Diego Luis Perez, co-owner of Flan Y Ajo restaurant on Westminster Street in Providence, wanted to open a wine bar.
He lined up a liquor license and a vacant space on Union Street that, at 450 square feet, was even tinier than his popular tapas bar. Having been through the permitting process for Flan Y Ajo, Perez thought he knew what to expect from city officials and that such a small, innocuous establishment would be easy to get approved.
It wasn’t. Recent changes to plumbing guidelines put his plans at odds with the state building code and his quest for an occupancy permit would take five months, cost approximately $2,000 and force him to become reacquainted with a typewriter. “It was bizarre and frustrating, but it’s over now, hopefully,” Perez said a week after the Zoning Board of Review had granted a variance clearing the way for a permit.
He hopes to open the wine bar, Bodega Malasana, by the end of November. But as frustrating as his experience with red tape was, others who have tried to open new businesses would say Perez got off easy. Many projects have to wait far longer than five months for a green light and some never get one.
Business-owner frustration with building codes, land-use rules and a myriad of other regulations is hardly new and hardly exclusive to Providence or Rhode Island.
But the challenge of opening such a small establishment in an existing space highlights how imposing a task streamlining the regulatory process is.
With jobs, construction and commercial tax revenue at a premium since the recession, state and local officials throughout Rhode Island have promoted new efforts to make it easier to start a business.
With the help of IBM consultants who studied the city as part of the “Smarter Cities” program, Providence launched an initiative to streamline its permitting land-management systems. It included the creation of a new committee headed by city Director of Administration Michael D’Amico and members of the development community to keep pushing for efficiency.
And the General Assembly passed legislation requiring all state regulatory entities to examine the cost and impact of each regulation on their books, identifying any that could be trimmed or eliminated, within four years.