Professional Carwashing & Detailing

Permit processing peeves

October 11, 2010

Carwashes may provide superior cleaning service but, to a town or city planning board, “carwash” can sound like a dirty word.

Although planning boards’ fears and apprehensions are often unfounded because of recent technological advancements, many carwash owners find that obtaining the needed permits for their wash is usually time-consuming and sometimes stressful.

There are a few things that prospective carwash owners can do to ease the burden of permitting and nip any issues in the bud before they have a chance to surface.

Money where your mouth is
In order to run a carwash, the most important thing to have, besides the desire and drive needed to make it successful, is money.

Money makes the world go ‘round, and money is what it will take to get the permits needed to open a site.

A prospective wash owner needs to realize prior to beginning the process that the price of permitting alone could become costly.

Phil Wheeler, an engineer at Ducharme & Wheeler, Inc. in Bolton, MA, has worked on approximately 20 carwash plans. Wheeler said he has seen the grand total for all the permits needed to open a site range in cost from as little as $8,000 to as much as $100,000.

It is important that future owners realize that, although they may determine a total cost at the outset, by the end that price can rise significantly.

Shawn MacIver, owner of Bella’s Touch Free Car Wash in Hudson, MA, advises future owners to take what they think the project is going to cost and add an extra 20 percent.

With additional unforeseen costs like permitting fees, the total price-tag can start to spiral out of control.

Nervous neighbors
When carwash owners try to obtain permits from local officials, sometimes it’s not the officials that cause the delay, but rather the nervous neighbors.

Any prospective wash site located near a suburban community will almost inevitably encounter neighbors who stand in opposition to the project. Typically, one of their biggest concerns is noise.

Carwash owners can appease these fears by addressing the noise issue head-on, and prior to the first board meeting.

Dryers are a concern for many residents. However, to assuage fears, owners can explain what noise reduction materials and methods will be utilized to control the sound.

Explaining how blocking, absorption and damping materials deaden the decibel level will begin to ease fears.

Owners need to explain if they intend to:

  • Elevate the blowers;
  • Reduce the size of the exit;
  • Install automatic doors; or
  • Put up a liner on the tunnel walls to quiet the noise.

Explain to neighbors that all their noise fears will be dealt with properly and the aim is to tighten the exit as much as possible to limit the amount of noise escaping.

The more quickly and directly wash owners deal with neighbors’ noise issues, the less time will be wasted at meetings and on modifications after the fact.

Know your zone
According to Wheeler, carwash owners need to do their homework about the site they choose before they commit to that area. The classification of the site is very important.

Wheeler recommends heading to the city or town to check zoning regulations to find out if the carwash will be allowed on the property under special permit, by right or not at all.

It’s also important to find out whether public water and sewer service is available at that site.

Depending on the zone, discharge permits will need to be attained, and possibly wetland protection permits.

Also, if the site is near a major highway, according to Wheeler, chances are the owner will need a state permit to cut the curb.

This is another cost that can be pre-determined by researching what zone the site is in and affects.

Adhere to conditions
By first issuing a conditional use, temporary or special use permit, town and city planning boards maintain control over many facets of a carwash site’s plans.

During and even after construction begins, the board can make requests and demand changes before granting final approval.

Carwash owners would be well-advised to make the necessary amendments as quickly and thoroughly as possible to keep the process moving and maintain cordial communications.

MacIver initially received only a temporary permit; the town told him he needed to construct an island to prevent left turns out of his property, so as not to interrupt the flow of traffic.

MacIver constructed the required island, but was still surprised to find that the whole process took a little over a year. Being a first-time carwash owner, he was not aware that the development would take so long.

In order to grant a final approval, town or city planning boards may ask for amendments including:

  • Increased stacking area;
  • Changes in site lighting;
  • Restriction in hours (24-hr is not favorable to boards);
  • On-site attendants; and
  • Increased buffer zones.

Experience makes it easier
According to Tom Kuntz, the planning manager for Independence, MO, first or even second time carwash owners would be smart to consider choosing experienced experts such as the architect, contractor, and or engineer to head up their project and guide them in the right direction.

MacIver’s engineer and architect basically walked him through the permitting process because it was his first carwash. MacIver told PC&D that they knew exactly who to talk to and how to approach the topic. He said he was lucky to have met and chosen the right people to help him.

MacIver suggested that, if possible, you should talk to other wash owners outside the direct market area to find recommendations for experienced and capable experts.

He also suggested choosing electricians and site developers who have worked on a carwash site before. According to him, an electrician or a plumber who hasn’t dealt with a carwash layout before may be overwhelmed by the schematics.

Control the water-works
One of the biggest selling points of a carwash today is water conservation and reclaim. What was once one of the biggest downfalls and hold-ups is now the best pitch to make to the board members and residents.

Wheeler said that it is essential that future carwash owners educate board members and neighbors on the environmental benefits of utilizing a professional carwash.

Some may not realize that the reclaim systems of today make going to a carwash better for the environment than washing in a driveway.

Resource management individuals working for the town or city may have concerns about using large quantities of water; however, wash owners must clearly explain the conservation measures they will be implementing to restrict and control water usage.

A picture’s worth a thousand words
Kevin DeLaughter, senior planner for the Town of Colonie Planning and Economic Development Department, Colonie, NY, explained that the aesthetics of a new business are very important to neighbors and the town board.

Twenty-five years of planning experience has taught DeLaughter that prospective carwash owners need to be sensitive to the visual impact their wash will have on the surrounding community.

MacIver said that many concerned residents may picture the proposal as an old-fashioned industrial looking carwash, however, he recommends bringing along pictures and drafts of what the construction will look like, especially if the design is modern and appealing to the eye.

Rather than just claiming that your wash will enhance rather than detract from the community appearance, bring evidence that supports your claim.

Patient permitting
Carwashers arguably have one of the most difficult times securing the needed permits for their wash. However, if a wash owner understands the process beforehand, he or she will likely maintain more patience during the process.

Understanding what will be requested of the owner and being diligent about the process from the start will make the process easier for both the wash owner and officials granting the permits.