Skipping a trip to the Laramie Planning Division before opening a business could cost property owners $750 a day, the city’s planning manager said.
Although Laramie does not require a general business license for entrepreneurs to start a business, when opening a new business or expanding an existing location, Laramie Planning Division Planning Manager Derek Teini said there are a few steps every entrepreneur should follow.
“The first thing I always recommend … come down and talk with us,” Teini said. “Not just the planning commission, but all the other departments of city staff have an abundance of info to offer.”
Teini said one of the biggest headaches a visit to the planning division can help business owners avoid was buying or leasing a location in a zone where their desired use is not currently permitted.
The city currently has 18 zoning districts, not including overlay zones. Ten of the districts allow for businesses, Teini said.
Another potential hurdle business owners could avoid is moving into a building with plans for future expansion that might require expensive infrastructure upgrades, Teini said.
“If someone’s looking at purchasing a property to start a business, they may have future desires like expanding their business,” he said. “We can tell them if there’s an easement on the side of that property that would limit that expansion.”
Once a business owner talks to Teini about their business location, provided their business is a permitted use in the location’s zone, he said they are ready to start the next step — a site plan application.
He said the most common requests he processes are greenfield requests, or starting a new business on undeveloped land, closely followed by requests to start a new business in a previously existing location and expanding an existing business.
While greenfield requests usually require a Type III site plan, the planning division’s most in-depth application, previous locations and expansions span the three-tiered application process.
“Even if you’re staying with the same use, you go through the site plan process,” Teini said.
The city uses 14 categories to classify businesses on the site plan application.
If a new business moving into a previously existing location is in the same category as the business that previously occupied the location, Teini said the business would need a Type I site plan.
“With a Type I, they might have to fix some broken sidewalk, but there’s not much to (that category site plan),” he said. “Type I also allows for some really basic expansion. Type I is your basic (site plan).”
A Type II site plan is needed when the new business changes the previous location’s categories by no more than one level — a category 5 business moving into a location slated for category 4 businesses.
“A lot of times with a Type II, they are changing the use of the building,” he said. “With that comes things like they are improving the façade of the building or changing the landscaping.”
The changes might require a business owner to submit engineering documents so city staff can ensure the plans follow code.
“Our most encompassing one is our Type III site plan,” Teini said. “The Type III site plan could apply to new buildings, new uses, new developments or undeveloped property.”
If a new business increases the use category by more than two levels or establishes a new use, it would require a Type III site plan.
Business owners going through the third type of site plan could be required to provide documents regarding traffic impact, landscaping plans and infrastructure management.
Once the location improvements have been decided, a business owner’s next step would be to apply for a building permit.
While a building permit application could be submitted with the site plan application, Teini said most developers don’t want to waste resources by starting construction only to find out a change has been made to the site plan for code compliance.
“The building permit is for everything internal,” he said. “The site plan is for everything external.”
While a building permit might not be required for every change, Teini said checking with Laramie Code Administration could help the business owner avoid a code enforcement violation.
When business owners fail to comply with the site plan process or secure the proper permits to start construction, Teini said the city typically issues a warning by way of certified mail.
If the business owner ignores the warning, the property owner could be fined up to $750 a day for each infraction.
The last step in the process is the final inspection.
Teini said the inspection can be as simple as walk through or as involved as working hand-in-hand with the business owner during a long process of addressing individual problems.
Either way, once the final inspection is complete, the business owner is ready to open shop, he said.
“The entire process can happen in a couple days for some people,” Teini said. “And for others, I’ve seen it last three years.”