zoning / architect fees / do I need engineer on board?


Hello there,

I might work on a project for a friend, converting ground floor into beauty parlor (skin care & nail) at existing two story residence in Brooklyn. Most of work will be cosmetic, (painting, new floor finish, no interior walls to demo, probably all ready made cabinet works) but she does need to change the existing facade (brick with two windows and entry door) to more of "retail storefront". Also she wants to fix up the overall look of entire facade, because top molding of second floor is missing... and she will probably need to replace some windows.

First, we're thinking of filing ULURP because the zone of project doesn't allow commercial overlay. I talked to a planner at the city and she said rezone of small portion of the block is a possibility if I can come up with valid reason. (There are lots of mixed use building in the neighborhood, which are all grandfathered in but which I thought makes street more vibrant and comfortable. Where our project is in my opinion "too residential" and actually it feels less pedestrian friendly) Has anyone done similar thing, and is it something that happens at all? Rezone does sound intimidating... and the planner says the city will most likely wouldn't do spot zoning of single property.

Second (if I can even get to that point - have to meet with the planner to get a go ahead with rezone application), what's a good fee structure for such project? From gathering bits and pieces from websites, something like charging hourly at beginning (as built drawings, schematic design?) and move on to more of lump-sum fixed fee of 5$ per square footage? (That will be $4000 for me, per about 800sf of the project) The client's budget for construction is around 50K.

Lastly, do I need structural engineer on board? How about sprinkler installation, since it will be commercial now? Will there be some special sort of plumbing required since it's a beauty parlor?

It's mind boggling how after years of working at offices, I have slightest clue to do anything on my own. Any input is appreciated very much. Thanks in advance!


Jan 22, 18 7:26 am

Your friend should hire an architect! as clearly you are not qualified if you don't know IF you need an engineer or HOW to address fire suppression. 

Jan 22, 18 8:23 am
Non Sequitur


Be a friend and tell your friend to hire someone competent.

Jan 22, 18 9:12 am
what have you been doing in these offices!? At the very least you'll need a licensed architect...who knows their way around NYC code.
Jan 22, 18 10:48 am

Sounds like you won't be friends by the time this project is completed.  I also suggest you bow out of this project.

Jan 22, 18 10:51 am

The zoning change aspect really necessitates an experienced professional, either a zoning lawyer or someone who has been around the block many times.  It's political more than architectural,  NIMBY's will be out in force.  If the adjoining property owners are opposed, your chances aren't good.

As to the engineer, if you aren't sure of permit requirements and whether your contemplated changes are structural, you really are too inexperienced to take it on.

Doing work for friends is a formula for losing money and friendship.  I'm with the others.  Let this one go.

Jan 22, 18 12:10 pm

will try to be helpful

- I have no idea about rezoning in NY.

- If you are messing with the building's structural system you probably want a structural engineer.  Replacing windows is no problem, but if you are putting in a wide storefront entry you probably don't want to design that lintel yourself.

- I have no idea if sprinklers are req'd in New York for this use and construction type.  If you are a licensed architect you should be able to figure it out.

- Plumbing, do they want to wash hair or have sinks outside of the existing bathroom? I assume that you only need one restroom? 

You probably shouldn't be charge anything since it sounds like you are going to be learning a lot.

Jan 22, 18 12:15 pm

OP also mentioned nails! Ventilation requirements should be addressed as well.


Are you licensed?  These drawings will need to be stamped

Jan 22, 18 12:17 pm
null pointer

I can tell you've bitten off more than you can chew. I do a lot of work in NYC and the fact that you would even think to make a post like this just shows that you're not ready for this. There is a lot of trade-knowledgethat is kept really close to the vest in the city (especially related to your casual mention of "oh I think we'll get a ULURP"). You're asking for bits of that knowledge, and offering nothing in return.

Seriously, there is nothing wrong in saying "I'm not qualified, can I suggest another architect for you to proceed with?"

Jan 22, 18 12:21 pm
To everyone's point about bowing out gracefully, depending on the sort of firm you work out, this could be a great opportunity to bring work into that firm. You'll get the more experienced architects to help you, your friend will get a decent project actually built, and you'll have a great bargaining chip in asking for a raise or immediate finders fee/cut.

If this pans out well maybe there's more work to be found as a result, further elevating your position in the current firm. When you are actually ready to step out on your own take all those clients with you.
Jan 22, 18 12:48 pm
Non Sequitur

the OP just started grad school... don't think this is as part of an office job.


I specialize in this stuff. You could just hire me as your licensed architect ;)

Jan 22, 18 12:51 pm
NS^ Fair enough.

OP- Recommend anyone in NYC to your friends besides bulgar. He's a racist mysoginist.
Jan 22, 18 1:05 pm

Archnine- you think I'd want a recommendation from some strangers online? I have my own clients lol. Besides, why would I want to reveal my identity?

Normally I would be the one to say OK go ahead but the conditions you describe and the way you describe them have me worried. First I would look into moonlighting at the office you are working at. If your firm has liability insurance they probably have a Prohibition of you doing projects on the side. If you don't want to keep working at your current firm then this is a good way to get fired with cause which means no unemployment insurance and a gap on your resume as you would not be able to depend on them as a good reference. New York as a state has a recent track record of prosecuting people posing as architects with real fines and significant jail time. 

If this was a simple redecorating/updating the interiors job with no doors, exterior envelope, lighting or change of use then I would think it not a problem but what you are describing is a significant renovation.

Over and OUT

Peter N

Jan 22, 18 1:24 pm
Non Sequitur

so, in other words, you're recommending the OP charge $4500 instead. Right?


I practice in NYC.  To me, what you're proposing isn't feasible for such a small change.  On two occasions over the last 10 years, I've had clients consider going through ULURP and the BSA to get a zoning change.  After speaking with zoning attorneys, both were told the same thing, expect the process to cost $100,000, and take 1 to 2 years.  The cost was too high for one client, the other's moving ahead.

This doesn't make me an expert, and maybe others have different experiences they can share, but right or wrong, the procedure for changing zoning isn't set up for mom and pop shops, it's for bigger interests.

You should read the zoning on what's allowable for home based businesses.  Maybe that route would be more realistic.

I also agree with those who are concerned that you're in over your head.  On the one hand, I'm sure we were all not prepared for our first commissions - but we figured it out.  On the other hand, my first project didn't involve zoning changes, getting a new C of O for the building, etc.

Jan 22, 18 2:33 pm

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