Trigger for City/County Review.

This topic contains 7 replies, has 3 voices, and was last updated by  Leslie B Wagle 2 months, 2 weeks ago.

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    Residential project with existing house and improvements. If you are going by the book, what typically is the trigger for Building Permit or some kind of City review?

    I could see a deck, pool, or retaining wall (4′ or higher) requiring this. If you don’t have these elements, do you need to go to the building department at all?


    Leslie B Wagle

    It’s usually not that hard to find out by a call to the city (planning or inspections department)….but generally if they don’t review new single family, & it’s not an expansion of the house, adding of a pool, or in a special zoning district (historic, watershed, scenic highway etc.) then you’re free to do grading and to design hard surfaces and plant materials. Things that trigger permits are when there is a separate review board for appearance issues, extensive clearing or pavement affecting runoff, adding driveway access into public roadways, etc. that affect other people. In more rural areas, that could include new septic field layouts. Still, be aware of tall mature tree heights near utility easements, evergreens affecting sight distances near intersections, etc. and be sure the owners aren’t in a neighborhood with a Homeowner’s Association that could have its own guidelines and sometimes formal review.



    These are newbie questions, is the jurisdictional review the only need to seal a set of plans?

    I know every jurisdiction is different, any general practice guidelines for what an LA can stamp? Where do you typically draw the line?


    Lot of things could trigger a review. For example, some municipalities regulate all hardscaping or impervious surfaces by counting them toward total lot coverage. Others have ordinances that absolutely no work within 200’ of a coastal feature can be done without a plan review and/or issuance of a permit.

    The first step is to review all regulations and ordinances. As a licensed professional you have an obligation to inform your client of the applicable codes, regulations, and ordinances. If they are intent on knowingly violating these regulations, that should be a red flag, and you should look for new clients. It should not be your job to skirt the law and find ways for your client to get away with something.

    As onerous as these regulations may seem, they exist for good reason, and actually go a long way to protect property values, preserve views, limit runoff, improve water quality, etc. They also create work for landscape architects!

    Nearly every job I work on requires oversight at many levels, typically due to their location within sensitive coastal habitats or historic districts. The best designs consider the client’s needs and find creative solutions that work within the given regulations.



    Absolutely, I understand all of the community plan(s) and zoning ordinance regulations and designing the site accordingly. My inquiry is navigating the building permit side. Is it regular practice to call the building department and see if LA’s can sign off on decks, grading plans, etc. in specific jurisdictions?


    Leslie B Wagle

    Joseph makes good points and I wanted to add to my “give a call” comment…that having to go pick up or buy a copy of an ordinance is not that common any more. A lot of ordinances and regulations are provided by the area’s government website, usually under planning or development. It’s the place to start, and will give advice on other special regulations. If you start there and get confused or puzzled, you can still call for clarifications. If the town/county has GIS layers, find the parcel on their map and look for the zone it is in and other overlays that affect it. Also special zoning cases with their own peculiar requirements (sometimes actually written for an area as small as a parcel) will have some case number shown, and the staff can provide a copy of the zoning conditions. Special conditions could be issues that won’t affect you like types of use allowed, building height, signage etc. but you don’t want to proceed unaware of extra loaded landscape buffers or for that matter invisible access or easements etc. Such things stick to the land unless formally removed. You do run into clients/owners totally unaware of what was set up in past history and they will expect YOU to lead them and research such things.



    I completely understand the Zoning and Planning department review, I was curious about the building department review? Do you ever send you plans (decks, free-standing walls, etc.) to a building department to review it with building code?


    Leslie B Wagle

    I can only answer for where I was a planner. Planning was the “clearing house” or contact point but some other cities may do it differently. Besides our own review, we would circulate submissions to other department(s) which could be inspections, fire, transportation, public works etc. Big project developers just knew to bring multiple sets as all of them had to sign off prior to building permits. When people brought something straight to inspections, since inspections weren’t confident about commenting on setbacks etc. they would likewise refer the customer or forward the application to the planning department (or ask us to just look at it and advise them). Local staff should know who you need to see and guide you through their (short or long) maze. Some even have handout guides for what to submit to who based on the size/type/complexity of the project.

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