Building Project Board Approvals

Are you wondering what you are up against when it comes to getting final approval on a project from the boards that could be involved in your city or town? Let’s chat about this a bit but ultimately, what will be required for your application process will depend on the exact location of where your project is taking place. And remember this key point: before applying for a building permit, you must first go through any required board approval.

FEMA is a definite “thing” in the Seacoast region of NH and Maine. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, also known as FEMA, is the federal government’s lead agency in responding to disasters and crises. Since it’s federal, it trumps any local or state codes and these requirements will involve flood plain zones and they are constantly being updated. Civil engineers are versed in these requirements and it is up to the city or town as to how to interpret the code. 

CONSERVATION COMMISSION or what it is referred to in Portsmouth, NH will interpret the use of the property as it relates to the natural surroundings. Each town and city will have a different name for this commission, but your architect or city’s website will guide you through this process.

PLANNING BOARD defines the use of the property as it relates to the city or town. If there is any change on the property, it will need Planning Board approval. For example, a dry cleaning business being torn down to build a hotel or a large residential change such as changing the front entry location or access to the property will all require Planning Board approval. Read more about how to prep for a Planning Board Meeting here.

HISTORIC DISTRICT COMMISSION (HDC) board determines the approvals for any structure located within a historic district. This board only has jurisdiction over the exterior of the structure. In Portsmouth, NH, you must have HDC approval before any other board can approve your project. The requirements for this board consist of submitting drawings and photographs of the existing and the proposed plans. Again, the HDC will be named differently in each town or city. If you’re interested in checking your town’s historical zoning map, google [Your Town Name] ArcGIS or Vision Government Solutions.

ZONING BOARD OF APPROVAL (ZBA or Board of Adjustment – same thing) deals with variances that would be required on a property in order to build the proposed structure or addition. Each structure must comply with all four setbacks as well as the lot coverage and height requirements defined by the city (here is some additional information on this process). There are also five criteria that must be met in order for the board to hear the arguments. Attorneys do a great job at presenting these arguments with a legal standpoint and it’s not uncommon for architects and designers to present as well depending on how complex the project is. Homeowners can also present to the board but should be well-versed in how to address the five criteria. Please note – the application process falls under the planning department but is the same as the building department. Read a case study about this process here.

Once you get through the boards that you are required to get approval from, you can then apply for your building permit. Typically, this is something that the builder will do but homeowners are also perfectly capable of doing this as well. Once all your approvals are in and building permit is obtained, the fun can begin!

Completely confused on where to begin, consider booking a free design consultation with Amy here!




View Related Projects