How to Open a Business in Bellefonte
Here is a Quick Step by Step Guide to assist you through the process
This is a brief step by step guide regarding the most basic requirements of operating a business in the Bellefonte Borough and offers tips and resources to help entrepreneurs who are thinking about starting a new business. All the below steps are required to be completed to a get an approved Certification of Occupancy (if applicable) for your business.
Before You Begin:
- If you are considering renting a space, do not sign a lease agreement prior to knowing how much you will incur in renovation costs based on the current occupancy permit and its use.
- Make sure to ask the property owner who is responsible for the costs associated with getting the space to meet code for your business use. If that person is you, reach out to Centre Region Code (CRCA) and request to have a code official come look at the space before you sign the lease agreement, so you know what work needs to be completed before you can open your business. (This walk through is not official and you may find out later there is more that needs to be done beyond what was suggested in this first meeting).
- For any construction modifications to the space, hiring a design professional is highly advised, especially if your business is located in the Historic District. Your design professional should have architectural experience in both commercial and historic projects.
- Often times, CRCA will ask that you bring your design professional or a design plan to the meeting. The code official does not act as your design professional. It is your responsibility as a potential business owner to work with a design professional on the physical space and scope of your business.
- Downtown Bellefonte Inc., (DBI) has quarterly “Meet an Architect and CRCA Official” meetings for potential new Bellefonte business owners. Please see their website for meeting times.
Step 1: Obtain a Zoning Permit
Zoning refers to permitted uses on parcels of land. There are various Zoning Districts designated throughout the Bellefonte Borough. Within each District, various types of commercial and business activities are permitted or prohibited.
You may go to the Bellefonte Borough website (bellefonte.net) for further information. On the Office of Community Affairs page, you will find a Zoning Map and the Bellefonte Borough Ordinances. The Zoning ordinance is Chapter 575, which will specify permitted uses.
You must obtain a Zoning Change of Use or Change of Occupancy Permit from Bellefonte Borough before operating a business. It is strongly advised that, before purchasing a property with the intention of establishing a specific type of business, or before establishing any business anywhere in the Borough you check with the Borough Zoning Administrator. You can make an appointment to see the Zoning Administrator by calling 814-355-1501 ext. 216 or emailing email@example.com.
➟ Click here to start the Zoning Application process:
Bellefonte Borough Zoning Permit Application for New Businesses
Step 2: Obtain Historic District Approval
All persons or entitles proposing to make exterior alterations or modifications to any building, structure, sign or premises within the designated historic district, shall apply to the Historical Architectural Review Board (HARB) for a Certificate of Appropriateness (COA) prior to obtaining the required Building and Zoning Permits. A COA application must be completed for all building improvements including, but not limited to, all work that will affect the general design, arrangement, texture, material and color of the exterior of a structure which can be seen from a public street or way within the Borough’s Historic District. The Historic District guideline and map are on the borough’s webpage.
The map can be found at: https://bellefonte.net/wp-content/uploads/2008/08/Bellefonte-HD-map.pdf.
The types of modification requiring HARB approval include, but are not limited to, the following: Painting; chemical cleaning; stucco or other applied textures; replacement or major repair of windows, cornices, trim or other nonstructural elements; signs; Installation of a satellite dish, antenna or other modern device utilized to receive video programming signals, and other work affecting any building, structure, or premises.
All proposed changes require review and approval by the Historical Architectural Review Board (HARB). Proposed work that is to be undertaken in kind (no change to existing materials, design, or dimensions) and certain other work such as painting of exterior surfaces, may be approved administratively by the HARB Administrator. All applications for a Certificate of Appropriateness shall be in writing from all persons or entitles, as described above, on a Certificate of Appropriateness application form provided by the Borough Office and shall be submitted to the Borough Office at least ten working days before the regularly scheduled Historical Architectural Review Board (HARB) meeting. The HARB meets the 2nd and 4th Tuesday of every month. If you have any questions, you can contact the HARB Administrator by calling 814-355-1501 ext. 216 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
➟ Click here to start the HARB Application process:
Step 3: Obtain Planning Commission Approval (if applicable)
If you are considering changing or adding to the footprint of your building, then you may need to submit a Subdivision & Land Development Plan. The requirements for a Subdivision & Land Development Plan preparation and submissions are detailed in the Subdivision and Land Development Ordinance (SALDO). Articles IV & V detail specifically what needs to be shown on the drawing itself. Upon receiving a qualified application, you will be scheduled for a formal review by the Planning Commission. The Commission typically meets on the 2nd Monday monthly at 5:00 PM. If you have any questions, you can contact the Planning Administrator by calling 814-355-1501 ext. 216 or emailing email@example.com.
