the INTERSECTION: Business & Government

insectionBy ALY VAN DYKE
Director of Media Relations, City of Topeka

Meeting and communicating with the City’s Planning Department before, during and after you select your brick and mortar site is critical for saving time and headaches down the road and ensuring your business ultimately opens.


CALL CITY PLANNING DEPARTMENT—after you have some properties identified, they will help determine your next steps.

SCHEDULE A PRE-APPLICATION MEETING—The pre-application meeting is tailored to your project and will help you avoid common pitfalls, such as buying a property before you know whether your business would require any upgrades to comply with building and fire codes or a zoning change.

“Even changing a property from a restaurant to another restaurant has implications people don’t realize,” said Richard Faulkner, development services director. “Maybe the previous restaurant wasn’t permitted. Maybe the plumbing won’t fit your needs. Maybe codes have changed.”

In the pre-application meeting—which will last about an hour—City staff will go over a number of items you need to consider before buying a property, including:

• Zoning
• Building codes
• Fire codes
• Infrastructure
• Utilities

It’s OK if you don’t have all the answers, but you should bring a few things and people with you:

1. Concept plan, including a description of your business, the services you want to provide and how you will use the property.
2. Proposed location
3. Architect/engineer (not looping in a design professional from the beginning can cost you a lot of money in the end.)


1. Ask the Planning Department, “Can I operate a ________ at this address?”
2. A planner will determine if the use as described is allowed, conditional or prohibited based on the zoning of that location and also any other physical standards that might apply, including off-street parking requirements. Allowed use: No special permits or approvals from the Planning Commission or Governing Body are required. Prohibited use: Requires a zoning change and approval from the Planning Commission and Governing Body.
3. Once you determine your use is allowed, contact Development Services to determine if a building permit is needed (more about that process below).

1. Ask the Planning Department, “Can I operate a ________ and build a ____________at this address?”
2. A planner will determine if the use is allowed and discuss any physical standards that might apply, including building setbacks, off-street parking requirements and landscaping.
Allowed use: If scope of project includes new building, expansion greater than 50 percent or 15,000 square feet of an existing building (or expansion of parking lot by 50 percent) a Site Plan Review application must be submitted to the Planning Department for approval. The owner will need to hire a qualified design professional to do this. If scope of project does not warrant a Site Plan Review application, the owner needs to submit a site plan with the building permit application.
Prohibited use: Requires a zoning change and approval from the Planning Commission and Governing Body.

1. Pre-application meeting.
2. Submit the rezoning application—The application process will cost $650 or more, depending on the required zoning and size of the property. The application fee goes toward staff time and notice/publication requirements.
3. Neighborhood information meeting conducted by applicant.
4. Public hearing by Planning Commission after legal notice publication and mailing.
5. Decision by Governing Body.
6. Work with Development Services for a building permit.

Topeka Planning Department: 785-368-3728

Things You Should Know About Building Permits
After the use has been approved for zoning, you still might need a building permit from Development Services.

A change of the use of the building, even if there is no construction, will require a building permit for a certificate of occupancy. Interior or exterior construction will require a building permit, though there might be exceptions for minor construction. The process of obtaining a building permit looks like this:

• Hire a design professional to draw plans.
• Submit plans to Development Services for review.
• After plans are approved, pay for building permit.
• Hire contractor licensed by the City of Topeka to perform work.
• Call for required inspection.

After all work is inspected and approved, a certificate of occupancy can be issued. Some of these permits are based on a flat fee, while others are based on the percentage of the project cost/value.

Things You Should Know About Zoning Changes
When Planning considers a zoning or use change to a building, they consider three primary interests, in this order:

1. Safety
2. Compatibility and infrastructure
3. Property values

Also, as mentioned above, even if the use is allowed, your use still must meet other standards, such as off-street parking requirements.

Some of the older commercial properties in Topeka will not meet the parking requirements according to current code. However, if a structure predates the off-street parking requirements, it could be grandfathered in. If the new use of an old property requires more off-street parking than the previous use, the owner will need to provide that additional parking somehow or request relief from the City through a variance.