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CRE Expert — The Municipal Approval Process

By  David Haug

Every month we feature a CRE Expert who answers some questions about topics related to commercial real estate. This month CRE Expert John Seamon, director of design strategy at Iconica, discusses the municipal approval process. To receive more information on CRE Advisory Services, please connect with Lighthouse CRE.

CRE Expert John Seamon

CRE Expert John Seamon Discusses the Municipal Approval Process

How straight forward is the municipal approval process? Is it typically simple or complex?

Receiving municipal approvals ranges from straight forward to complex, short in duration to lengthy and it all depends on the scope of the project, its location, the project teams’ experience, truly understanding our client’s goals and carefully working in concert to achieve them. We routinely work on tenant remodel projects. Our involvement includes installing new walls and doors, flooring, ceilings, HVAC, plumbing and electrical work. Some of those projects may only have a couple of those scopes in the project. These all involve the same thing. The jurisdictions review of the plans and if all is acceptable, issuing the building permit. The variance affecting time usually comes in the location.

Can you share some examples?

For instance, one city might have their own building plan reviewers. In this case, planning approval is typically first come, first serve. Which depending on the number of projects in front of you waiting for review can take 2-4 weeks to get a building permit. However, in a city that doesn’t have their own plan review staff, then it gets sent to the state for review. This can have a large advantage because with smart planning you can schedule the review in advance of completing the drawings and specification to coincide with their completion. This usually results in a 1 week time frame from application to having a building permit. All of this assumes that the submitted drawings and specifications are as required and accurate. Some call this dotting i’s and crossing t’s. We call it thoroughness.

How does a new development or redevelopment project compare to a tenant improvement project?

Development and re-development projects are more involved. We start all new buildings, additions, rehabilitations and adaptive re-use projects with a thorough code summary and property analysis as the first step, closely followed up with planning and feasibility services to evaluate preliminary design solutions, associated costs and the associated approval processes. These then need to be developed accurately and early to understand and minimize risks with schedule and costs. Accounting for all design and construction costs is just as important as accounting for the durations of design approvals, final design documents and construction.

CRE Expert John Seamon

The approval process typically involves how many entities? How many hoops should a business expect to jump through?

The number of entities or groups involved in any given project of this type can be significant. Understanding who they are, their requirements, hot buttons and sequencing is critical. For instance, the groups involved can include all or many of the following. Neighborhood associations and committees, Planning and Zoning departments, City and Traffic engineering departments, Municipal design review committees, City or Common Counsels, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, County Water resources boards, Department of Health review and approvals and finally building permits and temporary or final occupancy permits. That said, these time frames can vary from 3-10 months. We often overlap design and entitlement work efforts. This minimizes schedule impacts and compresses schedule even more by further exercising our business model to include multiple bid packages.

What type of projects do you work on and how should people connect with you?

We are working on projects of all scales. The key to navigating this well is due diligence, upfront planning and successful, first hand working experience with the actual people behind these organizations, departments and agencies. If you might benefit from a further discussion, we are happy to connect to see if we fit your needs.

For more information on CRE Expert John Seamon

please visit

John Seamon, B.S.Arch, M.Arch
901 Deming Way
Madison, WI 53717

About Lighthouse Commercial Real Estate

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David Haug

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About the Author

David N. Haug is the Managing Broker of Lighthouse Commercial Real Estate in Madison, WI. He is passionate about helping clients, customers, and friends succeed in finding property, selling and leasing property, and investing in commercial real estate. With over 17 years of CRE experience David has analyzed, reviewed and transacted hundreds of deals worth untold millions of dollars. Reach out today and ask David to guide you on your commercial real estate voyage!
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