Opening or Relocating a Business?
What you should know about the Department of Health approval process
All new commercial construction and many existing tenant spaces require the approval of the Suffolk County Department of Health before an establishment is permitted to open for business. In addition, permits may be required from other municipal agencies (Town, State, Fire Marshall) before occupancy. The need for approvals should be fully investigated by the applicant and a sufficient amount of time should be allotted within the construction schedule. In order to avoid unnecessary delays within the Department of Health, applicants are strongly urged to take into account the following items:
The Department of Health is here to serve you. Applicants are encouraged to have a pre-meeting with the department prior to entering into a lease or purchase agreement to ensure that their proposal is acceptable under the provisions of the Suffolk County Sanitary Code.
- Applicants seeking to open a food establishment should contact the Food Unit of the Department of Health at (631) 852-5999 to request a meeting to review the department requirements for all food related issues.
- All other applicants should contact the Office of Wastewater Management at (631) 852-5700 to request a meeting to review the department requirements for all sanitary and water supply issues.
- If you intend to build a public swimming pool (swimming pools installed at any facility that is not a single-family residence) or store any toxic or hazardous materials (including petroleum products) permits may be required. Applicants should contact the Office of Pollution Control at (631) 854-2501. A pre-meeting may be advisable in certain circumstances.
- Applicants are encouraged to bring the following items to the pre-meeting(s):
- Location of the facility and nature of business.
- Suffolk County Tax Map # of the facility. Real Property Web Site
- Names and particulars (seating, floor areas, tenant names, etc.) of other establishments in the shopping center.
- Historic names for food establishment.
- Type of sewage disposal and water supply system.
- Type of building heat (gas, fuel oil, other).
- Required toxic or hazardous material storage.
- Site plans if available.
- Applicants are encouraged to be accompanied by a design professional.
Lease or Purchase Agreements
Applicants should meet first with the Health Department and use caution before signing a lease or purchasing agreement. You may want to consider a clause which provides relief in the event that Department of Health regulations preclude expeditious approval. It is always a good idea to consult an attorney before executing a lease or purchase agreement. Many times, applicants are unaware of the Suffolk County Sanitary Code requirements and find out too late that the business which they desired to open may not be possible or needs substantial modifications.
Selection of a Design Professional
Applicants should be careful in their selection of a design professional for the project. While any design professional (engineer or architect) that is licensed in the State of New York may legally make a submission under the sanitary code, design professionals should have a thorough working knowledge of the department codes, rules, and regulations. Before hiring a design professional, applicants should request the following information from a prospective firm:
- How long have they been in business?
- How many applications have they submitted to the department in the past few years?
- How familiar are they with the codes, rules, and regulations of the department?
- How long does a typical project that they prepare take before being granted approval?
Approximate Department Review Time
The Department of Health makes every effort to speedily review all plans and applications. It is the department's goal to complete the initial review within 1 - 2 weeks. If the staff determines the submission to be acceptable then the submission will be assigned a reference number. If the submission is found to be unacceptable the submission documents will be returned to the applicant and the applicant along with their design professional will be required to schedule a meeting to discuss the proposal and required corrections.
However, there may be problematic issues with some applications. With this in mind, it is prudent for applicants to build into their business plan a sufficient period of time between application and approval. Many of these issues are noted below and this is one reason why the Department strongly recommends the pre-meeting process. The length of the plan review process is dependent on the quality and thoroughness of the information that you provide and the timeliness of your responses to requests for such information. If applications are problematic, or if significant unforeseen problems arise, the process could take longer.
Site Constraints when Establishing a Business
Although the Department of Health does everything possible to accommodate applicants within the constraints of the sanitary code, in some cases, compliance is not possible, for reasons such as those noted below. Even if you have a pre-existing sanitary system, it is not guaranteed that it is suitable for the intended new use.
- If the building is not connected to sewers, the sanitary code limits the discharge of sewage per building lot. If your proposed use generates more sewage flow than permitted under the code, it cannot be approved.
- Site constraints; such as lot area, soil conditions, groundwater elevation, or availability of public water, may not permit the installation of an acceptable sanitary system.
- Sanitary Code Article 7 and 12 regulations that limit or prohibit the storage of toxic or hazardous materials.
Potential Delays in Processing Applications
Many times, items are noted during the review process (such as the need to replace or expand the existing septic system) that must be addressed prior to issuance of approval. The following are examples of items that can cause delays and add expense to a project which must be planned for in an applicant’s timeline and budget:
- Compliance with the provisions of the sanitary code.
- Modification of existing on-site sanitary systems due to changes in use or increase in seating.
- Existing sanitary systems may have to be abandoned, sampled, and/or remediated.
- Sanitary Code Article 7 and 12 permits for toxic or hazardous materials.
- Variances and covenants.
- Approvals of other agencies.
- New York State Department of Agriculture permits are not transferable and complete Department of Health review is required.
Facts that may Assist in the Approval Process
The following items may assist applicants in obtaining the necessary Department of Health approvals:
- If the establishment is presently connected to public sewers.
- If a food establishment operated in this location within the past 2 years and no increase in seating or building additions are proposed.
- If the existing sanitary system meets current code.
- If the proposed use does not generate an increase in sewage flow at the site.
- Keeping toxic and hazardous material storage volumes at the site (including heating oils) to permitted pre-existing levels.