The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Wednesday August 17th

Home renovation permit process stumps Chapel Hill residents

To real estate agent Larry Tollen, getting a permit for a home renovation in Chapel Hill is always a new experience.

And Tollen is a veteran home renovator.

“Every time I have to get something permitted, I get the impression that no one has ever done a renovation before,” he said. “It’s like the process is being designed for you from scratch every time.”

Tollen is not the only local realtor concerned with the permitting process.

Desiree Goldman, a member of the Greater Chapel Hill Association of Realtors, said the association discussed the slow and expensive process at a recent meeting.

Chapel Hill is low on residential land development — with only 2 percent of its available residential land still sitting empty — and the average age of homes in the area is rising. Goldman said people generally have to renovate older homes before putting them on the market.

For those renovations in a residential area that include additions, alterations, kitchen remodelings and structural work such as pool additions and roof replacements, the town requires a permit from the planning department.

Cosmetic work that costs less than $5,000 does not require a permit.

The permitting application includes a project description, zoning and area information and mechanical and construction details.

Permit fees are based on the price of the renovation and can range from $55 to more than $2,500.

Miscellaneous fees are added for certain features like accessory structures and decks.

The town has began efforts to improve its lengthy permitting application process.

Matt Sullivan, interim executive director of planning and sustainability for the town of Chapel Hill, said the process has changed significantly in the past six months.

He said they combined the building and zoning permits into one application that is reviewed in collaborative teams rather than different departments.

Tollen said he has no issues with permitting because it protects the public, but people can be intimidated by the length and price of the town’s process.

Red tape sometimes leads to people attempting a renovation without a permit.

“Most people who have done renovations illegally will get caught when they sell their home,” he said. “Most of the time, buyers or brokers will make the seller go back and get a permit.”

He said codes can change on an annual basis, so a renovation began this year could have violations when it’s completed.

Goldman said the realtors association discussed organizing a task force to talk with the town and its inspections department to make the entire permitting process more efficient.

“The town should have a time frame of amnesty to reach out to reconcile with people who renovated without a permit,” Goldman said. “Properties would then be permitted, and the town would have a more accurate tax record.”

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