Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Going Rate to Sell a Loaf of Bread in Philly

What can be more basic and simple than baking a loaf of bread and selling it to a neighbor? That is what I have set out to do; open a small neighborhood storefront bakery. I found a local developer willing to give me a renovated space for a reasonable rent. All I had to do was put in a floor, oven, front steps, add some sinks and some electrical connections; and supply and other machines I needed. Easy enough!

My naivety is my greatest weakness and also my greatest asset. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I walked into the Philadelphia offices of Licenses and Inspections (L&I) with my home made, and fully to-scale, drawings and they laughed at me:

“You need professional drawings.” The plan reviewer told me.

“But the building is built; I’m just adding some sinks and equipment, and some front stairs. The City is clear that professional plans are not needed for such a thing.” I argued back remembering reading that somewhere on the City web pages.

“You need professional drawings.” He repeated, this time flipping through a rolled up pile 5 inches thick of drawings from some project he was reviewing. “Like these.”

“But this is a waste. The architect plans will say the same thing as in these drawings; where all my equipment is going. What more information do you need that is not in these drawings?”

“You need professional drawings.” The mantra at L&I.

“But….” I gave up at this moment; time to find an architect.

Four weeks later and $1000 poorer (only because of rough economic times for architects; I found a bargain), I show up with my “professional” plans, which had almost the same information as my home made drawings and was told to wait for 40 days to find out if I am approved or not.

Almost forty days later, I get a letter from L&I saying my plans have been approved. But when I pick up my permit, there is a sheet of paper that says they did not review my plans for ADA accessibility, electrical, plumbing, or venting; I would need separate permits for all these things. But these were the only things I needed anyway. I wondered what the point was in getting the “building permit” if I needed separate permits for everything else. I suspected nobody even looked at these plans in any detail.

“Oh well, I have the permit,” I thought to myself. “Time to get to work.”

So the ADA requires that I have a ramp to get into the 15” rise from the sidewalk to the bottom of the front door. Sounds reasonable, except that it is practically impossible to put a 15 foot (each inch requires a foot of ramp) ramp on this property. The ramp would have to switch back with a landing large enough for a wheelchair to turn on; then there would not be any sidewalk left for people to walk on. Streets department wouldn’t allow it. A mechanical lift would be $40,000; not feasible. So what do I do?

Turns out I can apply for a “variance.” But the City can’t give them, L&I just forces people to comply. I have to go to Harrisburg (the other L&I, Labor and Industry) to apply for a variance. This again requires additional architectural drawings and work by the architect explaining the layout and why the ramp is impractical. Another $800 for professional fees (again, a bargain due to dragging economy).

OK, I got the variance a month after applying. It’s slow but I we are moving. I scramble to revamp my budget with all these unanticipated expenses and I have to look to borrow some additional funds.

I need a sign so people can walk or drive by and know there is a baker here. But to put a sign, I need a sign zoning permit. One trip to apply for the zoning permit was pretty laughable; again, L&I requires professional drawings, my sign design work with the original drawings for the build out are not sufficient; another $1000 in architectural fees to me, and approval from Street Department and Art Commission, whatever that is. On the second trip I am told my professional drawings were not competent, lacking some needed written measurements that are easily calculated if measured. So I complain to my architect and he makes me some new ones at no charge. I am shocked by the price of a zoning permit to put up a sign, over $400 and 20 days to review even after the intake reviewer thoroughly reviewed the plans.

Then I need another building permit, for the sign. Not a tough process, but they need professional drawings and some fees; and 20 days; but only after the zoning is approved.

So the bottom line is that to put in some sinks, electrical upgrades, and and an oven, I’m out $7267 plus about a dozen trips to Center City to wait in line for my turn to more deeply understand what Kafka was writing about. This is just to follow City requirements; the actual work is additional. Oh well… could have been much worse, I guess.

I dare not calculate how many loaves of bread I have to bake to recoup this investment. All I know is that some dreams are worth the price. Wish me luck with my final inspections.

The breakdown:

Zoning application and permit $100

Health Department Plan Review $1445

Tenant Fit Out, Application for Building Permit $125

Tenant Fit Out, Building Permit $261

Sign Zoning application fee $100

Sign Zoning permit fee $ 325

Sign building application fee $100

Sign building permit fee $61

ADA variance application fee (State) $100

Plumbing Permit & inspection $600 (estimated)

Electrical Permit inspection and Certification $650

Venting (for the oven) Permit & inspection $500 (estimated)

Architectural fees required for these permits $3000

Total $7267


Anonymous said...

This is a repulsive but cautionary tale, showing how the tendrils of government expand to enter any conceivable niche of human enterprise. Take note, FWB bread eaters! Our Founding Fathers would be appalled that we once again are bound in service to petty tyrants.

Steven said...

Totally ridiculous. I'm glad you are seeing the humorous side of it all; I certainly am laughing at the absurdity.

Maaya said...

its ridiculous and horrible to see how gov behaves...