Permit Wars 1

This post was to be a followup to our earlier thoughts about why architects own the documents and designs we create, but a funny thing happened on the way to City Hall.

Somewhere, among the plethora who throng the place, a cry rang out, saying, “Y'all don’t need no ‘blueprints' to get a permit. Another declaimed, "You won't even need a permit to build! Hold your fingers thus, and chant along with me... “  The crowd rushed to these voices, enthralled, and threw coins that their little monkeys grabbed. Elsewhere, nearby, I heard a floutist, and I caught a glimpse of tots & mice aswarm behind him, headed to the river, but that’s another tale.

Sometimes, there’s truth in fables, though we have to dig into the details for facts we can use every day, so read on for the first of our occasional tales that well call the Permit Wars!

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City of Atlanta Building Permits

Questions often arise about how extensive a set of construction drawings is needed for a building permit in the City of Atlanta. We don't like to overdo our scope of services, but we also don't like to skimp on permit documents to the point where it frustrates plan reviewers, delays the permitting process, causes a field inspector concern, or leaves a contractor guessing. Do you want incomplete drawings on your project?

Naturally, we've had permit documents marked by reviewers — that’s common — but we can revise our drawings in short order. There’s a big difference between the time needed to make minor changes for reviewer mark-ups versus major delays that would be caused by omitting entire drawings. Extra scrutiny is given by plan reviewers to design professionals who omit significant documentation of a project.

We don’t lowball fees by omitting drawings we know will be required. Others with less experience may come back and ask for extra fees to add what was needed, but we try to avoid it, even if our fees seem a tad higher at first.

Some time ago, we learned of comments by a fire marshal’s Field Inspector. His personal opinions were mentioned casually to a GC’s superintendent, who met the him on-site to get a Fire Report. (Did you know that one of these will be required by the City Building Department’s plan reviewer, if you’re performing a fire repair?) We were concerned because 1) the remarks were made by a city official, and 2) the remarks suggested (incorrectly) that our documents were “unnecessary" to obtain a building permit in the City of Atlanta.

The field inspector's views were factual about the Fire Department's review of so small a project, but not of what's required by the Building Department for review. Sometimes, small projects are not reviewed by the Fire Marshal but are by the Building Department. The Field Inspector was correct to relate what his department required, and it is natural for anybody outside the city to assume consistency between departments.

Consistency turned out not to be the case. The Building Department of the City of Atlanta, indeed, requires clear documents for changes to residential buildings. Older buildings do not meet current codes, and all repairs must meet current code. With the fire report and related info, we turned our permit-construction drawings and specifications around quickly for a building permit based on our blueprints.

This narrative is by no means the only recent instance where someone suggests reducing the scope of permit drawings or eliminating them. If true, we might have been including too much detail and thus charging more than necessary. We don't want to overwork or overcharge, so we can remain competitive and stay in business!

. . .  And that’s why we decided to verify actual requirements with the City of Atlanta. We spoke to an intake reviewer at the City of Atlanta Building Department. She graciously went over several types of permits that they offer and the documentation required for each. Their guidelines for new single-family residential construction (PDF) are among the clearest in our region, especially for residential, and their reviewers follow them with reasonable consistency. That’s all we ask.

Do you have permitting stories? Please share with us through our contacts page, and stay tuned for the next episode!

We want to be considered for your future design projects, whether new construction, alteration & addition, renovation, adaptive reuse, or fire repair. We tailor our scope of work to the appropriate set of drawings to meet your city’s requirements and sail through the permitting process more smoothly. We also use a CAD-BIM program that generates plans, elevations and sections more quickly and allows us to offer our clients great efficiency.

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