Planning and Permits for Commercial Building Projects

1. Overview

This guide is for architects, engineers, or developers planning a new or expanded commercial building in Grand Rapids, MI.

When we say “new or expanded”, we mean you’re:

  • building something where there wasn’t anything before;
  • tearing something down and starting over; or
  • making an addition that expands the footprint of an existing building.

If you’re simply renovating an existing building the process looks a little different: you’ll want to review our guide for Planning and Permits for Commercial Building Renovations instead.

When we say “commercial building”, we’re referring to almost everything that isn’t a 1 or 2-family residential home.

This includes buildings for commercial, industrial, or institutional use, multi-family residences like apartments and condos, and mixed-use buildings. It also includes development or redevelopment of parking lots and other major site improvements. If you’re planning to build a single-family home or duplex, you’ll need to apply for a Residential Building Permit instead.

Still with us? Great! This guide will walk you through available planning resources and what you need to get approvals for your project, get permits for the work, complete the inspection process, and get the Certificate of Completion or Certificate of Use and Occupancy you need to open for business.

Let’s get started!

2. Planning your project

The first thing you need to have before you get the City involved is a location and a clear idea of what you want to do with it. Also, you should start working with an architect or engineer who can help you through each step of the design and construction process.

It's normal to have lots of questions during the early stages of a project. As your idea is taking shape, we welcome you to call, email, or stop in to the Development Center to ask any questions you have. We'll give you an opportunity to describe your project, ask questions, and get answers in a casual setting. If your questions are particularly complex, we'll offer to schedule a preliminary meeting with the City's Design Team.

3. Reviewing with the City Design Team

The most complex projects require challenging decisions about the layout of buildings, parking, utilities, and public infrastructure on the site. During the design stage of a project, architects, engineers, and developers can request a meeting with the City’s in-house Design Team. The Design Team includes representatives from various City departments and offices.

These informal meetings give you an opportunity to discuss your site layout with City officials and get feedback. Feedback from City staff can be helpful as you prepare your proposed project for review.

Because review by the Design Team is both preliminary and informal, the group does not have the authority to approve a project. Rather, Design Team meetings can help you identify and resolve potential site layout issues early in the planning process. And they're a great way to prepare you for any necessary board and commission meetings.

The Design Team typically meets once per week. Request a Meeting with the Design Team

4. Getting Board and Commission approval

Depending on what and where you’re planning to build, you may need to get planning and zoning approval from one or more of the City's Boards and Commissions. This step isn't required for most projects. When it is, it can add roughly 2 months to the approval timeline.

It's most common to need approval from the Planning Commission. They review all proposals that require changes to zoning or special land use. If you're unsure whether your project needs board or commission approval, ask the Development Center.

To get approval, you'll need to submit an application. The Development Center can provide all required application forms. City staff will review your application and, if required, schedule a public hearing.

In rare situations, we may also direct you to additional boards or commissions—such as the Historic Preservation Commission—for additional approval.

Once you’ve obtained all necessary approvals you can finish and submit your construction plans.

5. Preparing your construction plans

Plans (sometimes called "prints" or "blueprints") are construction documents. They describe the design, location, and physical characteristics of a proposed new structure or changes to an existing structure or property.

For most commercial building projects you’ll need to create and submit two sets of plans: one with your Land Use (LUDS) Permit application and one with your Building Permit application. Michigan state law requires that plans for commercial buildings be signed and sealed by a licensed architect or engineer.

View Plan Document Standards

Plans submitted with your Land Use (LUDS) Permit application

Site plans, also called Land Use Development Services (LUDS) plans, provide details about the proposed use or activity for the site. They include the placement of proposed structures, driveways, parking lots, roads, and streets. They also include land features such as wetlands, floodplains, lakes, ponds, and surface drainage facilities.

Depending on the project, you may also need to include details about proposed landscaping and plantings, proposed controls to minimize soil erosion, and stormwater drainage solutions.

Use these checklists to prepare your site plans for successful review and approval:

Plans submitted with your Building Permit application

Building plans show the location, size, and details of the proposed project. They should detail everything from the placement, dimensions, and square footage of structures to building materials, finishes, and provisions made for accessibility, safety, and code compliance.

Depending on the project, you may also need to include details about proposed electrical, mechanical (HVAC), and plumbing systems.

Use these checklists to prepare your building plans for successful review and approval:

Your plans must include proposed names for any new public or private streets in your submitted plans. For projects that will create or change street addresses, you’ll need to get these through the Development Center. You can request addresses as part of a Land Division, Transfer, or Combination Application. Or you can request addresses separately through a Request to Create or Change a Property Address Application.

Once you have your plans ready, the next step is to submit them for formal review and approval.

6. Submitting your plans for approval

Our plan submission process is done online using ePlan Room, our electronic plan review application that's integrated in Citizen Access. If you're submitting your permit application online, you'll be prompted to upload plans at the end of your application. If you're not ready to submit plans, you can always log into Citizen Access and do this later. 

If you're submitting a paper permit application form to the Dev Center, you'll need to either include your electronic plans on a USB flash drive or upload your plans to ePlan Room after your permit application has been processed. 

Plans submitted with a building permit application must be signed and sealed by a licensed architect or engineer. Any building plan submissions not done online must be accompanied by an official Plan Review Transmittal Form (transmittal form not required for digital submissions in ePlan Room).

