The building permit process, pt. 1 – the purpose
The most popular perception of the role of architects by the Bahamian community is that they secure building permits.
The assumption is that the bureaucratic process must be directed by someone with a legal right to make the application and the expertise to ferry it through the process. They bite their lips, find the least expensive option and await the set of approved documents to complete their agreement with the contractor. Most people have no idea or interest in why there is a need for a building permit in the first place, and many therefore find ways to avoid the process.
This is the first in a series of discussions about the building process – its purpose, the process, the application and the enforcement. Today we address the purpose.
There are several reasons for having a building permit. Here are the most urgent ones.
Order in the built environment
Government is charged with the establishment and maintenance of order in the built environment. To establish that order, it creates plans that set up the relationships between different types of uses, their scale and the texture of the building environment. These guidelines create standards for the broad-brush organization of the environment – where people live, work, shop and have fun, where existing character will not be touched, what standards apply to vehicular and pedestrian circulation, green space, etc.
Within the master plan, then, government approves subdivisions and major projects, each using a set of guidelines meant to create the most beneficial sense of order possible. Their plans predict future needs and threats and either accommodate them or avoids them. The building permit confirms that the project fits into the order established in those plans.
Safety and security
A building permit assumes a new element in the environment, with a relationship with other either existing or potential buildings. That physical relationship may become a threat to other buildings. For example, setbacks in a residential project are designed partly to avoid or delay the possibility of the spread of fire and in the commercial project to provide access for fire-fighting.
The building permit also assumes the proper design of the structural, electrical and plumbing systems. Structural collapse under ordinary weights or during a storm are not expected. Electrical fires and environmental issues due to poor plumbing design are avoided.
The building permit ensures that the public’s safety and security are not compromised by the construction of the new building.
Protection of property values
Whether it is reasonable or not, property values depend on the juxtaposition of uses and on homogeneity. High-end residences are in areas with other high-end residences. Industrial projects are in areas where the activities involved do not create a nuisance for nearby residents. The site of the sewage plant affects the values of the adjacent residential properties. Commercial properties are not usually located on a quiet, residential cul-de-sac. The requirement for a building permit protects the values of properties in a subdivision by maintaining the appropriate uses and relationships.
The government’s master plan and the various subdivision plans are used to plan the provision of utility services. By maintaining the intent of the plan, the building permit ensures that the services planned are adequate, and that supplies are not compromised.
Next week, we will address the permit process, its requirements and its review.
• Patrick Rahming & Associates is a full-service design firm providing architectural, planning and design services throughout The Bahamas and the northern Caribbean. Visit its website at www.pradesigns.com, design blog at https://rahmblings.wordpress.com and like its Facebook page. The firm can be contacted by phone at 356-9080 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. The firm’s mission is to help clients turn their design problems into completed projects through a process of guided decision-making, responsible environmental advice and expert project administration.