Here’s how we helped our clients turn “no” into a “go.”
When Principal Designer Amy Guiang contacted the City of Oakland, she was expecting a “yes” but got a “no.”
Amy was conducting a feasibility study for a client who wanted to turn a duplex into a triplex. Knowing that recent changes to California state law would allow this, Amy was surprised to get that “no” from the city.
The reason? The planning office insisted on an ADA-compliant parking space for the new unit.
Several planners in the city offices agreed: because there was no room for an additional, wide parking space on the property, Amy’s client could not go ahead with the project.
Amy knew something was amiss. She did more research and discussed her findings with the New Avenue team. Our larger team agreed. In this case, new state laws prohibited the city from requiring parking.
We reached out to a contact with the mayor’s office, and soon after, the city issued a statement that the rules had changed. The client could go ahead with her plan to add an ADU to her property. “It’s got to be the fastest moving change in a bureaucratic organization that I’ve ever seen,” Amy said.
Design professionals have to advocate for their clients.
When applying for permits, it helps to know the law. Our designers have found that in many places, local officials haven’t updated their rules to meet the state’s requirements.
That means you can’t just walk in and ask, “Can I build this?” Chances are, you’ll get a “no.”
Or worse, you get a “yes” without getting all the information you need (for example, you’re not told about powerline or easement rules). Then you go through the whole design process with partial information, and that “yes” turns into a “no.” It’s happened to hundreds of owners in Los Angeles who designed ADUs, applied for permits, and then learned that you can’t build under power lines.
That’s enough to cancel or drastically change a project, and it’s a lot of money down the drain. Conducting extensive research before approaching the city drastically increases your chances of getting approval. It can also save thousands of dollars.
Such was the case with one New Avenue client, where the Department of Public Works took a $25000 check from a homeowner for fees they weren’t supposed to charge. After New Avenue got involved, the designer was able to prevent an additional unnecessary fee of approximately $20,000.
What’s going on at the city level?
Building codes and state laws change quickly, and every home is different. Local officials work to make sure new construction is safe and beneficial, and they have a lot to consider in doing that job. Even if your city’s planning office hasn’t caught up to the most current rules, they can still help you.
Our local politicians and planning officials are good at their jobs. When you ask the right questions and give them the best information about your project, you’re more likely to get approval. That’s because good communication benefits everyone.
“Ask questions based on your research.”
So how do you know what to ask and what information to present? The best consultant is an experienced designer who knows the law. The new state laws mean permit fees in many cities aren’t as high as they once were, and you can save a lot with a knowledgeable designer on your side—one who knows the right questions to ask.
Here’s Amy’s take: “You do your own research first, and then you ask questions based on your research. Many people, even some designers, just ask the city what to do. But New Avenue is made up of professionals that have experience in the business.”