How to apply for a permit online with the City of Atlanta

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 TypeAbbreviationPages Needed
ApplicationAPPFull application- don’t break out
ArboristAPRSite Plan (showing trees)
BuildingBPRFull Set of plans
Site DevelopmentSDRSite Plan
ZoningZPRFull Set of plans
common departments that will review your 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:

APR_690MIAMICIR_V1

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.

Size InchesMillimeters
ARCH A 9 x 12229 x305
ARCH B12 x 18305 x 457
ARCH C12 x 24457 x 610
ARCH D24 x 36610 x 914
ARCH E36 x 48914 x 1219
ARCH E130 x 42762 x 1067
North American ARCH Series Paper Size

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
  • 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.
  • 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.

Need Help?

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.

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