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My question has to do with commercial renovation permitting. Our county -- Prince George's in Maryland -- seems to require stamped and sealed architect and engineering drawings for even the smallest renovations. When my spouse outfitted a new bike shop, she ended up spending nearly $20k in permit paperwork to get permission to make $50k worth of interior improvements (flooring, electric cleanup, some plumbing re-routing). That seems extreme, but I don't know if it's the same everywhere. Her next project is to build a coffee shop within her store -- that will entail another $10k worth of work to connect appliances, drop a few more outlets, connect plumbing supply lines etc. (That cost doesn't include the cost of the appliances and cabinetry, just my guess of the "work" cost.) Yet it looks like we need a standard building permit, just as if we were building a hospital or an apartment building, with 7 copies of site plans and all the stamped and sealed architect and engineering drawings etc.-- probably another $10k worth of drawing and paperwork just to get permission. It seems like our county doesn't have a point of entry for smaller businesses doing minor work -- we're all squeezed into the same permit process with the big guys doing huge projects. Wondering if other places do this better, and what ideas you'd recommend for improving our process? I intend to write a long article about the process at some point when I have time to talk with other businesses in similar shape -- the anecdotes are very compelling but no one wants to talk on the record because they're afraid they'd never get their permits! -Jeff

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As a professional engineer (PE) that has to do those drawings and take the liability for whatever is done, I have to side with the requirement although I will admit that many building departments and jurisdictions go too far with this. Common sense should have a place in the process.  
While it varies from place to place, it also depends on the jurisdiction and inspector. Some have a good understanding of these types of issues, some don't, some just want to protect themselves, or just get a few more dollars in the municipal bank account. 
From a liability standpoint for the business owner, public and community at large, there are many considerations that a typical business owner may not know such as not overloading the electrical system, fire and emergency requirements, ADA accessibility, etc. This is what a professional should be able to help you with and take responsibility for.