Obtaining Approval To Build Commercial and Multi-Family Structures


October 2004

Headache-generating permit issues that often plague commercial and multi-family buildings can be avoided by hiring a design professional who has a crystal clear understanding of the rules and procedures of the various city or town committees and boards that must approve the building before it can be built. Below are the steps typically involved in obtaining permits for commercial and multi-family properties.

Zoning Regulations
The first essential step is to carefully analyze the procedures and stipulations that every town or city's regulatory boards have outlined for the district in which you intend to build.

A careful analysis of zoning regulations and how they may relate to the proposed building will reveal whether or not variances must be applied for prior to trying to obtain planning approval. If a variance is required, it is advisable to work hand in hand with a local land use attorney who has a historical understanding of successful variance applications.

Historic Boards
If the proposed building site is within a registered historic district, the size, shape and exterior design of the building must be approved by the local historic board, which is charged with ensuring that any new development or alteration of existing structures and spaces is in harmony with the historic or architectural character of the area. It is important to ensure that the design presented to the historic board is very accurate and extremely detailed in order to avoid any misunderstandings that can lead to unwanted setbacks. A local architect who has a thorough understanding of what the historic board typically looks for may help speed up the approval process by presenting a conceptual design that has a good chance of meeting its criteria.

Working with Technical Advisors
Once the above steps are addressed, it is often advisable to enlist the services of one or more technical advisors, who understand the concerns that the local municipality's technical board typically has. Due to the technical advisors' expertise, they can formulate answers to questions the technical board will likely raise that are solidly grounded in fact, which tend to eliminate the need for ongoing meetings with the board. Technical advisors can include a civil engineer, traffic consultant, landscape architect, lighting consultant and geo-technical engineer

Planning Boards
The local municipality?s planning board will review the technical board?s findings and the proposed design of the building to ensure that it fits into the town or city's master plan and utility infrastructure (i.e. sewer, water, and electricity) when it comes to community growth and development. It is advisable to have an architect present the building's design to the planning board so that any questions its members have can be immediately addressed. Once the planning board is satisfied, and any necessary approval from the historic board has been obtained, actual construction of the multi-family residence or commercial building can begin.


DeStefano Architects, thanks to its knowledge, experience and relationships, has successfully guided its clients in Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts through the permit approval process. Should you have any questions regarding how the permit approval process works in your municipality, please contact us anytime.

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