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"Commercial" buildings and the Department of Making You Sad

 
Posts: 17
Location: Barre, MA
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I have a farm in Massachusetts.  I want to build a kind of multipurpose building in three phases.  The purposes of the building are intended to bring members of our community into the space to shop, to learn, to eat, to sleep, perchance to dream.  And this is where I anticipate that the Department of Making You Sad is going to come in and, in fact, make me sad.  Because we are a permie kind of place, I want to use natural building methods, and I want to use - as much as possible - our own 24 hands (big family).  The DMYS, I anticipate (and not without reason) does not understand such things.  So here I am, hoping that someone speaks both languages and can help me think or plan through this process so that everyone will be happy.

Based on the final dimensions of the building and Massachusetts building regulations, we're going to need an architect for a start.  And there will go a not insignificant sum of money, making me sad right at the outset.

Has anyone built a permie commercial/institutional use building on their site?  Please share your experience.  Or just reach out and hold me, tell me it's going to be alright (lie if you have to).
 
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if your land is registered as a farm there are many exemptions that apply to what and how you can build when it comes to farm buildings
 
pollinator
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Do you need an architect or a building designer or a draftsman to simply draw the plans etc?
 
pollinator
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Architect fees is 10% of the final price, so thats a big chunk of money. I feel your pain.

If you are building it just for your privater personal use then I support less regulation.
But if you are building for the public (my grandma) to come visit, shop and even sleep(motel). Then yes I think some public/government bare minimum standard makes sense.

DMYS, mostly cares about roof, bond beam, 4 weight bearing post and the foundation. They dont care about non-load bearing walls, and that is your ticket to doing creative stuff. They normally dont mind if you use strawbale for insulation.


 
John C Daley
pollinator
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You may be able to employ a building designer who will take basic instructions from you and ensure all requirements are met. They usually charge a fee for service
 
Nissa Gadbois
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John C Daley wrote:Do you need an architect or a building designer or a draftsman to simply draw the plans etc?



We do. The finished building will (eventually) be over 35000 cu. ft.  
 
Nissa Gadbois
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S Bengi wrote:Architect fees is 10% of the final price, so thats a big chunk of money. I feel your pain.

If you are building it just for your privater personal use then I support less regulation.
But if you are building for the public (my grandma) to come visit, shop and even sleep(motel). Then yes I think some public/government bare minimum standard makes sense.



Agreed.

S Bengi wrote: DMYS, mostly cares about roof, bond beam, 4 weight bearing post and the foundation. They dont care about non-load bearing walls, and that is your ticket to doing creative stuff. They normally dont mind if you use strawbale for insulation.



I'm anticipating that they are going to push back on some natural building that we might wish to employ, but perhaps not.  I'm pleasantly surprised that Massachusetts is OK with strawbale fill.  I wonder how they feel about earthbags and cob and thatch roofing.  I'm also wondering if they will allow a certain amount of the work to be done by our own hands.  Obviously, things like plumbing and electrical will have to be done my qualified professionals.  Those are things I wouldn't feel competent to do in any case.

I'm hoping we will find an architect that can help point us in a direction and also know where to get all of the official information about whatever building methods and materials we'd like to use so that the planning and zoning boards will be happy, thus making me happy.  Because we all just want everyone to be happy.


 
pollinator
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Nissa Gadbois wrote:to shop, to learn, to eat, to sleep, perchance to dream.



Nissa:  These things vary state-by-state so you're going to have to go in and ask.  But what you ask is very, very important!  The department is built to say "No" to anything that doesn't fit the right category, so you have to define the category.

First, you're a farm. (Assuming you are actually zoned "farm" or equivalent).  Generally, you can build any kind of structure you want - so long as it doesn't look anything like a place for people to sleep or live.  Its up to you to make sure the building doesn't collapse and kill your critters, but its very much their job to make sure anything that people are "supposed" to sleep in doesn't fall down and go boom.  There is likely another code that says something like "farm building can't have more than 10 people in them at a time" - again a public safety oriented idea.

Second, you might need to fall back on the "home based business" category.  I'm going to have to do that because the definition of "farming activity" is, IMHO, too narrow and precludes adding any value to the product after its grown.  Calling it a home-based business solves that problem (for the activity, not necessarily the excuse for the building).

