We can't offer paradise, but here are ways to cut red tape and avoid permit hell
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David Tanoue, director of Honolulu's Department of Planning
The permitting process is so confusing. The county needs to eliminate some rules that hinder small businesses from growing.
WHAT TO DO: Hire a professional router or a third-party reviewer to save time and money.
WHY & HOW: Awana understands the building-permit process both in Honolulu and on Hawaii Island, where she first got into the construction industry. She is a professional router who submits and tracks building plans for residential and commercial clients for a fee, which can range from $250 for a fence permit to $550 for a commercial building permit to alter a store.
“For me, it’s not difficult because I’m familiar with the process,” Awana says. “It’s hard for any beginner to consume all of the information at first, but there are a lot of avenues for help.”
Awana believes the rules can inhibit enterprising small businesses. “The codes and procedures are very strict, but I know they’re necessary because, unfortunately, not everyone has common sense,” she says.
Awana is lucky that the process isn’t easier: “If it was, I wouldn’t have a job,” she jokes. In fact, her best marketing is to encourage first-timers to visit the DPP to get a permit on their own. “Then I kind of just sit back and wait, because most likely they’ll call once they see what’s involved.”
Tanoue admits the process isn’t easy. “It’s complex and it’s expensive for companies to be learning on the spot, especially when the plans need to be approved by multiple agencies. The routers take care of all that for you.”
For basic residential projects, such as extending a living room or renovating a bathroom, Awana has saved clients up to two-and-a-half months. “Time is money,” says the DPP’s Challacombe, who has seen retailers go out of business before they open because they run out of money when permitting is delayed. “Turning to the experts could mean the difference between boom or bust.”
Honolulu is the only county in the state that has a third-party review system, which allows private companies certified by the county to check plans for code compliance in place of the DPP’s reviewers.
Gregory Zabinski, president of Independent Third Party Review, an approved review company, says his staff can shorten the permitting process by one to six months, depending on the project’s complexity. A company could save a lot of money that way, especially if it is paying rent for space that sits unused. Independent Third Party Review ensures building plans meet the city’s architectural, structural, mechanical and electrical codes. Tanoue says other counties are considering third-party reviews.
Maui County offers a Plan Review Waiver process, which issues a permit if a licensed contractor or structural engineer certifies that the plans meet all prerequisites of a building permit. However, the structure cannot be occupied until the applicant shows full compliance with applicable laws. “If used properly, the Plan Review Waiver Process allows small, simple projects to proceed without delay by agency reviews,” says Renee Segundo, a building permit supervisor for Maui’s Department of Public Works.
What’s required can differ from one project to another, Zabinski says. For instance, zoning is much stricter in Waikiki than elsewhere on Oahu. Many involved in the process say permitting is like your income taxes: You can hire a knowledgeable accountant who will file your returns quickly, and possibly get you more money back, or you can do it yourself and risk making costly errors. Most people with something to lose – or gain – will hire a professional.
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