Step 4: Obtain Building Permits (if applicable)
Once Zoning, Planning (if applicable) and HARB (if applicable) are approved, the next step for alterations to existing buildings and new construction requires a Building Permit. Bellefonte Borough’s contracted Building Code Office is the Centre Region Code Administration (CRCA). For a list of materials to complete a building permit for a commercial tenant, please see CRCA’s guide to a Tenant Fit-Out Permit. Individual building permits can also be found at the borough offices. Once completed, you can drop off your application at the Borough and it will be picked up daily by the Borough’s Code Official. If you have any questions regarding the application, payment, requirements etc. it is strongly encouraged you work directly with the Code Office. They can be reached at (814) 231-3056.
Centre Region Code will not approve any building permits without first getting Zoning approval. In some cases, you can complete both the Zoning Permit Application and the Building Permit Application at the same time and work with the Zoning Administrator on this process.
➟ Click here to apply for a Building Permit with Centre Region Code:
Building Permit Application
Step 5: Call for all Required Inspections – Final Certification of Occupancy.
Once all permits are issued, it is the applicant’s responsibility to call for all required inspections, which vary depending on the project. Examples of inspections for a build out are footings, foundation walls, slab on grade, underground plumbing & electrical, rough framing electrical mechanical and plumbing, above ceiling, insulation, and drywall. If you are opening a business and not drastically changing the interior of the space, you may only need electrical and fire inspections. Regardless, you will work with Centre Region Code to schedule and prepare for inspections.
➟ Call Centre Region Code to schedule an inspection: (814) 231-3056
Frequently Asked Questions (updated as needed)
What would be the bare minimum needed for opening a business in Bellefonte?
You would, at a minimum, need to obtain a zoning permit from Bellefonte Borough and a fire permit from Centre Region Code. Please contact the Zoning Administrator with any questions: firstname.lastname@example.org or (814) 355-1501 ext. 216.
Who qualifies as a Design Professional?
A design professional is a firm or individual with professional architectural experience in both commercial and historic properties. There are several in the area that have worked on projects in the Historic District of Bellefonte. If you need help finding a design professional, reach out to Jennilyn Schuster, Main Street Manager at Downtown Bellefonte Inc., to help you with this process. Email: email@example.com
What is a Certificate of Occupancy and how do I get one?
A Certificate of Occupancy (COO) is issued based on new or modified construction of a space. The COO stays with the building, not the business. For example, if you started a business in a space and made no change of use or modifications to the space, the COO would not change.
How do I know if I need a building permit?
The easiest answer is to call Centre Region Code (814-231-3056) and ask. In general, a business that is not changing the use will not require building code inspections or a building permit. For example: retail to retail without modifications. However, if anything is being modified other than paint, it will likely need a building permit.
How often are commercial properties inspected once open?
After a building or business is occupied, Centre Region Code will inspect for fire safety and issue an updated fire permit. The timeframe depends on the type of business and building construction, whether the building has sprinklers or not, and other factors. Inspectors have an equation that specifies when to inspect, whether that is every year, 3 years, or 5 years.
Is a Code inspection required for a “retail to retail” business change?
It depends on how long ago the last inspection was. It’s always a good idea to give CRCA a call.
If a new business is “just painting” (making no structural modifications) and not changing the use, is an inspection required?
Not necessarily, but call CRCA to update the fire permit or find out when it expires.
What do the various occupancy classification mean?
Buildings and structures are classified into use groups and occupancies. Occupancy classification is necessary to determine various code requirements, such as the features of construction; occupant safety requirements, especially building limitations; means of egress; fire protection systems; and interior finishes. The 2018 International Building Code (IBC) provides information on the Occupancy Classification and Use: https://codes.iccsafe.org/content/IBC2018P5/chapter-3-occupancy-classification-and-use
I want to install a sign for my business. What do I need to do?
If you are in the Historic District (anywhere in the downtown) then you will first need to have your sign design approved by HARB. You can complete an application online and email it to the HARB Administrator at firstname.lastname@example.org or drop it off at the Borough Office at 236 W. Lamb Street. You will also need to complete a Zoning Application for the sign, and that can be done simultaneously to save time. If your business is not in the Historic District, then you only need to submit the Zoning Application.
Resources and Contacts
- Bellefonte Historical Architectural Review Board (HARB)
- HARB Administrator: Gina Thompson
- 814-355-1501, ext 216 (office)
- Bellefonte Borough Zoning/Planning Office
- Zoning/Planning Administrator: Gina Thompson
- 814-355-1501, ext 216 (office)
- Centre Region Code Authority (CRCA)
- Fire Inspection: Rob Semion