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The following is an article in Omblogsman, a blog series by Jim Rawlinson, Regulatory and Permitting Ombudsman at Develop Indy, a business unit of the Indy Chamber.

Friendly neighborhood Ombuds-man here! I work every day with businesses large and small to help them through the permitting process. Some days I’m advising a small business on a kitchen remodel, others I’m working with engineers constructing skyscrapers downtown to help coordinate and keep their projects on schedule. Over the last couple of years I’ve seen it all, well maybe not all, but a lot. Today I’ll try to impart some honest, straight up pro tips that you can choose to use as they apply to you.

PRO TIPS:

DON’T TEAR DOWN THAT SIGN!
Many existing signs are grandfathered under code. When you tear them down you have just re-started the permitting process. Most times you are actually allowed to update or reface a sign, avoiding the permit/variance process. Always check with the City before you take anything down. To go a step further, sometimes even if your contractor says they will handle permitting it’s a good idea to double check. They will be pulling the permit but once the sign goes up it is your problem if it’s not in compliance. Fortunately, there’s an easy way to follow your contractor’s permit application here: http://permitsandcases.indy.gov/citizenAccess/

CHECK YOUR ZONING BEFORE DOING ANYTHING.

I’ve mentioned this in previous blogs but that’s only because it’s so vital and such a common mistake. We’ve developed a tool in conjunction with Open Counter that allows you to check the zoning of an address or find other places where your use is permitted: (https://indianapolis.zoningcheck.com/ ), and if you want to find out more about the permits required and the costs associated, check out Open Counter (https://indianapolis.opencounter.com/ ). Trust me, you’d rather address a zoning issue ahead of time than have to deal with it when you are ready open and wait a couple of months to get (or, even worse, not get) a variance approval. This can quite literally kill or seriously damage a project. Which brings us to…

“YOU NEED A VARIANCE” DOESN’T MEAN “NO” (OR “YES
”)
Redevelopment of a property can be complicated and you may be required to seek a variance to be permitted to do what you want with the space. Many people hear “you need a variance” as “you can’t do that”. It’s important to know that this process actually exists is to allow you to do what you want to do when reasonable. There is a process and cost associated with it but depending on the scope of your project it’s very possible to get a variance approved and go along your way. It’s also important to note, though, that it can be expensive (minimum of about $2500) and take 30-60 days. And you aren’t guaranteed to get what you want. It is possible to get through a variance process yourself as a business owner but, unless you’ve been through it, I would highly recommend hiring a code consultant. They’re well paid but if you really need them they usually worth every penny.
LET US WALK YOU THROUGH IT.
City Staff are interested in helping you get your business open as quickly as possible. Generally they are willing to work with you to find a way to yes if they can. Call me or the city and ask if you can go through your project ahead of time with staff. They can raise any red flags on your plans that you may have missed. It’s a lot easier to adjust some plans on paper than it is to do it in the middle of your construction.
PULL PERMITS!
Just, do it. Besides avoiding fines and stop work orders when you get caught, if something goes wrong it protects you, the business, from a lot of headaches trying to fix it.

CHECK WITH THE PROS.

One of my biggest surprises when I started at the Indy Chamber was the amount of free services we offer businesses. The Develop Indy team is here to help with real estate searches, exploring incentives, and working with City Administration to get you open as fast as possible. The Entrepreneur Services team offers free one on one coaching, financing and many other services!
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