Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Development Application Saga

To introduce, this post is a very consolidated version of what I went through to get my Development Application through the council.  This application was basically asking for permission for my idea to be made a reality.  It is the first step in starting a business that needs a premises, so it might be interesting to some of you.  I'm really happy to answer any more specific questions on the process.

I always knew starting a business would be incredibly difficult.  I'm just not that optimistic.  No matter how many people tried to tell me that I would be up and running by the end of the year, I knew they were full of it.  They didn't know they were full of it, but I did.  It really seemed that no one quiet understood the scale of what I was trying to achieve.  And how little clue of what I was doing that I had.

Friends and acquaintances that I went to for help and advice over the duration of the process were always surprised at the time it took to get through council.  At the requirements that I had to meet in order to get this project off the ground.  Not a lot of people actually do what I am doing from the ground up.  I quickly realised something.
These days most people who really want to open their own little cafe, restaurant or bar, take over an existing Development Approval.  This means that the site has previously been approved for use as what ever you need it for.  You just sign over the approval to your name and off you go!  For me, I just saw a shop for lease that I thought had some sweet potential.  I had no idea what I was doing.  I pretty much just googled how to open a business.
I put my entire development application through council by myself.  Looking back and talking to other business owners, this is a huge achievement.  I'm pretty proud.  Often, people pay a Private Certifier to do this for them.  The certifier develops a business plan.  An environmental statement plan.  Health and safety plan.  Etc, etc.  One by one I worked through the three page list of requirements.  It probably took me about 3 weeks to get my application ready to submit.  Going to business college, TAFE and working for 5 years in some decent companies doing pretty technical administration roles is a very round-a-bout way to get the know-how to do this stuff.  Totally worth it though.

Another reason people get a certifier to do the job, is because you need to obtain floor plans of your future shop.  A draftsmen or an architect needs to come in, measure up the place and draw plans based around what you wish the shop to look like.  Many moons ago my father, the great John, went to TAFE.  Learnt to be a carpenter.  Fast forward 100 years or something, and he is a badass foreman for a construction company that does some massive projects.  He is qualified as a draftsmen too.  The only catch is the last time he did any draft work, they were still carving it in stones and it wasn't quiet as strict as it is now.  I'm on a budget though, so I will make this work.  It's just a cafe.  I am not getting an architect out to draw pictures of tables and chairs and paying him a few grand.  Since all development applications in the country are public access on the internet, I took a look at some peoples floor plans to see what would be required for mine to pass the grade.  Then Dad measured the shop, drew it up, and I scanned it onto my computer.  6 years of playing on photoshop, designing websites for funsies and editing pictures of myself pays off.  I have rendered a passable floor plan.  And there ain't nothin you can do about it council!!!!

After all of this was submitted, the council came back to me with some issues.  That was to be expected.  The biggest issue was that since I wanted to seat roughly 32 people in my shop, I would require a new bathroom to be built that fit the correct standards for disability access.  This was a huge set back but I found space in the budget.  I studied the Building Code of Australia requirements for the bathroom and re-drew my floor plan.  This set me back another month or so.  One day I had a realisation that this was all very stupid.  I drove down to Hurstville council, threw my hands up in the air and said "I will agree to seat a maximum of 20 people.  So now I shouldn't need to build that giant bathroom that takes up 45% of my shop, right?".  They said no and basically just told me that 'times have changed' and now 'everyone, no matter the seating limit, require a wheelchair access bathroom'.  I knew that was BS but no one is going to listen to a 21 year old girl who thinks she knows what the council must allow better than the council does.  Thanks to a friend of a friend, I was able to get a certifier to speak to the council and recite a bunch of jargon and claus this and section that.  By the end of that day I had my way.  No more bathroom.  Can you believe that?  That set me back almost 2 months.  For nothing.  NOTHING!

Anyway, it all got through council.  I saved a million dollars doing it myself, but I lost a heap of time.  So when starting a business yourself, just consider what is more precious for you right now.  Time or money?

PS: I dedicate this particular post to Albert Novati, for his help in getting me across the line even though he is really busy doing huge jobs like shopping centres and mansions the size of small companies.

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