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The zoning code search process, explained.

Dec 28, 2019 4:52:31 AM

Locating codes for your projects is never as straight-forward as it sounds. And to top it all off, this stage can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to get approval and move forward with your next steps.

Approved zoning and building permits can involve in-person trips to municipality offices, phone calls (and leaving voicemails), and searches for the most up-to-date code regulations.

The zoning, inspection and environmental services department of San Diego's government need to review your zoning and building code submissions to evaluate compliance with building codes before you get the permit – and this can take time depending on the scope of your project, along with other factors outside of your control.

Your client is at the center of everything you do – the inspiration behind your designs, the deciding factor of which permits you need to find, and the driver of your construction work – so how do you keep them as updated as possible with news on their project’s timeline and regulatory approvals?

The Fundamentals of Codes and Zoning

To understand the processes and requirements to become approved through zoning municipalities and building code requirements, it’s important to know who controls these steps and why it’s an important part of the building process.

Zoning, the first required approval for your land development process, is a regulation of how a given section of land can be used and what types of businesses can use the land. This is a law determined by local municipalities to protect public health, safety and welfare. If your property address in a certain township zoned for residential property, then your plans to build an organic smoothie bar will be rejected.

Building code regulations, on the other hand, manage the details of the structures being built themselves and monitor building features the structure and composition are safe and accessible for all of its future visitors.

Depending on if your property is zoned for residential or commercial use, the IRC/ICC set standardized building codes across the nation. These can be tricky to nail down because your local government determines which version of the IRC/ICC they want to adopt. If the IRC has codes from 2003, 2009, 2015 and 2018, make sure you know which version is actively adopted and enforcing your building designs where your property is located.

How to explain zoning and building code to clients.

When talking to your clients about why and what’s making the research process difficult, it’s a good idea to explain things in chronological order and emphasizing that there are forces outside of your control during the zoning and building code process – obtaining approval for construction relies heavily upon others in local government offices and partners in the project.

When you explain the process of finding and obtaining permits for your plans, break it down into these three steps:

  1. Draw blueprints and Research Before you even think about starting to build, you need to have every detail hashed out and written down. This is what decides the zoning and building code approvals for your land – without the blueprint and proper research of the address, you won’t even know what permits or codes to apply for. 
  2. Apply for a zoning permit. This is issued by your local municipal office. Often, you must go to the local municipal clerk and ask for the zoning office, find the zoning officer, and tell them you need a zoning permit. If denied, you should re-apply to the zoning board of adjustment. They should indicate what parts of zoning regulations you violate and how to resolve them.
  3. Apply for your building code. After you’ve been approved with a zoning permit, you can apply for a building code permits. You have to be careful with this one – even if the codes are out, it doesn’t mean those are the codes required for the specific job you’re working on. You need to find out what version of the ICC/IRC Codes this area adopts and incorporate that specific year’s code requirements into your plans.

Best practices for anticipating and mitigating problems with your clients during this process can be minimized with the following tips:

  • Set the right expectations. Make sure they understand what the code and zoning processes are about, why they’re important, and why it could take a while.
  • Keep your client updated. Give regular check-ins so everyone is on the same page and make sure that you’re there to hear any questions, concerns or even complaints they might have.
  • Empathize with your clients. Align with them throughout this process and reinforce that you too feel this pain, so you’re in it together.
  • Don’t jump the gun. Even when you get approval, don’t immediately inform your customers. You need to make sure all the bases are covered and you have what you need to move forward so they don’t get their hopes up only to find more delays or additional requirements.

Even if we finish our research and make sure codes are compliant in three days, it could take weeks for the approval and “go-ahead.” It often comes down to time management and other obligations of the decision-makers on the other end of this process.

When Zoning and Codes Aren’t Approved

Sometimes, even with your best efforts of researching, code requirements can slip through the cracks and your blueprints don’t fully encompass the area’s adopted code requirements.

When this happens, reassure your clients that this happens all of the time, and you’re working right now to fix it with the feedback from the municipality office or IRC/ICC. While this could add delays and set back project timelines, turn away clients and harm your reputation, the most important part of your relationship with the client is transparency and trust.

This is why it’s important to fully conduct all research in a safe, timely manner and know that everything you’re working on is 100% up-to-date and compliant with all codes and zoning regulations within an area. PermitDocs allows you to find and integrate all codes relevant to your area of work to be fully accounted for, so there are no project delays or setbacks. And most importantly, no difficult conversations with clients about project setbacks.

About PermitDocs

Every dream ever build started with research. With PermitDocs, you can discover the smartest and fastest ways to find the property information and zoning codes you need as you grow and tackle new projects.

You won’t just reduce loss of physical resources or churn — you’ll increase ROI, client satisfaction, and team morale. Cut your research times by 50% and reduce project times by days or weeks. Get the most up-to-date information every day of the year, so you can find reliable information in seconds and keep on moving. 

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