Planning and Permits for Commercial Renovation Projects

1. Overview

This guide is for architects, engineers, or developers planning to renovate the interior or exterior of an existing commercial building in Grand Rapids, MI.

If you’re planning to build something new or expand the footprint of an existing commercial building, you'll want to review our guide for Planning and Permits for Commercial Building Projects 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.

If you’re planning to renovate a single-family home or duplex, review our guide for Planning and Permits for Home Renovation Projects 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, and complete the inspection process.

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.

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 is a casual setting.

If your renovations are limited to an interior tenant fit-out or remodeling project and you don’t have any questions, you can skip to Step 5: Preparing your construction plans.

If you’re renovating a large commercial building and making major changes to the site, we suggest you schedule a preliminary meeting with the City's Design Team.

3. Reviewing with the City Design Team

The most complex commercial renovations may require challenging decisions about the layout of 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

For renovation projects that will alter a building’s exterior, make major changes to the site, or include a special land use, you may need to get planning and zoning approval from one or more of the City's Boards and Commissions.

It’s not common for a renovation project to require board and commission approval. But, when required, it can add roughly 2 months to the approval timeline.

When required, 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.

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

5. Preparing your construction plans

For most commercial renovations you’ll only need to create and submit plans with your Building Permit application. However, if you’re altering the site, you’ll also need to create and submit plans with your Land Use (LUDS) Permit application.

Michigan state law requires that plans for commercial buildings be signed and sealed by a licensed architect or engineer.

Plans submitted with your Building Permit application

Building plans should detail everything from the placement, dimensions, and square footage of interior and exterior modifications 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 updates to electrical, mechanical (HVAC), and plumbing systems.

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

Plans submitted with your Land Use (LUDS) Permit application - if required

If your renovations affect the building site, you'll also need to prepare Land Use Development Services (LUDS) plans. LUDS plans should include changes to the placement of structures, driveways, parking lots, roads, and streets.

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:

For renovations 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

Submit your plans to the Development Center for review. The initial plan submittal must be included with the corresponding permit application:

Plans submitted with a building permit application must be signed and sealed by a licensed architect or engineer. All building plan submissions must be accompanied by an official Plan Review Transmittal Form.

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. 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 making renovations 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 commercial renovation project.

For most projects, you’ll need one or more Building Permits along with Trade Permits. If you're altering the site, you'll also need a Land Use (LUDS) Permit.

Building permits

Trade Permits - must be obtained by licensed contractors

LUDS permit

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

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 renovations 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

Renovations 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 testThe 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 typically is responsible for calling to schedule inspections at the appropriate times. Remember, each necessary inspection must be performed before work proceeds to the next phase of construction.

You can find your inspector's name and phone number on your permit and sometimes on the building site card. If you can’t find your inspector’s contact information, contact the Development Center.

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 the building inspector listed on your permit site card.

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 re-open a renovated commercial building.)

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.

That's it! Thanks for working to improve our City's buildings.