In my area (Oregon) there are many, many restrictions on residential structures.  I find the restrictions on even building a deck frustrating.  But if its a farm building then the zoning people only get to make sure that its built with proper setbacks from the property line.  If I add electricity or plumbing they need to inspect those, but again they pay no attention to the building itself.  And so long as my home-based business doesn't use more than 1800 sq ft (I think...) then they don't care about that.  So I can build a 30x50 "farm maintenance" building with a woodshop.

The other thing is figure out what you "can not build".  Codes are made to apply to certain things and say it very explicitly - so figure out what they don't apply to!  If the code says "a structure for gathering 10 or more people", then you specify that your building will only have 9 people in it at a time (and maybe even hang a sign to that effect).  

And always avoid the word "commercial" at all costs!!  That word means something very different to zoning and planning people than it does to you... to them a commercial building/activity means traffic, signs, parking lots, public access, idiot customers, police calls, employees. "Home based business" evokes quilting circles, spinning wheels and quiet cups of tea, jars of honey and no phone calls from the neighbors complaining!

p..s found this link: https://www.massagcom.org/StateLaws.php#ch40  Most of the links to the state sites don't work but that one makes it pretty clear that as a farm you can do things!
 
pollinator
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Trying to envision what a 35,000 sq ft straw bale structure would look like. [edit; mis-read, you meant Cubic foot] You mention shopping, eating and sleeping. Do you a rough idea of the occupancy numbers you anticipate? Are you planning a commercial kitchen as part of the project? Is the building planned to be in year-around use and if so how will it be heated during the winter? How many bathrooms are you thinking of? How large a parking area would be needed? Where would the water falling on the roof in a season to (potentially over a million gallons in a year by my calculation)? For perspective a commercial building can cost up to $10-$20 a square foot.

One aspect of building a large commercial building on farm land is regarding taxes and any agricultural exemptions currently held. A large building encompassing a commercial venture, even if loosely related to “Permie” activities, could easily be construed as a conversion from Agricultural to Commercial and require payment to recoup past taxes and interest that were exempted. Most States have these type of claw-back provisions, mainly designed to preserve open farmland and prevent wholesale conversion of exempted farmland to housing or industrial use.

Does the town have easy access to zoning and planning meetings and can you research? Knowing what struggles and back and forth arguments regarding zoning have occurred in the past can provide guidance and while often deadly dull to read should be interesting to anyone wishing to avoid being shut down well along in their project.

One avenue that works well is to have an engineer familiar with the local codes consult on any construction. Often a consulting engineer can fulfill a lot of the inspections along the way to prevent delays and misunderstandings by overseeing authorities. Knowing someone who was in the hospital for two weeks due to an un-permitted deck collapse at a party, I fret not about such regulations.
 
S Bengi
pollinator
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With natural material you might need a stamp from a structural engineer vs just an architect.
Reach out to these guys, they are very good and they work with earthbag, strawbale,  and lots of cool material both for residential and commercial
https://www.structure1.com/projects/earthbag-houses/
Let me know what you think of them


mass uses the 2015version of the IBC, which the state sells at their bookstore interestingly enough.
https://www.mass.gov/handbook/ninth-edition-of-the-ma-state-building-code-780

Starwbale
https://codes.iccsafe.org/content/IRC2015/appendix-s-strawbale-construction

I too agree that building everything but the commercial kitchen and motel will make getting the permit super easy. Probably as just farm or private residential buildings. So erect that pavilion/gazebo to store your farm equipment, etc but with a 2nd function to host a crowd.
You can do the commercial kitchen and esp the motel in the very last phase.
 
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A big reason I picked my county is because of the lack of building codes. From the a county commissioner, they quite literally said "This is a place where if the roof falls on your head, that's on you. Maybe you'll make a better roof next time."
 
John C Daley
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At 35,000 sq ft the structure is enormous.
I cant see you having a straight run with that, simply because of its size.
It sounds like a shopping centre and a motel.
Using permy consepts, can you do things differently?
 
S Bengi
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The county, I plan on moving to is like that, I am allowed to do my own electrical work and plumbing, etc. I can cook/ferment my food however I want for my home use. But once I open a restaurant, they now have alot of regulation, even my sink has to have the right certification and they want dimensions, even though it is the exact same live free or die county. It gets even worse when #1 of tiolet per worker/customers and parking regulation and such is factored in their decision to give out a permit.

