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How Long Does It Take To Get A Building Permit In the City of Boulder?

photography by Christina Kiffney Photography

How Long Does It Take To Get A Building Permit In the City of Boulder?

We get this question all the time.  The general understanding most homeowners have is that permits are difficult to procure and it’s unclear what the steps are to get one, which is not untrue.  There is a load of paperwork and information that one must gather to submit a permit application which is why most of our customers are happy to let us deal with the rigorous permit application process.  This post isn’t about what’s required for a building permit; rather, I want to take some time to honestly answer the question: How long does it actually take?

First off, it’s important to understand that different towns and areas of Boulder County have different jurisdictions that deal with building permits.  For example, properties outside of any city limits are considered to be in unincorporated Boulder County.  You must apply for building permits with the Boulder County building department.  The cities of Boulder and Louisville have their own building departments and their own zoning rules.  Then there is the town of Niwot, which is too small to have it’s own building department so it refers to Boulder County’s building department.  Lastly, you should also check to see if your home is part of an HOA (Home Owners Association) or other organization that has its own subset of rules.  You will need approval from these entities before you can apply for the overarching jurisdiction’s permit.  In short, if you’re looking to get a building permit, make sure you know which jurisdiction you’re in, and that you understand the specific rules for your area. 

Briefly, I’d like to address when you need a building permit.  The short answer is that you need a permit if you’re doing any significant work to your home.  Structural changes, plumbing, electrical, and HVAC changes all require a permit.  Here’s the link to the city’s answer to this question.

The rest of this post focuses on the City of Boulder’s building department, since this is the area where we do most of our projects.  

Due to COVID, the city’s building department physical location is closed.  All applications are done online.

Here’s a flowchart from the city’s website.  Phases 1-8 show the process to get a permit.

Not all projects are the same, however.  There are a few key initial steps that are not shown on this flowchart that may be required. If your home is older than 50 years old and you’re changing the front of your home, you have to go through a Landmark’s review, which takes a few weeks.  Another step that some projects require is a variance if your project doesn’t fit inside the prescribed parameters for your area.  Some subdivisions are in what’s called a PUD (Planned Urban Development).  PUDs have their own rules and it requires a certain type of variance to be approved before you can submit for the building permit.  Another type of project that’s getting more popular is an ADU (Accessory Dwelling Unit).  This has its own permit application that must be approved before you apply for the actual building permit to do the work.  Variances and ADU permits can take 2-4 months to get approved.  This has to happen before you can apply for the building permit.

Here’s a breakdown of time frames that we’re currently experiencing for building permit applications:

  • Once you’ve got all your preliminary approvals, variances, engineering and architectural drawings ready, you can submit for the building permit permit (step 1).
  • It then takes 2-3 weeks for the COB (City of Boulder) to create your case (step 2 in the flow chart).  Then you pay your review fee online (step 3).  Then you upload all your documents (Step 4).  
  • Assuming your application is complete (step 5), you will probably need to wait 8-12 weeks to hear back from the COB (step 6).
  • In our experience, we always have to do the resubmittal phase (step 7).  The city reviewers are usually looking for additional information or clarifications.  SoBo’s goal is to resubmit as soon as possible.  After we resubmit, it usually takes another 3 weeks to get permit approval.  
  • Then you pay the remaining fees (step 8) and wait about 1 week for the permit to be issued (step 9)
  • Then you’re good to start building! 

In conclusion, from the moment when all permit application documents and drawings are ready to submit, we’re finding it takes about 4 months to get a building permit.  ADUs, alterations in a PUD, and variances can add another 2-4 months to the process.  

To end this post, here’s some language from the COB’s building department website:

“2020 has been a year of change and transition. P&DS (Planning and development services) is working to address community needs during COVID-19, and has had to reduce staff levels due to revenue shortfalls related to the pandemic. We know that you have been impacted too.

In addition, staff are working to optimize business processes to improve the customer experience. In the coming months, P&DS staff teams will be participating in intense work efforts designed to build new business processes. Prioritizing this important work will impact our services standards in the short-term, but will lead to long-term benefits, including increased efficiency, improved customer service and cost savings.

We are asking for your patience during this time as we explore bold and transformational ideas. Thank you for understanding and for partnering with us to offer service excellence for an inspired future .”

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