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Since the pandemic, many municipalities have moved their permitting process online since face-to-face is no longer an option. The city of Atlanta has done this as well, and if you are not familiar with their new process, your permit may be delayed by weeks or months.
Putting together your team
SawHorse is a design + build firm; however, sometimes we accept plans from other architects if their clients align with our luxury high-performance approach to building. Getting a permit through the Atlanta process is mostly dependent on having an architect who knows the process and what is needed. If they have not completed a permit set of plans recently, feel free to share this post with them. I’m writing this to share with the preferred architects that we already work with to speed up the permit process. The rules are constantly changing and we’ve experienced some changes this year that affected plans that were already in the permitting approval process.
“Tree and Topo” Survey
If you are altering any part of the exterior or planning on expanding the footprint of your house, you will need a new survey. The standard survey you order when buying a house is called a “boundary survey,” It is good to know where your house sits on the property; however, this is not sufficient to get a permit. A “tree and topo” survey is a boundary survey that also has the topography of your property and all trees that are a certain diameter (typically 6″ and greater). Once your architect draws the house, they will add the new house to the survey OR they will engage the surveyor to add to the survey to show the proposed renovation or new house. This is called a “site plan.” Once the house is completed, some municipalities require that the surveyor return to confirm that the house was built per the plans.
We recommend that our clients get a tree and topo survey before we start the design process. This way we can avoid potential issues or conditions on the property that would prevent us from building. Some of the issues we have seen on recent projects are not limited to:
- Setbacks– these are the imaginary lines that you are allowed to build the house within. If the side yard setback is 7 feet, then you cannot build your addition 5 feet off the property line without special permission.
- Creeks and Streams– anything within 75 feet of your proposed work (if you are digging footings or disturbing the soil) is managed by the city and you have to get special permission to building in this area. If you are within 25 of the stream, then you have to get additional permission from the state. The city only can grant permission between 25 and 75 feet. Note: this does not mean that you can build right at 25 feet, because you footings will encroach further into the setback and disturb soil within reach of the state waters. We recommend allowing for a buffer for the erosion control fense.
- Trees– If you plan to cut down a tree you will have to either pay a fine (recompense) OR will have to plant trees on other parts of the property to replace the trees you plan to cut down. If you cut down a tree without permission, you may have to pay a fine + recompense unless you talk to the arborist to work out new plantings to offset the fees. There are 2 parts of the tree that you need to know about and these are based on the diamter of the tree. The “critical root zone” that extends around the tree is 1 foot for every 1″ of the girth of the tree at chest heigh of the surveyor. The “structural root plate” is a smaller circle around the base of the tree and must be avoided. You are allowed a percentage impact of the critical root zone only. Otherwise, you will need to hire an arborist to write a plan to save the tree.
- Utility easements– if there is a city sewer running through your property, then you cannot build any permanent structures within 10 feet of the center of pipe. The survey and site plan will show an agregate 20 feet “sewer easement” that you must avoid. We did have a design once that was going to be impacted so our client elected to pay to move the sewer in order to faciliate the addition.
- Property Line Disputes– we had a client a few years ago that thought they owned an extra 10 feet based on their survey. When we applied for the permit, the city’s records showed differently. Eventually we were able to get this corrected on the survey and the plans, otherwise the architect would have to redraw the plans. A fresh survey that references the “meets and bounds” can help avoid this.
Labeling The Plans
Your plans will get sent back with a 2-3 PDF explaining how to label the plans if you don’t attempt to follow the proper format. The first time this happened to us, it took them weeks to respond to our questions about the formatting. They gave us dozens of labels to consider however for a residential set of plans you ONLY NEED TO LABEL THE FOLLOWING for 99% of your permits.
|Plan Review Type||Abbreviation||Pages Needed|
|Application||APP||Full application- don’t break out|
|Arborist||APR||Site Plan (showing trees)|
|Building||BPR||Full Set of plans|
|Site Development||SDR||Site Plan|
|Zoning||ZPR||Full Set of plans|
The formatting for saving the files before you upload them- Plan Review Type_Address_Version_Descriptor (If Applicable)
So if we were creating a set of plans for our office address and the arborist needed to review them it would look like this:
If they required changes and we have to resubmit it would look like this:
APR_690MIAMICIR_V2 (note that the version changed)
Since it is the arborist, we are only saving the site plan and not sending the full set of plans to their department. Our last permit had V6 for one department while another approved V1. This can be confusing since the approvals for that department are not on the latest set of plans. For consistency, you can request that they review the updated versions for the other departments even if they are not changes for them so all of the plans look the same.
How to format plans from your architect
Hopefully, your architect knows how to format them, however, if they are not formatted you can correct them.
Rename the main set by “saving as” and save the whole set for building and zoning.
