A few years ago, Robert Reicorp's company, which sells and installs Four Seasons Sunrooms in California, was up before the San Luis Obispo Historical Commission. The commission indicated it would recommend denial of the permit Reicorp needed to put a sunroom on his client's circa-1890 Cape Cod. The house was on the state register of historic homes and a Victorian conservatory was not historically appropriate.
Reicorp went to the library and did some research. A magazine he found showed a photo of a home once owned by Mark Twain, sporting something like a sunroom. It proved persuasive. In a second meeting, the commission recommended granting the permit.
PERMIT HELL Such resistance varies from one state, or township, to the next. Matt Ostrowski, owner of Creative Enclosures in Norwich, Conn., estimates he lost four projects in the first six months of 2004 because of permit delays. “Our experience is that in the last three to five years it's become more difficult to obtain permits expediently. In some cases, we can walk into a town hall and almost walk out with a permit,” he says. Most, however, go through a strict review process. “And it's not just building issues, but zoning issues.”
Such issues often have to do with setbacks. Ostrowski cites a recent instance where a zoning board in Old Lyme, Conn., refused to approve a sunroom addition because the project would have been 6 inches too close to the property line. In another instance, township zoning specified that additions be placed a minimum of 50 feet from the rear property line. “We were at 45 feet,” Ostrowski says, “so we had to get a variance, which took between 90 and 100 days.” He typically submits a complete set of CAD drawings, a complete set of working drawings, footing diagrams, and engineering details specifying snow loads, roof loads, and flashing for ice and water.
ROUND-THE-CLOCK SELLING Joe Ronzino, general manager of Four Seasons on Long Island, N.Y., says such obstructions constitute “the biggest hindrance to turning our backlog.” Detailed architectural drawings and engineering reports will help smooth the way, he says, but add a minimum of $900 in cost, and often more. Costs, delays, and attending zoning or architectural review board meetings can wear on clients' patience. “They simply get tired of it and drop the project,” Ostrowski says. That means he must sell the project again and again, to keep clients committed.
Ronzino advises customers that conducting site surveys, creating architectural renderings, and preparing all the materials required for a permit application takes four weeks, “and then whatever the town lead time is. We tell them 10 to 14 weeks, and that we'll build it within two weeks of approval.”
In California, Reicorp says a good overall argument for review boards is value. “We try to show we're going to increase the property values, not decrease them.”