Redlines are comments that are received during the permitting process. These comments are pertaining to the plans, reports, or analysis that we have provided to the jurisdiction on your behalf. Redlines are not typically an error in the engineering but rather a clarification request to gain a better understanding of our design methods and engineering, by the permit reviewer. This allows us to provide clarification to them, as they are non-technical individuals, to confirm that our plans are meeting the regulations and codes. We typically see anywhere from 1-3 redlines cycles on any given project. If the projects are more complex these cycles can increase to 4-5 redline cycles.
The permitting process is an official approval process with the local government agency that allows you or your contractor to gain approval to proceed with construction on your property. It is intended to ensure that the project plans comply with local standards for land use, zoning, and construction. These standards are intended to ensure the safety of current, future owners, and occupants and to provide enforcement of zoning and land-use policies.
The permit process usually goes something like this:
Unfortunately this can vary widely, due to the variability of the land, the reviewers, the needs of the design you would have, etc. it can be hard to predict for sure. We have seen the permitting timelines take as little as several days to as long as many months, and in some cases well over a year. It is all highly dependent on the complexity of the project, the reviewers reviewing the permits, and the jurisdiction that your project is in. Fortunately, we do this daily and can try our best to provide you with estimated timelines based on past projects that are similar to our experiences.
The short answer is not really. The longer answer is that there are many permitting jurisdictions and they all have different requirements and or timelines that they like to internally try and meet. However, there are no permitting jurisdictions that have a required response time they are held accountable to meet. Reviewer response timelines can widely vary. We have seen responses from a permitting jurisdiction turned around in a couple days, to a couple of months.
Once your engineering plans have been submitted for permit review, the turnaround time to final approval will vary depending on: the city/county you are submitting to, the reviewer that you have within that jurisdiction, and how many rounds of redline review comments the reviewer has. However, from our experience small projects often take 3-8 weeks while larger commercial and subdivision projects can take months. Once you have reviewed your project with one of our Project Managers, they will be able to help you in estimating timelines of your project.
This can always be a challenge as in our years of experience we have found that not all reviewers are alike, nor do they think the same or provide the same comments. When a reviewer changes midway you can always expect there to be a catch up from the new reviewer and more often than not it will lengthen the review process and create additional effort on our part to provide information and plan info to the new reviewer to get up to speed with the project and review already completed. In the worst-case scenarios, we have seen it become basically an entirely new review process and everything that happened previously was for naught.
Due to the different portions of a project being intertwined it can be a waste of time and effort to start on comment resolution when all of the comments have not been returned. Many times it can lead to a situation where the work must be re-done once all of the comments have come back which wastes your time and money.
You would think that submitting a set of engineering plans to a city or county would be a straightforward process, but it is not. The permitting process for us as engineers is more often an unknown and we cannot control the outcome or requests through this process.
There are many variables that go into the redline review process which create these unknowns. The variability causes many cases where the manual is up for interpretation by the design professional as well as by the reviewer, and this leads to redlines where the reviewer questions the assumptions of the designer, comments on potential conflicts or introduces new information that was not available to the designer. The difference in how our plans are reviewed can vary greatly depending on the city/county and even between reviewers within the same permitting agency. The redline process is like peeling the layers of an onion back, each set of review comments is a layer that gets us closer to the desires and wants for the reviewer’s decision to approve the plans.
Redlines are more often requests from the reviewer looking for clarification and better understanding of our design methods and engineering. Due to the inability for us to control the outcome or the requests that may come from a reviewer, we will usually provide response to redline comments on a time and material basis or a quoted fee once we have reviewed the review comments and understand the level of effort that will be necessary to address the requests.