Figure out the size of the paper the plans need to be printed on for a full-scale set. The use of the print function to print the site plan page only for the arborist and site development. Print to “pdf” which will automatically create the page in the format you need. You may need to include a couple of pages if the details spill over to another page. Use the chart below to know which size paper to “print” to.
|ARCH A||9 x 12||229 x305|
|ARCH B||12 x 18||305 x 457|
|ARCH C||12 x 24||457 x 610|
|ARCH D||24 x 36||610 x 914|
|ARCH E||36 x 48||914 x 1219|
|ARCH E1||30 x 42||762 x 1067|
Common mistakes that we see on design plans that are brought to us:
- Plans are not marked as “released for construction”
- The engineer’s plans do not line up with the architects plans. Could be working off the wrong version.
- Missing Site Plan
- Missing Scale
- Address for project on plans
- Survey is not accurate or is old with outdated information
- Watershed is not calculated. Now the city requires site water to be manages if there are over 500 feet disturbed.
- Average Elevation Greater than 35′
- Current building codes are no properly refenced- visit this site and make sure the codes match what they are stating is needed. Also make sure any construction details match the codes. We see quite a few old energy code details that are not updated on recent plans. ie Ceiling Insulation shown as R30 when the current code states R38. This could affect framing and other detaisl so it is important to know the current codes when creating the permit set.
Need to know where the sewers are located? https://www.atlantawatershed.org/gis/
Applying Online for the permit
The difficult part of applying online is drawing, preparing, and formatting the plans. Once you have all of the plans ready and detailed per the City of Atlanta checklists you can submit them for review online. The first stop is zoning. They will make sure there are not any zoning issues and once you get the green light from them they will distribute the labeled plans to the other departments. No other departments will have access until you get the approval from zoning.
- Arborist– looks at the site plan to make sure all of the trees are protected
- Building– reviews the construction drawings to make sure they are code compliant
- Site Development– review the site plan to make sure sewers and surface water to managed properly
You can track their progress online and you will also get notifications from the system if there are comments. The system does not always show all of the calls, emails, and correspondence so we keep our own logs in buildertrend just in case.
Final Steps to get the permit
Once the plans get approved by ALL of the departments, you will receive a message from the city as follows: Comments To request for issuance of your permit, please read the below link, it instructs you to complete forms you should email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
You will be emailed an invoice to pay your outstanding permit balance online.
Once you have completed the necessary forms, the approved plans and permit will be released. You will email the forms to email@example.com. When we open your email with the completed forms attached, we will forward your request to the plan coordination permit technician to get your plans coordinated and ready for issuance. That person will email you with further instructions.
Forms link below: Applications, Forms, and Checklists | Atlanta, GA (atlantaga.gov) **PLEASE ATTACH YOUR DOCUMENTS AS A PDF** If Homeowner servicing as their own General Contractor, please complete the following. – Homeowner Affidavit – Homeowner Driver’s License – Contractor License Exception Affidavit – Contractor Agent Affidavit Authorization (If being release to someone other than homeowner) – A demo permit may not be issued using the homeowner affidavit. A contractor is required when performing a complete demo, or removing more than 50% of the house
If Contractor carries a Georgia State Card from Secretary of State. We need the following completed forms for processing. – Business License – Contractor License Affidavit – Ga. State Card – Contractor’s Driver’s License – Contractor Agent Affidavit Authorization (If being released to someone other than the contractor on the Ga State License, and their Driver’s License)
If Contractor does not carry a Georgia State Card from Secretary of State. We need the following completed forms for processing. – Business License – Contractor License Exception Affidavit – Contractor’s Driver’s License – Contractor Agent Affidavit Authorization (If being released to someone other than the contractor on the Business License, and their Driver’s License)
IF DEMO PERMITS: Please secure a sewer plug permit through Accela or contact Accela Citizen Access Submit copy of current Rodent Letter (issued to you within 30 days of permit issuance)
IF PLACARDED PROPERTIES: If the property has a placard from City of Atlanta Code Enforcement, 818 Pollard Blvd, Atlanta, GA 30315. Release papers from City of Atlanta Code Enforcement (404-546-3800) must accompany other required documents.
All forms must be notarized. Thank you,
City of Atlanta Department of City Planning Office of Buildings
Since we are a licensed contractor and offer design + build services, we manage this process for our clients. If you are a homeowner wanting to self-GC your project, then there are permit expeditors that can help you through this process. We only pull permits for projects that we are constructing as well since they are tied to our license. If you have a set of plans and want to work with us, we can audit them to let you know what is needed to pull a permit with the City of Atlanta. Contact us today to start the process and we can assist you with all of the details that are missing from the plans so you can start construction and realize your dream home sooner than later.