Ask the Architect

It’s so complicated!


Q. I hope you can help me. My husband’s dream is to open his own car repair shop. We rented a place and found out that the plans the landlord gave us for fixing the storefront aren’t enough to get a permit. We even went in to our building department, and they made it sound very simple. They told us to file the plans we showed them and we would get reviewed and approved so we could start. Instead, we’re now being told it could take many months, even a year, and the mayor and board need to hold a public hearing, but only if we’re first approved by a zoning board, which will take at least three more months. Is there a way to speed this up? We’ve already spent $10,000 plus two months’ rent, and will be broke without opening the shop. What can we do?

A. Early on, somebody might have said, “You’ll need plans.” But they probably also said, “Here, use these plans, it’ll save you money.” The reason is because nobody wanted to tell you the discouraging things about cost and time. That was why the issue of getting an architect and explaining the process was skirted in favor of giving you false plans and false hope.

Nobody wants blame for the reality of how long and how involved plans take to document details for the business and to meet zoning, parking and safety issues, since the truth is harder to face. Your landlord either knew, as they were taking your rent, that you had many months ahead to get approvals for your type of business, or they didn’t realize the complications. Either way, your financial stability isn’t their concern, as much as getting the building rented. The people you asked at your building department also told you the truth, or at least part of it, unless it didn’t register with you if they explained about how long the process would take.

Either way, everyone goes through this process to start a special-use business, so they told you what you needed to know, as if it seemed fairly orderly and simple, because they live this every day and you don’t. It’s like watching the docent at the Louvre, when you’ve traveled thousands of miles to see the “Mona Lisa,” rattle off some interesting historical facts, without much feeling. It’s a procedure to them, even though it may be your first time doing this.

The truth is that you still need to hire an architect to produce the required information, including a correct site plan, showing parking and all the site amenities, like handicapped compliance, curbing, drainage, fences, exits to streets, etc. The building needs to meet all the fire separation and safety requirements, lighting and mechanical units — it’s a long list. With the more complete plans, the process moves a little faster than if you give a few details, wait for an objection sheet and keep refiling. Good luck!

© 2018 Monte Leeper. Readers are encouraged to send questions to, with “Herald question” in the subject line, or to Herald Homes, 2 Endo Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, Attn: Monte Leeper, architect.