Before construction can begin on any project, the in-house permitting team here at HFA must act as the liaison between clients, team leads, and jurisdictions throughout the country. On a typical day, that can mean a few hoops to jump through. However, with the added intricacies of completely remote workspaces due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this process is an even more delicate and sometimes stressful process.
Sarah Lawson, a Senior Permitting Administrator at HFA, says that her team has adapted well during this unprecedented time thanks to processes already in place. Still, they aren't without difficulties, especially since individual states and jurisdictions are now putting the issuance of permits on hold indefinitely.
I recently had the opportunity to video conference with Sarah to discuss what impact a fully remote work environment has had on her, her team, and her clients.
“A lot of places are completely closed down. Several states are still reviewing plans, but they won't issue any permits until future notice. They aren't pursuing construction on any project right now unless you’re considered an essential business,” Sarah said.
One of the main clients Sarah works with is major grocery retailer. She and her clients are working with their specific jurisdictions to see if, in the coming weeks, they can be considered an essential business since their minimal-contact grocery pickup program is becoming a vital measure during this time of quarantine and social distancing. While that's still up in the air, Sarah says that a few bright spots have come out of this remote working model.
"Normally, a plan review has an expiration date. Typically, they are only good for six months until you apply for a permit," Sarah said. "However, most jurisdictions are now waiving that expiration because they know that they're the ones preventing us from going to get that permit at this time."
While it’s not ideal for construction projects to be put on hold, jurisdictions are working with architecture and engineering firms to do their best to keep the process moving as smoothly as possible in the interim. Since permitting restrictions vary state by state or even on a city by city basis, this can be a challenging time to get any projects initiated, but that doesn’t mean the work stops.
For the HFA permitting team specifically, this time has been a unique learning experience. The in-house permitting team has begun to collect information on each jurisdiction that HFA has active projects in, and has created a working document that details what that jurisdiction is approving or putting on hold. This way, they can better communicate with team leads, client leads, and even clients in the most transparent, honest way possible. This also helps discourage the HFA team from bombarding jurisdictions with questions and requests that they already know are not being accepted at this time.
Sarah adds, “I’m starting to see that we’re finding areas where we can make our processes more efficient. Maybe we can use this time to get everyone on the same page, making us more efficient as a team and company as a whole.”
Like so many other processes, permitting remotely has it’s advantages and disadvantages. But at the end of the day, Sarah and her team, like HFA as a whole, are taking this time to communicate better, establishing more fluid processes, and as always, providing quality work for our clients.
Her final thoughts?
“Things change daily. My answer from yesterday may not be the same today. We [as permitters] are doing our best to figure out what those answers are while also keeping teams and clients constantly updated, but things can and do change daily.”
Founded in 1990, HFA is a full-service Architecture and Engineering firm with locations in Bentonville, AR; Franklin, MA; Fort Worth, TX; and Mexico City, MX. Focused on designing for the customer experience, HFA works coast to coast with retail, real estate development, office, industrial, fueling, restaurant/food service, lifestyle, and education clients.