Beating the D.C. Shut-Down

October 19, 2013

In fact it didn’t come, thank goodness; but last week everyone expected our local government, the city government of Washington, D.C. to shut down as it is highly dependent on Federal funding that had stopped of course.

A month ago, the Bread Furst development group had agreed that October 11th would be the day on which we would file with the local government the plans for constructing the bakery.

Exterior Rendering

It was for me not a day to celebrate as that day was the third anniversary of the death of my sister, Carla Cohen, founder of Politics of Prose. But perhaps there was a kind of sad symmetry, meeting a milestone in the creation of something I am doing in the P&P neighborhood and in part to honor her.

Creating a food business is complicated. Opening any small business is complicated and all have special requirements that are subject to local and federal regulations. Some buildings require sprinkler systems; most are subject to regulations that give easier access to handicapped people.

Food businesses operate with additional rules. We account to local health authorities that require sanitizing systems, superheated water, washable walls, floor drains, and many sinks distributed throughout for hand-washing – a lot of generally sensible regulations to protect the health of customers.

No incipient business is free to plunge into construction as it might wish. If it were, cities probably would be filled with unsafe buildings. Instead, we are required first to retain architects to plan and draw meticulously a set of plans that include fire and life safety, civil, structural, mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and food service.

And of course we have to do that while satisfying own standards of design and in my case while being realistic about what Bread Furst can afford.

These plans, all of them are bound into the set submitted to and stamped by the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs.

Demolition Permit

That’s what we had to submit to the District’s government, beating the shut-down so that we would be in line when the government reopened.

Our project manager, Mike Mason, whose name you have read before, without telling me (probably trying to spare himself my expressions of anxiety) speeded up his process to file our plans earlier than contemplated.

Mike MasonMason came to Washington from Oregon only three years ago but has been a contractor and then an architect for ten years. Over those ten years, his work has included more and more food service design and it is he who is in charge of getting Bread Furst built.

He is an organized, meticulous man who runs our meeting each Wednesday at Noon, going through his agenda as others, particularly Peter Hapstak, partner-in-charge, and I go on frequent flights of gossip about the Washington food scene and engage in other non-sequiturs.

Looking through his rimless glasses at a small black notebook, occasionally taking notes and making reminders in a precise and tiny handwriting, Mason waits, hiding smiles, pretending not to enjoy the gossip, and then pounces to bring the discussion back on point.

It is he who made certain last week that we got the demotion permit that allows us to begin our work.

We still haven’t selected a contractor. We’ll do that after interviewing each of the candidates on Monday. As soon as we have made that choice, gotten more precise costs for each piece of work, and signed an agreement, we will start demolition of some of the interior of the shop.

I have already signed three contracts to get the permitting process started and two seem like an irony to me. One is for services – that was to the engineer who did the drawings for electricity, gas, and venting. The other two, however, were to retain a “permit expeditor.”

In this city as in others, there is so great a demand for building permits and so small a government staff to review the applications for those permits, that would-be business owners like me (and all others for that matter who want to start businesses or erect buildings or make major changes in existing buildings) must hire people whose only business is helping us shepherd permits through the D.C government.

Our expeditor has continuing relationships with those who review permit applications, each of the departments that must approve our plans, before a building permit is issued.

I signed a check this week for $9,400 to the D.C. Treasurer; that’s for the permit itself and I signed two checks for payments to the expeditor too. She will walk from place to place, asking how we’re doing, nudging along the plans we’ve submitted, trying to get the permit issued. Generally that process takes two months and I can only hope it won’t take more than that.

It’s a good thing that this is done by someone other than me. “You are not the soul of patience,” my grandmother used to say to me the child in a deliberate misquote of the Bible.  I hope I am slightly more patient as an adult but I know I am not so much better.  I don’t think that the permit reviewers would care much for me.

Bread Furst needs a second expeditor whose specialty is getting help from the Potomac Electric Power Company, not a government agency but a private utility.  We need massive electrical upgrade, from 200 volts to the 800 to operate the mixers, ovens, lighting, and other electrical appliances we are going to install.

Pepco too gets a lot of applications for changes and ours is going to require breaking up some of the sidewalk to bring electricity under the street into the building.

This seems like a shame to me.

Our governmental organizations and non-governmental ones get larger and the processes they preside over get more complex. And the demands on them grow until everything is so cumbersome we have to hire intermediaries just to help us get done what we need and help them do more rapidly the tasks they exist to do.

Interior Architectural Plan

The D.C. government did not shut down and review of our permit has begun. We’re going to be filling additional forms. And we’re hoping that we can get our building permit within a reasonable time.

What’s that? Ten weeks !!

  1. Martha Halstead says:

    Good one.

    Sent from my iPad


  2. Joseph Whelan says:

    I see you’re getting ready to negotiate the abyss, otherwise known as the DC Permit Processing Department. I feel for you. When I was in business, we had a guy who went down there every week to process not only plumbing and HVAC permits, but also building permits. He was always on the verge of a nervous breakdown every time he came back to the office and swearing he would never go back there.

  3. Robin says:

    I am sure you know this but just in case….there are private companies that DCRA has licensed to do many of the commercial inspections so that you can open more quickly rather than falling into inspection hell once you have the permits to start the construction.

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