Opening a business can be a costly endeavor, and it can be even more costly if budding entrepreneurs are not aware of the steps they need to take before applying for an El Dorado business occupational license and opening up to the public.
Square footage, fire walls, building usages, occupancy ratings, and height of fire extinguishers are some of the many things that must be considered when opening a business to make sure the project complies with city, state and national codes.
That’s where the El Dorado code enforcement office and fire department come in.
“Those are some of the things the average citizen does not know, and our job is to help you find a way to open a business in town,” Mosby said.
Mosby said the fire department, code enforcement officer and electrical/plumbing inspector work together to provide city services that help prospective business owners find just the right place to set up shop in El Dorado.
The departments must sign off on business plans before the City Collector can issue an occupational license, and Fire Chief Chad Mosby said the process requires several steps.
Getting the ball
“The first thing you need to do is have a plan for the type of business you want to start and where you want to put it. Then, come to us to determine if that type of business can go in that area because of housing, zoning and fire codes,” Mosby explained.
He said new business owners should first pay a visit to Code Enforcement Officer Kirby Craig to learn which businesses are permitted in the various city zones.
“That really gets the ball rolling. Some types of fabrication shops are not allowed in residential areas because of the noise,” Mosby said. “You certainly want to see code enforcement before you put out any money trying to find a place.”
He said the fire department then works with Craig and Lynn Raynes, city plumbing/electrical inspector, to inspect the building and develop a plan to make sure the building meets codes.
One of the most common issues city employees encounter with prospective business owners is a potential change in a building’s occupancy class, Mosby said.
“If a building is designed for a merchant/retail occupancy, and you want to turn it into a restaurant, that would require an assembly occupancy,” he explained.
Restaurants, conference centers, churches, auditoriums, and nightclubs fall under the assembly occupancy classes.
“They usually have stricter fire codes because they’re intended for a higher concentration of people and can result in higher losses of life in an emergency,” the fire chief said.
Two of the deadliest nightclub fires in U.S. history killed nearly 600 people — The Cocoanut Grove in Massachusetts in 1942, (492) and The Station in Rhode Island in 2003 (100).
Fire code violations were cited as contributing factors in both fires. The incidents led to significant changes in national fire codes.
“Some of the things that resulted from that were a need a clearly marked entrances and exit pathways and sprinkler systems,” Mosby said.
Other assembly occupancy classes include residential, storage, institutional/educational and high hazard.
Mosby said he and Assistant Fire Chief/Fire Marshal Jason Evans recently met with downtown business owners to discuss fire code requirements and occupant safety.
The purpose of the meeting was to help downtown merchants prepare for out-of-town visitors who are expected for the opening of the Murphy Arts District on Sept. 27 — Oct. 1.
Downtown El Dorado, also known as the Central Business District/Fire District, has its own set of fire codes because of the age and close proximity of many of the buildings, Mosby said.
Finding a location
Upon finding a location, Mosby said prospective business owners should head to City Hall with a plan before signing a lease or purchasing a building.
“If you tell us your plan, and you have a suitable place to put a business into, then you can start the construction process and the move-in process and go to the city collector for a business license,” Mosby said.
Renovation/remodel plans must also meet current building, plumbing, electrical and fire codes.
“We commonly see situations where people have an idea for a business, they find a spot, and they start construction before finding out they need certain requirements to put a business in,” Mosby said.
“They’ve put out all this money, and we come in and tell them they have to meet certain requirements, and we want to prevent that before they lease a space,” he continued.
In most cases, Mosby said the city team is able to inform entrepreneurs about applicable codes before they spend a tremendous amount of money.
Restaurants and daycares are two businesses that are most commonly involved such scenarios, Mosby said.
“We see people who want to put a restaurant in. Even if it was a restaurant at one time, we still have to look at it because you may need to bring it up to code,” he said. “Because of the square footage, you might have to put in a new sprinkler system or the kitchen may not be suitable for the type of equipment you want to put in.”
He recalled an instance in which a woman wanted to open a daycare.
“That was one of those situations where the process worked right. She would come in every week. We would go down and look at it and say, ‘This is what it will cost to bring the building up to code,’” he said.
“We looked and looked and looked until we found a building with modification requirements that wouldn’t overrun her budget,” Mosby continued.
Another woman who wanted to open a similar business that served children was not able to find a suitable spot in town, so she ultimately built anew outside city limits, he said.
“Daycares are highly regulated, as far as fire codes, even down to the wall covering,” Mosby said. “When people want to run a daycare out of a home, it’s not suitable for a lot of kids in a daycare setting.”
The process is similar for new construction projects.
Prospective business owners must present a plan and construction documents to the respective city departments for review and approval before construction can begin, Mosby said.
Here to help
Mosby said he wanted to impress upon citizens that city supports the opening of new businesses.
“If you want to invest in this town, we’re here to help you open a business, not prevent you from opening a business,” he said. “It may not be the way you thought you were going to do it, but we will help you establish a business in this town.
“The main thing is to get with us before you start. We can definitely save you money in the long run,” Evans said.
For more information, call the code enforcement office and plumbing/electrical inspector at 870-881-4869 or the fire department at 870-881-4855.
Tia Lyons may be contacted at 870-862-6611 or by email at tlyons@ eldoradonews.com.