#1 WHAT IS YOUR PROFESSION? – If your profession is a doctor or lawyer ( land use attorneys are exempt) this is going to be a huge problem. You may want to stop reading right now and forget your project completely. If you choose to keep reading please do so at your own risk. Ok, here goes. You are too smart for this project. Now, that was NOT a compliment. What it means is, 99.9% of you (this number was scientifically calculated by me) THINK that because you were successful at achieving a degree in medicine or a law degree that you can somehow understand and navigate this process. Listen very closely to the next part. YOU CAN’T!!!! Again….YOU CAN’T!! I am an engineer, yet I chose an orthopedic surgeon to do my ACL reconstructive surgery, there is a reason for that.
#2 SHOULD YOU HIRE AN ENGINEER? – YES, especially if you are # 1.
#3 WILL THE ENGINEERING PROCESS BE CHEAP? – NO (sorry, you can blame your lawmakers for that) But, the good news is, if you are #1 or #2 you will be fine. Actually, you will be fine anyway.
#4 MEETING WITH THE TOWNSHIP TO DISCUSS YOUR PROJECT – This may be as important or more important than # 1. Understanding that you want to control # 3 because you did # 2 but if you are # 1 you should NEVER meet with anyone at the Township on your own. The reason you should not is explained in #1. But, in layman’s terms, you will not meet with the correct people, you will not ask the correct questions, you will not understand the answers you received to the incorrect questions and most importantly, you will undoubtedly leave the meeting being overly optimistic that you have received approval and that the Municipality is in love with you and your project. Reality is, nothing was approved and the Municipality neither loves nor hates your project. This is critical to understand because when you come in to meet with your engineer bursting with enthusiasm and optimism we have to “bring you down to earth”, which is never pleasant. You then view us/me as Mr. Negative, Debbie Downer etc. when I am really just being Mr. Reality or Mr. Been Doing This for 26 Years.
#5 HANDLING OUTSIDE AGENCY APPROVALS ON YOUR OWN – I simply cannot say NO loud enough. Again….you will likely need approval for your “home” project from the County Conservation District, the County Health Department, possibly PA DOT. Yes, you can google them and call them and ask questions but you will set into motion a few fun things that really are not fun. First and foremost, the people that work at those agencies are helpful, but also busy and it is often difficult for them to explain all that needs to be done to someone that has zero experience with “the process”. Therefore, you will often get (and rightly so) the Cliff Notes version of what is required. You will then digest about 30% to 35% of the Cliff Notes information you received and pass about 20% of that information accurately which results in about 6% to 7% good information. That is not good in case you were wondering. Think of it like this. You need open heart surgery and your anesthesiologist needs to discuss the surgery with your heart surgeon. Do you want to meet with the anesthesiologist on your own and then explain what he/she said or needs to your surgeon? The answer is, you don’t.
#6 CONSULTING WITH YOUR RELATIVE THAT IS AN ELECTRICAL ENGINEER IN SOUTH DAKOTA – Yeh, this is not going to help. While your cousin Jed may have a degree from South Dakota State University in electrical engineering he, unfortunately, will not be of any use whatsoever. We will always be polite and let him participate but in the end, you are wasting your, our and Jed’s time I promise you.
#7 THE USE OF LOGIC – Hands down the most dangerous thing you can do. Avoid logic like the plague no matter how much it tempts you. And trust me, you will be doing all you can to not revert back to logic all the time. You must live and die by ordinances and regulations AND definitions of any and all words. Logic has absolutely no place in the world of approvals in Pennsylvania I am sorry to report. Example – Denny, I don’t need stormwater management, my driveway will be stone. WRONG! Stone is defined as impervious. Denny, I am not adding any impervious cover, I am building my addition over my existing driveway. WRONG AGAIN! Last one, and this is my favorite….I get the chills even typing it. Denny, the Township will love this, it gets them “ratables”. Just for the record, I can’t stand the word “ratables”. RIGHT and WRONG actually. Right, it does get the Township “ratables” but WRONG they are not going to love you for it. Every project, I say again, EVERY project causes the dreaded 3 (followed by my favorite things I hear over and over and over ). 1. Traffic ( There is so much traffic on that road I can’t even pull out of my driveway in the morning Denny!) 2. School-age children (How in the heck will the school district be able to afford ALL these new children Denny? ) I fight hard not to scream out “WITH SCHOOL TAXES YOU &@%!!”. And, my personal favorite 3. Where will all of this stormwater runoff go? Gee, I wonder.
#8 COMPLAINING ABOUT THE PROCESS TO THE TOWNSHIP – This is very common, no need to be alarmed if you have an overwhelming feeling to call the Township and let them know how frustrated you are and how incompetent you feel they are. Unfortunately, this only causes two things. One, it shows clearly your complete lack of understanding of what is required and the process of getting your project approved and two it will likely get someone upset and maybe even irritated at you. Neither of these will be beneficial to you.
#9 CONTACTING YOUR CONGRESSMAN – Not as common as #8, but this does happen. About 10% of people go nuclear during this process and pull out that handy guide you get at the polls with all of the phone numbers and email addresses of your state representatives and congressman. You will set out on a mission to “change the system”! You will be unsuccessful. I don’t like to use the phrase “ you can’t fight city hall” because that would be inaccurate. You can fight City Hall all you want, you just won’t win. You CANNOT win. Consider reading Sun Tzu….”The greatest victory is that which requires no battle”
#10 LISTEN – I once heard a saying that went “ no one is listening until you fart”. I remember laughing but I notice that people rarely are listening to what is being said to them. I joke in my office that no one listens to me when I ask a question or they tend to finish your question with an answer that is incorrect. “Oh, I am sorry….did the middle of my sentence interrupt the beginning of yours? “ The process of getting your project approved for construction can be an easy one or an extremely difficult one. Listening to what you are being told and THEN questioning will make the process much more enjoyable, relatively speaking, and you will come away with some valuable knowledge.
Laminated pocket copies of this are available at our office anytime.
Denny L. Howell, II PE