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Q: Understanding Planning Laws in the US ( No Answer,   2 Comments )
Subject: Understanding Planning Laws in the US
Category: Family and Home
Asked by: andyanswers-ga
List Price: $30.00
Posted: 09 Oct 2005 18:59 PDT
Expires: 08 Nov 2005 17:59 PST
Question ID: 578328
I need to know how the whole planning process works in the US. What
rules and regulations do I need to follow. Do I need certified
architectural drawings, do I even need to use an architect or
structural engineer (what qualifications should they have). Can I
simply buy house plans from the internet. Is there a certain size of
development that doesn't need planning. How long can I expect to wait
for planning permission. Can the whole process get political? What can
I do to appeal on a decision that doesn't go my way? What are the
chances of getting it overturned. How much will it cost. Thanks Andy

Request for Question Clarification by richard-ga on 09 Oct 2005 19:15 PDT
The planning process in the U.S. is administered locally, which means
it's a creature of state and local law, not federal law.  Can you tell
us the state, county and town in question?

Clarification of Question by andyanswers-ga on 10 Oct 2005 05:33 PDT
I see. I live in the UK and once was an architect, and know that a
planner working for the local authority could practice in any part of
the country. It seems as if you are saying in the US there are
completely different laws for each state and there is no set system.
Are there not any common factors amongst the different states? Maybe
this question can't really be answered without being state / town
specific. I was looking for an overall answer to the laws of the US
but maybe like you say just doesn't exist. I'm thinking of cancelling
the question as I don't have a towm in mind. Waht do you reckon?
Thanks Andy

Request for Question Clarification by pafalafa-ga on 10 Oct 2005 06:05 PDT

The planning process is very much a local process here in the US, but
there are certainly similarities across the country, as well.

In a few rural areas, there may be very minimal planning requirements.

But in most populated jurisdictions, a permit (or permits!) is
generally needed to construct any sort of substantial structure,
especially if it is to be inhabited (as opposed to, say, a storage

A formal set of plans must be approved, and the contruction itself
inspected at several stages for code compliance for the electrical,
plumbing, structural, etc.

Most jurisdictions have land-use restrictions -- residential-only
construction, or height restrictions, and so on.

Many locations use a variance system, where builders can apply for a
variance to the above restrictions to, say, build a 4-story building
in a zone normally restricted to 3-stories.  The variances can indeed
become very political, especially if opposed by the local community.

The most stringent -- and perhaps most political -- of all zones are
specialized districts, like historical preservation districts, where
there are many additional steps to the approval process before an
existing historical structure can be modified.

The approvals and permits can easily take six months, or much longer.

That's the overview in a nutshell.  What sort of additional info do
you need to make for a complete answer to your question?

Let us know.


Clarification of Question by andyanswers-ga on 10 Oct 2005 07:02 PDT
This is a good outline in itself and I think if you could fill it out
with answers to the following questions we will have the all rounded
answer I was looking for.

permits - where does one go to fill on in. is it offline or online?
How much can they cost, does it depend on the size of the development.
Does each state have a website where you can check out the costs. Once
approval has been given how long does it last, is it 5 years? In the
UK we have whats called outline planning - do you have this in the US
- meaning approval is given for the consturction of say 5 flats on a
certain piece of land  - but no specific regarding the design have
been agreed - this comes about when full planning permission is
applied for.

substantial structure - is it possible to qualify this further. In the
UK it comes down to cubic metres for private dwellings as way of

several stages - Please qualify this, for example in the UK a check is
done  by a building inspector at foundation stage? In the US it sounds
as this inspection is done by the planning authorities, or are
structural engineers and planners rolled into one for the purpose of
checking a building's progress.

land-use restrictions - Can someone go online to check these out
before they submit a permit, or is the case they have to visit local

variance system - Can someone go online to check previous planning
approvals in support of getting approval via this system. How much
power do local people have. I assume complaints will be related to a
neighbour's view being blocked or their privacy comprimised. What
other issues are there in the US?
How far up the legal system can an opposed planning decision go?

specialized districts - Please list resources for more information on
this. In the UK we have grade  1 and 2 listed in order to give an idea
as to how likely a change could be made.

approvals and permits - Would your architect handle the application or
can an individual do it themselves?

Many thanks

There is no answer at this time.

Subject: Re: Understanding Planning Laws in the US
From: mwalcoff-ga on 10 Oct 2005 08:32 PDT

Permitting, zoning and approval procedures differ in every community.
Sometimes, they are set by a county; sometimes, by a city or town. A
large jurisdiction may have everything available online, but a small,
rural one won't. The issues involving planning in the U.S. could fill
a book -- and indeed, there are many such books. In different areas,
the issue might be traffic, urban sprawl, appearance or making sure
the homes and lots are big enough that poor people can't afford to
move there.
Subject: Re: Understanding Planning Laws in the US
From: myoarin-ga on 10 Oct 2005 15:11 PDT
This site from a Sonoma County in northern California may help you
understand the complications.
And here is the site on zoning:
And here the homepage:

If you click on the map, it enlarges, and you can see that the county
population is about 500,000 with about 160,000 living in Santa Rosa, a
city with a couple of 10 or 12 storey office buildings, but generally
very residential, as elsewhere in the county.

California is very environmentally aware.

Here is the site for Shasta County further north.  If you enter 
zoning  and search, you will get information of "fee examples" for
construction as well as other information  that I did not look at.

I just add these to supplement anything Paf posts.

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