it comes down to it, if you show that you are going to have a well run business, they will do whatever they can to help. They want the property tax, income tax, etc. They want people to shop at the store down the street, go to the local movie theater, buy gas at the local gas station. Anything that can bring revenue to an area is good for a city, and it is your job to convince them that your business will be good for the local economy.

Now after you get the zoning approved – you will probably have a city planning meeting you can attend. You bring your proposal, and the heads of the different departments are sitting in the room and you lay out your tentative plans to them – and they can give a lot of input, and advise. This is not mandatory – but highly worthwhile.

For example, in my situation, we were doing over $50,000 of remodeling to the existing building. A rule kicks in that if over $50,000 in remodeling is done – the same rules as new construction must be enforced. In my situation, the city has a law that any building over 5000 square feet must have a sprinkler system installed. My building did not. The cost of installing one in a building my size would have run well over $100,000.00. Kind of a deal breaker. But at the meeting, the Fire Chief is in attendance. While the general planner tells me this rule, the Fire Chief has the ability to over ride it and make special exceptions. He specified, that if I brought in MSDS (material safety data sheets) on all the netting, turf, bunkers, etc that we would be using, and it shows that it is flame retardant material, he would waive the requirement for sprinklers if we installed a fire alarm system to his specifications. So many pull handles, strobes, sirens, smoke detectors, etc. That system cost me $5,000 instead of over $100,000.

Another stumbling block I ran into was with parking. Cities have parking requirements set up that vary with the use of the building. For example, if warehouse, you needed one parking spot per 1,000 square feet of space. But if they categorize it “other use” it can get to 3-4 parking spots per 1,000 square feet. For my building, they calculated I needed 90 parking spots – but our parking lot was only set up for 65 parking spots. Now to build those other parking spots – I’d have to lay more black top down on areas that were just grass now. Not only would that cost more money – but before doing it, I would have to get a “site engineering plan” which would explain when it rained, and the water hit the blacktop – where would it drain to – what would be the incline, flow rates, etc. This study would run about an extra $15,000 for an engineering firm to tell them the water would go to the drain – for the lousy extra 25 spots.

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