Planning Division: Design Review Process
Frequently Asked Questions
- What kinds of projects are subject to Design Review?
- Who gets to review my plans?
- How do I know if staff or the Planning Commission will review my project?
- What happens if I also need a variance?
- What design criteria are used to evaluate my project?
Section 17.20.2 of the Piedmont Municipal Code authorizes the City to perform Design Review on all projects that require a building permit unless they are specifically exempt. Typical projects subject to Design Review include:
- Upper story or ground level additions
- Room enlargements and “pop-outs”
- New or expanded decks
- Fences over 6’ and retaining walls over 30";
- Fences or walls of any height when in setbacks along public streets
- New garages or carports
- Swimming pools, hot tubs, exterior spas, air conditioners
- Skylights and dormers
- Other structures (arbors, gazebos, etc.)
Design Review is also required for large satellite dishes, children’s play structures, patios within the street setbacks, and parking pads, even though building permits are not always required for some of these improvements.
Design Review is not required for:
- Interior remodeling if there will be no changes to the exterior of the house and no rooms eligible for use as a bedroom are proposed.
- Landscaping with plant materials
- Painting of existing buildings
- Normal repair, replacement and maintenance of existing construction, as long as it is an exact replacement (no change in style, material, size, etc.)
Depending on their location on your property, certain fences, trellises, patios, and walkways also may be exempt. Check with the On Duty Planner before proceeding.
Your plans are kept on file at the Public Works Counter and may be reviewed by any interested member of the public. For Staff Design Review cases, the City sends a letter to the owners of all properties adjacent to yours inviting them to review your plans. This usually includes two side yard neighbors, three houses across the street, and three neighbors to the rear of your house.
For Planning Commission cases, you must notify the owners of all properties adjacent to yours before your application can be accepted (a notification form is provided in the application packet). In addition, the City sends a letter to all property owners within a fixed radius of your house inviting them to review your plans. The radius varies from 100 to 300 feet, depending on what you are building.
The Planning Commission will review your project if it meets any of the following criteria:
- The value of the project exceeds $75,000
- It requires a zoning variance
- It involves a fence or retaining wall in the setback of a public street
- Staff refers an application for Staff Design Review to the Commission for their guidance
Planning Division Staff will notify you if you need a Variance. An additional fee will be required and “findings” will need to be made by the Planning Commission before the variance can be granted.
Chapter 17 of the City Code specifies three criteria for evaluating projects. These relate to the aesthetics, compatibility, and safety of the project.
In addition, the City adopted Residential Design Review Guidelines in 1988 covering the following types of projects:
- New construction
- Additions and remodeling
- Retaining Walls
- Fences and walls
The guidelines consider the appropriateness of your project from three different contexts: (a) your lot; (b) your lot plus adjoining parcels (impacts on your neighbors are carefully considered); and (c) your neighborhood. All projects are evaluated in terms of their compliance with the guidelines.