Learn more about using ePlan Room 

Keep in mind:    

  • We review plans to make sure proposed construction complies with current codes. Michigan bases its construction codes on standards published by the International Code Council (ICC) and updates them every 3 years. The Michigan Building Code (MBC) covers all types of commercial construction. Grand Rapids ordinances and policies apply to other aspects of development. 
  • For projects that require extension of water or sewer utilities, you’ll need approval from the Engineering Department. Contact the Development Center with any questions.
  • For projects related to or affecting transit, you’ll need approval from the Interurban Transit Partnership. The Interurban Transit Partnership oversees The Rapid and all its transportation services in the Grand Rapids area. The board meets monthly, and meetings are open to the public. Contact The Rapid for more details.

Cost

A Building Plan Review fee equal to 10% of the Building Permit fee (or $50, whichever is higher), is due with your application. There is no up-front fee for Land Use (LUDS) plan reviews. All other fees are due at the time permits are issued.

You can use the Building Permit Fee Calculator to estimate your plan review and permit fees.

Review process

Depending upon the type of project, 1 to 10 Development Center staff members will review your plans. Most reviews take 5 business days to complete but can take longer during the busy spring and summer months or for major projects.

You can see the status of your application at any time by looking up your project through Citizen Access. We will also send you, by email and/or U.S. Mail, a plan review letter at the conclusion of the initial review.

During this process we’ll identify any other approvals required and what permits you need before you can begin work. If the Development Center approves your plans and no further approvals are required, you can get your permits.

Clarification and corrections

If parts of your proposal are unclear, incorrect, or incomplete, you may need to provide clarification or corrections and re-submit your plans for a second review.

With all changes, please include a letter or official Transmittal Form that summarizes the changes (transmittal form not required for digital submissions in ePlan Room). Also, call out changes to plans with "cloud" or other standard markings to help expedite the re-review.

For help during this process, please contact the Development Center.

7. Getting your permits

You cannot begin construction until you’ve received all necessary permits. During the plan review and approval process you’ll receive more specific guidance about the specific permits you’ll need for your project.

For most projects, you’ll need a Land Use (LUDS) Permit, a water connection permit, one or more Building Permits, and multiple Trade Permits including:

LUDS permit - application submitted with plans

  • Land Use Permit,which includes:
    • Soil Erosion & Sedimentation Control
    • Stormwater Drainage
    • Development Compliance

Building permits - application submitted with plans

Water Permits

Trade Permits

We recommend that you wait to get your permits until after your plans have been approved by all relevant boards and commissions. Otherwise, you risk wasting time and money if plans need to change or the start of work is delayed.

Payment

When your plans are approved, we’ll notify you and send you one or more permit documents and invoices for any permit fees. Sign and return the documents to the City along with payment. At this point your permits are considered “issued” and work may begin.

Remember, any work that requires a permit must be inspected and approved. Each necessary inspection must be performed before work proceeds to the next phase of construction.

Expiration and renewal

Projects must begin within 6 months of receiving the permit. They're valid as long as the work is proceeding. If the work is halted or abandoned for a period of 6 months or more, the permit is invalid. Extensions may be granted under certain circumstances. If you suspect you’ll need an extension, submit a written request before your permit’s expiration.

8. Request a fire hydrant flow test

To make sure the correct water pressure is flowing at your building, you may want to request a fire hydrant flow test. The Grand Rapids Water System can test water pressure levels by testing the flow of nearby fire hydrants. The flow of water in these fire hydrants can measure the amount of pressure in a location by opening and flowing consecutive fire hydrants. These tests collect the following data:

  • Static pressure
  • Residual pressure
  • Pilot reading

You may request this service online here or by calling 311.

9. Scheduling inspections

Any work that requires a permit must be inspected and approved. The contractor is responsible for scheduling inspections at the appropriate times. Remember, each necessary inspection must be performed before work proceeds to the next phase of construction.

Building, electrical, and plumbing inspections can be scheduled online through Citizen Access, our online permit portal. You can also call 311, the City’s Customer Service Center. If you’re calling from outside of the city limits, please dial 616-456-4100 (Option1).

To request a mechanical inspection, please contact the mechanical inspector listed on your permit. If you need assistance determining who your inspector is, please call 616-456-4100 (Option 1).

We conduct inspections Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. If necessary, you can schedule an inspection outside the normal hours for an additional fee of $130.00 per hour, with a one (1) hour minimum.

Progress inspections

For projects with a tight occupancy timeline, we recommend scheduling a progress inspection when you've finished approximately 90% of permitted construction.

At this point in the project, the building inspector will better understand key project deadlines, and the contractor(s) will better understand outstanding issues that have the potential to delay occupancy—while there is still time to resolve them.

To request a progress inspection, please call 311 (if inside city limits) or 616-456-4100 (Option 1).

Final inspection

After all other required inspections are approved, a final building inspection must be scheduled.

Use the following checklist as a guideline before requesting a final building inspection. While not comprehensive, it can help you identify and avoid common issues which could call for re-inspections, result in additional fees, or delay occupancy:

Certificates

A Certificate of Occupancy is official documentation that the building is safe for people to use. (It's also a legal requirement before you can open a new commercial development to the public.)

Before we issue a Certificate of Occupancy, the final building, electrical, mechanical, plumbing, and other required inspections must be completed and approved.

Similarly, for completed and approved Land Use work, we'll send you a Certificate of Completion.

The contractor may want to keep a copy of these Certificates and then present the originals to the property owner. We recommend that you store these documents in a safe place along with the deed to your property, mortgage papers, etc.

Congrats on a job well done!