If you feel like the entire city’s conspired to delay your construction project, you’re one of many.
And that’s part of the problem. Applicant backlogs coupled with a mazelike approval process can hold you up for months.
The permitting procedure for large, urban projects and some complex residential ones typically starts at the city’s planning department. Here, you learn which approvals and permits are needed, and your application review gets underway.
Projects involving demolition, new construction, changes to the dimensions, appearance, or use of a building may need a design review from city planners. If the development you propose does not conform to the local planning code, you may need to seek a variance, a conditional use permit, or both.
A variance is a deviation from minimum setbacks, floor areas, and other spatial constraints. It does not authorize a change to the zoning district’s land use. A conditional use permit allows a limited change to the approved land use. The planning department issues these permits based on discretion, with consent hinging on proof that you’ll follow the imposed conditions. It’s normal for public hearings to be held before a conditional use permit or variance are granted.
If your project falls within the spatial and land use boundaries of the city’s code, it may not need further involvement from Planning.
The saga doesn’t end there. By-right developments may still be subject to environmental reviews and neighborhood notifications. Some commercial projects may need health and police department permits. Public works staff might ask for your site services plans. If your project affects a heritage site, you’re likely to be at the mercy of a historical preservation committee.
Depending on the nature of your development, non-local agencies, such as the Coastal Commission, may also have a hand in scrutinizing your plans.
If your project involves asbestos abatement, you must notify your local Air Quality Management District. These agencies enforce asbestos regulations on behalf of the EPA. You need to present a copy of the notice when you apply for a building permit.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal statute aimed at curbing discrimination against disabled individuals. To this end, the Act controls development standards for public accommodations. Its provisions ensure that new buildings are accessible, while renovations include accessibility upgrades. California’s State building codes adopted ADA’s provisions, and most projects conform to the Act by simply having a code-compliant design.
While the building department assesses your adherence to accessibility requirements, the ADA is enforced by the Department of Justice, the United States Access Board, and other federal agencies. Coordinating your design with the ADA itself may prevent compliance issues caused by gaps between the Act and its State-level interpretations.
Obtaining a Building Permit
Upon receipt of all needed approvals, you should have the green light to apply for your building permit.
Most jurisdictions ask for separate applications for grading, demolition, mechanical, electrical and plumbing work, as well as one for a general building permit. Your contractor should know which permits to pull for your project. That said, you may discuss your project’s permit requirements with the city’s building department as a personal oversight measure.
On larger developments, you typically need to submit the following documents with your permit application:
• Planning Department Approval
• Other Relevant Approvals from Authorities Having Jurisdiction
• Geotechnical Report
• Site Services and Grading Plan approved by the local public works department
• Demolition Drawings
• Structural Drawings and Calculations
• Architectural Floor Plans
• Building Elevations
• Mechanical Drawings
• Electrical Drawings
• Plumbing Line Drawings
• Technical Specifications
• Title 24 Compliance Forms
• Title 24 Disabilities Access Compliance
• single-family dwellings not over two stories and a basement in height
• dwelling containing not more than four units and not over two stories and a basement in height
• accessory structures to single-family dwellings or multiple dwellings not over two stories and a basement in height
• agricultural buildings not deemed a risk to public health and safety
• nonstructural store fronts, interior alterations, additions, cabinet work, fixtures, furniture and equipment, and their installation, if the work doesn’t impact the structure or otherwise imperil health and safety
Upon submission, the permit application undergoes plan checks at various divisions of the building department. After the city’s review, a list of plan check comments will be generated. Your engineer will review them and respond to the city’s questions and action items.
At Design Everest, as an additional service, we sign and wet stamp our civil and structural drawings, should your project fall under this requirement. In addition, we review plan check comments and provide responses to the building officials. Contact us to discuss your project.
If the documents follow their respective codes, you may get the permit after the first review. This seldom happens. Most permit applications go through at least one revision cycle. To hasten the process, it's best to reduce the number of revisions by submitting detailed, compliant drawings and specifications.
To give applicants some relief from the long time spent waiting for approvals, some cities offer a parallel design-permitting service. Available in both Los Angeles and San Francisco, it’s aimed at complex developments where reviews can drag out for years.
The service allows permit reviews to happen concurrently with design development and includes continuous support from building officials. The service comes at an extra cost, but may result in savings if your project gets approved faster.
All of your project’s stakeholders play a role in streamlining approvals and permits. Ours is to slash the revision cycles at your building department by furnishing you with a code-compliant design, and accurate drawings. Let us help you start your project sooner. Contact us now and we will provide you a FREE Consultation with a quote. We also provide virtual on-sites and virtual consultations.
*Note: The content published above was made in collaboration with members of Design Everest.
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