Parallel Permit Application is the method that many seasoned architectural companies use to cut the lengthily waiting times imposed by the San Francisco Planning and Building Departments. We're sharing it with you so you can get ahead of the project deadlines. It has certain risks and it may require more work but the upside is significant. Saving months or even years of waiting could make or break any construction project.

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San Francisco is a great city to be in the real estate business because of its high demand and potential financial home runs. But when it comes to getting permits to build or remodel even a single-family home, this city becomes a nightmare whether you’re a homeowner, architect, builder, or developer. People are complaining, for the right reasons, on two issues: unclear criteria for getting a project approved and the lengthy time frame to issue permits for a project. In some circumstances, it may take 2 years or even more to get building permits (if no trial, community hearing, or historical preservation gets mixed in the process).

Below we're going to give you 5 key tips for projects whose valuation for the scope of work is more than $350,001. Usually, these projects do not qualify for an over-the-counter permit. If your project falls under $ 350,000, you are the lucky one who can get away with Over-The-Counter Permits made simple.

  1. Do Your Homework. Just like in school, if you show up prepared at the meeting with the city officials, architects, general contractors, and other consultants, you'll get a lot more done in a short time. This property report gives you a wealth of information about the existing site/property so you can spot questions in those meetings and get the most out of them. This step will push you far in the game without any commitment.
  2. Parallel Permit Applications. This method comes with some risk, more hours of work from your architect and engineers but it may save you months and help you start the project sooner. Basically, after applying for entitlements (Site Permit) with Planning Department, you can also apply for the Building permits. By the time you get an answer from the Building Department (DBI), you should have an answer from the Planning. Most probably, the DBI is going to have some comments and ask you to submit the Planning approval. At that moment, you already should have the approval from the Planning Dept and all you need to do is address the comments with Addendum, not to re-submit the application.

It can be argued that a good set of drawings for the site permit takes a while and you’d want to avoid redoing work if Planning Department doesn’t approve your application. The good news is that DBI lets you replace the set of drawings you submitted a while back just before they start reviewing them. In this case, you can submit an incomplete set of drawings just to get a spot in line. It usually takes longer for DBI than Planning Dept. to review your drawings. So, by the time you get approvals from Planning Dept., you should be close to having your drawings reviewed also by DBI.

3. Meeting Minutes. There are at least a couple of different reasons why it’s important to take meeting minutes whenever you meet with officials from the Planning Dept. or DBI. One of them is because some departments, like the Fire dept., don’t have clearly defined rules and they came up with different rules per each project. Because the person you talked to initially may not be the same as the person reviewing your drawings, or the initial person may forget what they told you, it’s important to take notes of all their comments. Another reason to take meeting minutes is due to staff rollover. Since the permit process takes so long, staff could be reassigned or simply leave the permit department. Meanwhile, you may have followed one inspector’s comments and the new one may not be aware of them. It’d be good to have a list of comments previously addressed by you in drawings to give to the new inspector.

4. Professional Friendships. I call this way when people I work with are honestly happy to see me and to work together. At Planning Dept. there are lots of applications and long waiting times. Having a friend who could let you know in advance if your project would have a green light from the Commission, for instance, goes long way.

5. Get prepared for Postponed Scheduled Dates. In case your project requires a hearing, the city doesn’t have a good track record of keeping the scheduled dates as scheduled. They would easily pose-pone a hearing a month or two at best. So, your project schedule should account for such circumstances and get prepared financially to support unpredictable delays. I’ll keep on updating this list as I come across other tricks to make your life easier so that you can focus on important things like getting construction started.

Want your permits fast?

Answer these few questions about your project to find out if you may qualify to benefit from California's new State Bill 9 that lets homeowners to add more units on their property or even to split their lot.