At first glance, embarking on the commercial permitting process sounds complicated and intimidating. It’s easy to associate permitting with problems, but having an open mind and doing some planning in advance will help make a smoother process in the long run. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the thought of navigating the commercial permitting process in Portland, here are some tips to get started on the right foot.

1. Be Humble

Too many people see the permit process as a roadblock that needs to be overcome, but remember, the process exists for a reason. Treat the reviewers like they are on your team and there to help you, not as though they’re an obstacle you need to get around, and you’ll have a much better experience.

Everyone wants to think the code is black-and-white, but that isn’t always the case. Seek clarity, communicate, and ask questions – having a respectful and open dialogue can go a long way to resolving issues or discrepancies.

2. Know Your Zoning

Complete a thorough review of how the zoning code impacts your property, including any overlays, planning or historic districts that may apply. From use, to massing, to landscaping, so many aspects of a project are driven by zoning, and understanding those restrictions is the first step to any successful project.

3. Do Your Research

If you’re working with an existing building, gather as much information as you can from old drawings, permits, and other records. Anything that shows existing construction types or occupancies is especially helpful.

Research how the building code applies to your proposed project. Don’t go cold into your first meeting with the City and expect them to give you all the answers; show them you’ve put in the effort on your end and they’ll be more willing to do the same for you.

4. Schedule an Early Assistance Meeting

Whether you are doing a new building or renovating an existing one, it’s worth the time and money upfront to schedule an Early Assistance meeting to avoid costly surprises down the road. These meetings also establish an early relationship with the plan reviewer to help create a smoother process once you are finally ready to submit for permit.

Take notes and put it in writing. It can be months between an Early Assistance Meeting and when you actually submit for a permit. A plan reviewer will look at many different projects during that time, so you cannot expect them to remember all the specifics of yours without a point of reference. Write up meeting minutes and confirm them with the plan reviewer, everyone involved will be glad you did.

5. Make it Simple

Create a clean, organized, easy to read set of permit drawings and documents. This seems obvious, but you’d be surprised how often it doesn’t happen.

When responding to plan review comments, provide all the relevant information. List any code sections you’re referencing and where the info can be found in the drawings, so that the planner doesn’t have to waste their time digging around to interpret your answers. Remember that plan reviewers have a lot of projects on their plate, the easier you make it for them, the easier it will be for you.

6. Have Patience

Give yourself plenty of time for permitting and know that it can be a slow and sometimes frustrating process. Expect the unexpected, as every project has its own unique challenges. Stay patient, but persistent, and follow through until you reach the other side.

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