35,000 cubic feet volume or 3,500 sqft assuming 10ft walls. Even 4,400sqft with 8ft walls doesn't sound too big.

I wonder what your motel rooms look like?




 
John C Daley
pollinator
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Can you clarify the 35,000 cub ft.?
Is it Cubic feet, volume of the building or square ft of floor space?
 
pollinator
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I’m quite sure that there are no counties in Massachusetts where the OP can built whatever she wants. It’s not that kind of state.

It might be, though, the kind of state where sustainability might bring some interest from the Commonwealth, and possibly even funding.
 
Nissa Gadbois
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John C Daley wrote:At 35,000 sq ft the structure is enormous.



35000 cu. ft. No shopping malls on the farm. :D
 
Nissa Gadbois
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Anne Pratt wrote:I’m quite sure that there are no counties in Massachusetts where the OP can built whatever she wants. It’s not that kind of state.

It might be, though, the kind of state where sustainability might bring some interest from the Commonwealth, and possibly even funding.



Massachusetts is pretty regulated in every regard.  No carte blanche here.  But, yes... Massachusetts is very interested in all things 'green', so perhaps I can find some funding.  I'm not at all sure where to look.  NRCS touches on that, but it would be a stretch.  MDAR doesn't have anything that I can think of.  And I'm not sure what other agencies or NGOs I might investigate.  Maybe I'll have a rummage around over the weekend and see what I can turn up.
 
Anne Pratt
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UMass Amherst has a Permaculture Design program that seems to be run out of the Dining Department and the Library.  When I lived in Northampton they planted a whole lot of fruiting shrubs on the county courthouse lawn!  I glanced at the website and the last courses that were listed were in 2019, so a good chance it's still there, if at a standstill like everything else.

I don't know if this group is still active, but they listed funding for projects:

http://northeastpermaculture.org/funding-sources-for-permaculture-initiatives/
 
Nissa Gadbois
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S Bengi wrote:The county, I plan on moving to is like that, I am allowed to do my own electrical work and plumbing, etc. I can cook/ferment my food however I want for my home use. But once I open a restaurant, they now have alot of regulation, even my sink has to have the right certification and they want dimensions, even though it is the exact same live free or die county. It gets even worse when #1 of tiolet per worker/customers and parking regulation and such is factored in their decision to give out a permit.

35,000 cubic feet volume or 3,500 sqft assuming 10ft walls. Even 4,400sqft with 8ft walls doesn't sound too big.

I wonder what your motel rooms look like?






Yep, so we're already anticipating the BoH inspections and regulations.  We're very familiar with food services regs.  Less familiar with those governing overnight accommodation.  My main concern is actually the building itself and the types of materials and construction we may be limited to.  I'd like to be able to say "here is the technical/scientific information on this thing we want to use"

I know that CalEarth has done a lot of this work on earthbag construction.  Where can one find that type of informaiton on other natural building materials and techniques?  
 
Anne Pratt
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I was re-reading some of the thread, and thought to add this.  One of the first questions to be answered is how your property is zoned.  Agricultural, residential - something else?  The first hurdle might be the town's zoning board.  You can find out about your zoning, if you don't know, by looking at the zoning map of the town.  Likely it's online somewhere (and pretty tiny to interpret) but also down at the town hall, a little larger.  If the town hall is even open!

Good luck!

 
gardener
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The following has worked for me.  As has been mentioned, someone will be looking at your plans and checking off the boxes. If the boxes are not checked, you don't get approval.  Find out what those boxes are before you start.

For example, I once had a fire marshal reject my remodel because it did not have 3/4 (or some such) inches on dry wall on the walls. I was able to immediately point out that the standards called for a 1 hour fire rating and did not dictate the kind of material.

Another point is to do your best to avoid conflicts by seeking input and assistance up front.
 
John F Dean
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Another thought, if a building has multiple functions, the most conservative standard will be applied to the entire building.  For example if living space and meeting space are in the same structure, the standards for the living space will be applied to all.  It may be cheaper to chop up the project into separate structures.   How a separate structure is defined can vary. It may just be an issue of a firewall.  Finally, do not assume the most recent national fire code will be applied.  Find out the year of the code that your state uses. Ditto for other codes.
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