Some things I’ve learned about planning permission

12 Feb

I’m not exactly sure how to characterize planning permission when I compare it to the system in the states.  It’s a lot more involved than just getting a building permit which I had to do for the place in Beantown — but, given that the house in Boston is in a commercial zone, there weren’t a lot of restrictions on what we could do.  I remember the process there only taking a matter of days. Planning Permission in Ireland is done in a number of stages which, as far as I can tell, take a minimum of 3 months and sometimes longer.

To say this has been a hard process would be a gross understatement. My first submission went in back in October and the official “grant” arrived about a week ago.  While it wasn’t all bad, it wasn’t the decision I was hoping for so, to some degree, I’m starting the process all over again and looking at another 3 months before I can progress the full renovation plan. My mother would probably say that “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger”.  And stronger, and a lot poorer, I am.  But I do feel a lot wiser about the whole process and if I had a “do over” here’s what I would do differently:

1)  Context, context, context: While there are definitely some hard and fast rules, with the city council, it seems that there are also a ton of “guidelines” which may be ignored if there are contextual exceptions for your property.  In my case, the big bugaboo has been that my drawings don’t meet the new guidelines for “private open space” — meaning that the city would like residential homes to have plenty of green space in relation to the size of the dwelling.  The context that I hope I’ve been able to provide is that any open space we create at the site is rather poor in light of the number of extensions surrounding the house and a huge wall at the back of the site.  So, basically, if I created a big back courtyard, it would be sitting in shade and overlooked by a lot of walls.

2) A picture tells a thousand words – related to the above, an architect’s plan alone does not tell the city planner the full story.  These are busy people and they can’t be expected to know every inch of their given planning area so it doesn’t hurt to include photos — but I would strongly suggest making notations on the photos!

3)  Tell your full story – I wish they knew, before I submitted my first application, that the house had been vacant for 10 years, that it had been the eyesore of the neighborhood, that the neighbors were supportive of my changes and had reviewed the plans, that my mother has mobility issues so she and stairs don’t mix, that the neighbor’s property goes over the party line, therefore, compromising the back of my site significantly….the list goes on.  Let’s just say that next time, I’ll make sure they have both the rational and the emotional story of my house.

4)  Get a pre-planning meeting – In fairness, my architect and I did try to get a pre-planning meeting on the first go-round but the first available meeting date practically exceeded the typical planning permission period so we thought it was worth a shot just to put in our submission given that we felt we were very closely adhering to area precedence in terms of our design.  What we didn’t know is that planning guidelines were changing during the time of our submission so we learned a lot of new information after the fact.  We have now since had a meeting and a site visit with the planner to review our proposed changes on the portion of my plans that were unapproved – fingers crossed that in light of new information, the council say “yes”.

This is a longer post than I would normally write but I wanted to get it all down while it’s still fresh — my thick file of paperwork related to this is also something I’m definitely keeping in case I elect to do another renovation. I hope that I don’t make the same mistakes twice.



2 Responses to “Some things I’ve learned about planning permission”

  1. LorI February 12, 2011 at 12:04 pm #

    I’m sure you won’t, Amy. You’re a smart cookie. I freaked out when we tried to get a permit when he had our chimney built from the ground up. Ours was basically falling apart. they wanted a drawing designing his plan. My friend who did the work was from Maine and drawings aren’t a requirement. So Rob ended up drawing a picture. Then waiting to get the inspection was nerve racking. It was approved! I was so happy.

    In short, that’s another reason why I’m delaying my trip under November, I think. I’m hoping that things will be finished by then. Where are you living in the meantime? Feel free to email in a more private setting if you like.

    Good luck, Amy. Paint them your vision. Make it happen. Show them the error of their ways. Oh but there is still work that can be done on the backyard. Some plants love the shade. I’m sure you could make the space quaint and lovely. I’ve seen worse ;)

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