What Exactly Are Entitlements?
If you have never been involved in an entitlement process, today’s post will be a short version of what the term means and the overall process. Entitlements essentially mean the obtaining of local government approval for a development project. The local government is typically a city or county, with the approval being granted by either the planning commission, city council, or both. In short, your project is being approved by one or both of the political bodies of the local jurisdiction.
Sometimes also referred to as discretionary approvals, these entitlements differ from the permit process that is administered by city or county staffs. The project design package for entitlements is submitted to the local government and will go through a staff review by city/county departments. Ultimately the projects are put before the political bodies in the form of public hearings. The planning commission and city council members cast their votes for either approval or disapproval, which is often based on the city’s growth stance, politics, community opposition, project merit, and other factors.
Once a project obtains the entitlement approval, then more detailed plans are prepared and submitted to the city staff departments with the objective of obtaining permits. As example, grading and site improvement plans are typically submitted to the city’s Engineering department while architectural plans are submitted to the Building department. The city staff administers the plan check review process, with the objective of issuing permits for construction. These plans do not go back to the planning commission or city council for approval but are approved by the appropriate city department.
The purpose of the entitlement process is to first get the discretionary approvals before going to the expense of the detailed engineering and architectural plans. Entitlement documents, while still having a fair amount of detail in the design, generally are a bit more concept in nature and therefore not as expensive. That said, some entitlement processes can be quite costly depending on what type of documents need to be prepared to obtain the approvals.
Obtaining entitlements can often be very political and reflective of community stance on growth. While the project design and documents require some specialized technical consultants, a large part of obtaining approvals involves political and community relations. Strong entitlement professionals understand the art of getting through the process and hopefully obtaining that approval.
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