How do I get my plans approved by the city

If you want to make additions to your property like putting in a pool, building a wall or adding on to your home, you probably know that you need a permit from the city. Here’s how it should work:

  1. Check the zoning requirements of the property in question
  2. Create construction plans (follow the rules in the building code)
  3. Submit plans to city for approval
  4. Make corrections as needed
  5. Obtain building permit
  6. Begin construction

It sounds simple enough, but the process of getting your plans approved so you can start construction can be anything but simple. In fact, it can be downright overwhelming.

The first step in the process is to figure out the zoning requirements of the property in question. Zoning is the designated identification of a property or lot that determines the allowed use, maximum height, allowable area, required yards, and any other requirements specific to the property or lot. The type of occupancy, setbacks, height, and size limitations are all land-use issues covered by your local city planning code. You need to go to the city to get this information. (That’s your first trip.)

Once the land-use questions have been resolved, you will need to create complete construction plans for the project making sure you follow the rules in the building code. These include making sure the height of the structure does not exceed the code, that the structure itself is not too big and that it falls within appropriate setbacks.

These plans then need to be submitted to the city for approval. (This is your 2nd trip.) At this point, the city planner will check to ensure the plans are in compliance with the applicable city planning codes. If not, they will be returned to you with corrections. Once the corrections are made, you need to return to the city (3rd trip) to resubmit the plans. Again, they will be reviewed and checked against the planning code. In theory, you only have to do this once, but that rarely happens. I’ve seen some projects go through this process 10 times before getting city approval, each time requiring another trip to the city to work out issues with the various departments involved.

You don’t ever work with just one person at the city. At a minimum, you will need to work with people from the Planning department, the Engineering department and the Building department. Typically, you end up seeing a new person each time and more or less have to start from scratch with them before you can get to the next step. In my experience, most projects require at least 4-5 trips to the city before plans are approved. Most cities charge you an hourly rate for plan checking.

Once the plans are approved, a building permit can be issued and the construction phase of the project can begin.

But wait, there’s more. During construction, a city inspector will come out to make sure your structure is, indeed, following the code per the plans. More often than not, the inspector finds something that needs to be fixed. This puts a halt to your project until you fix the issue and have the inspector come out again to finish the inspection.

As you can see, starting any construction project means spending lots of time at the city. It’s a time consuming process and there’s a bit of a learning curve. Almost every time I go to the city I see someone who is stressed out and confused trying to get their plans approved. I often hear the city representative behind the counter saying something can’t be done when I know it can, or that something is against the code when I know it isn’t. As a licensed land surveyor, I am also qualified to do land planning and can help you navigate the murky waters of the permitting process. I will advocate for you an your behalf and streamline the process of getting your plans approved. This can save you time and money, and take the pain and stress out of the process.

If you are interested in land planning and city liaison services, call 949-439-4682.