What is Required of an Architect When Submitting Plans to the City of San Francisco?

Are you a San Francisco architect acting as the owner’s agent? If you are, there are times when you may have to obtain construction permits for your client. The guide below consolidates the city’s elaborate permitting procedures and submittal requirements for your convenience.


In San Francisco, the Planning Department is the first agency to accept a permit application, and review it with other pertinent agencies. At the end of this first review stage, successful applicants are issued an initial “Site Permit”.

The Site Permit submittal does not require a full set of working drawings. Rather, its approval is based on conceptual preliminary drawings and documentation. Plans submitted with the Site Permit application must show:

  • building exterior with widths, lengths, and heights
  • dimensioned court sizes, openings, and recesses
  • interior with code exit paths and major fire separations as required for area separation walls or occupancy separations greater than 1 hour

Once all reviewing agencies approve the Site Permit, you must submit a full set of working drawings, along with specifications, photographs, and other pertinent documents to the San Francisco Department of Building Inspection (SFDBI) for review. The requirements for new construction projects are summarized below.


1. Pre-application Requirements

These must be included in the submittal for projects that require neighborhood meetings, such as, vertical additions over 7 feet, horizontal additions over 10 feet, and deck additions 10 feet above grade or in the required rear yard, as well as for Formula Retail Uses requiring a Conditional Use Authorization:

  • a copy of the neighborhood notification letter
  • a list of neighborhood organizations and persons invited to the meeting
  • a copy of the meeting sign-in sheet
  • meeting summary, and description of changes made based on neighborhood comments
  • the affidavit, signed and stamped
  • a reduced copy of the plans shown to neighbors at the meeting

2. Project Application

3. Affidavit for formula Retail if the application involves a commercial tenant improvement.


Each sheet of every drawing included in the submittal must contain the following:

  • name of the person who prepared the drawings
  • project address
  • the date on which the plans were prepared
  • drawings scale
  • sheet number
  • professional certification stamp

The full drawing package is comprised of a title sheet, site survey, site plan, floor plans, elevations, and sections. The requirements for each set are described below:

1. Title sheet with the project summary. The narrative should describe the site condition, existing and proposed uses, as well as all scopes of the project, including the depth of excavation and total earthwork in cubic yards; a project summary table should outline:

  • the lot and block numbers
  • zoning district
  • height and bulk district
  • proposed building height
  • existing and proposed gross square footages for:

I. residential uses

II. commercial/retail uses

III. office use

IV. industrial/PDR uses

V. car and bicycle parking, including the number of spaces

VI. useable open space

  • projects with a new residential units also require:

I. number of market-rate dwelling units

II. number of affordable dwelling units

III. dwelling unit mix (studio, 1-bedroom, 2-bedroom, etc)

2. Site Survey signed by a licensed surveyor; a plot plan cannot be used as a substitute; the survey needs to have a 1/8”=1’-0” or 1” = 10’-0” scale, and must include:

  • the full width of all buildings on adjacent lots
  • the front setback of all adjacent buildings
  • curb elevation in line with the midpoint of the subject building and adjacent lots
  • grade elevations at the midpoint of the front wall of adjacent buildings
  • roof elevations, including elevations of eaves and peaks of pitched roofs
  • contour lines
  • utility lines, landscaping, street lines, existing structures on the site, etc.

3. Site plans, showing existing and proposed features, must be scaled to 1/8”=1’-0” or 1” = 10’-0”, and need to show:

  • location of proposed development within the lot
  • rooflines and profiles of adjacent buildings, showing the full width of abutting lots
  • heights, in feet and the number of stories, buildings and difference in elevation due to pitched roofs or steps in building mass
  • dimensioned landscaped areas, with street tree planter and utility line locations
  • permeability area calculations
  • dimensioned setback requirements, including front, rear, and side yard setbacks of the subject and adjacent buildings
  • existing and proposed curb cuts and curb lines of the subject and adjacent buildings

4. Floor and Roof Plans must show existing and proposed dimensions. At a minimum, the scale should be 1/8”=1’-0”, although 1/4”=1’-0” is preferred unless the subject building is too large. The drawings should include:

  • annotations for the existing and proposed use of rooms;
  • annotations for new and existing toter storage;
  • all walls, proposed, remaining, and those to be removed, must be shown and identified; if demolition forms part of the scope, relevant calculations must be provided in a table
  • all stairs, showing the direction of ascent and descent
  • table with existing and proposed gross square feet by floor, and by the unit as applicable

5. Elevation, rear, front, and side, must depict:

  • cladding and glazing material tags
  • profile showing the full width, roofline, light wells, and windows of each adjacent building
  • all dimensions
  • grade plane
  • height of buildings
  • the height limit

6. Sections through critical points of the proposed structures must have a scale of 1/4”=1’-0” unless the project is too large for this scale. At least 2 sections, longitudinal and lateral, are required for expansions and/or projects that involve excavation. The former must show the relationship between the street, front property line, subject building, and rear yard and the rear property line, while the latter must show the relationship between the subject and adjacent buildings. All section drawings must include:

  • height datum point at the center line of the building and at the top of the curb
  • floor-to-ceiling height dimensions
  • existing and proposed grade
  • key section location on floor and site plans

A section detail of proposed windows, along with muntin specifications, must be submitted if the new windows are visible from the street.


Large projects, as defined in section 138.1 of the San Francisco Planning Code, may require the submittal of landscaping, streetscape, and detailed vicinity plans.


Design details and material specifications must be submitted for doors, windows, and all exterior materials unless these are clearly labeled on the drawings.


Photographs of the site vicinity are mandatory for all new construction projects. The photograph package must include the following images:

  • buildings on the same side of the street
  • buildings on the facing side of the street
  • front and rear facades of the subject building
  • rear view of adjacent buildings

How Design Everest can help

Headquartered in the Bay Area, Design Everest has 14+ years of industry experience in the City and County of San Francisco. If you’re an architect working with a client in the city, we can help. Our licensed engineers offer a full suite of civil, structural, and MEP design services, as well as architectural drafting and 3D modeling and rendering support to architects. Contact us now and we will provide you a FREE Consultation with a quote. We also provide virtual on-sites and virtual consultations.

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