The Coastal and Neighborhood Permit process, Part 1

building home

The Coastal Permit has something of a twin, which is the Neighborhood Use Permit.

Both permits require some element of review of the neighborhood character as well as conformance to some expanded zoning and planning standards, both of which are needed before applying for the Building Permit. I have always felt that the intentions of these types of permits are worthwhile and should be taken into consideration early in the design.

In some communities, a degree of research is needed in addition to drawings and calculations that show just how much of the house is being altered. For example, you might have heard of the 50 percent rule that applies to the exterior walls, and the 10 percent rule for height. These are the most common rules, but beware: it seems there are always more rules.

On occasion – and with a little planning – the architect can secure either permit in a relatively short time. The best candidate for this scenario is an addition (even adding a second story) and changing the appearance or the area of the house. It all depends on the neighborhood and what the local planning ordinance requires, but a little bit of research can make a big difference. At Alcorn and Benton, we have found that adding a “granny flat” or an accessory dwelling unit also is a relatively easy process.

The public has a chance to see and learn about a potential project and to understand how various standards are applied to a specific application, after all, everyone within 300 feet will receive a letter from the city about the project. Then a public meeting will be held, where everyone will have a chance to speak about what is important to them.

Our experience is that almost all of the neighbors wish to have a chance to look over the project in advance, to comment on the design, and to understand other things like the expected construction time and even whether your contractor will work on weekends. Sometimes, there are neighbors who wish to protect a cherished view or will ask if the historic significance of the original home has been considered.

Architects prepare for this range of interest. As we start the design of a home, we research the rules that will apply to the property, and we document the decisions that lead to the design as it is presented. In those cases, where there may be objections, we have prepared for any formal inquiry or appeals, if it gets to that.

There is another reason for this level of preparation. The effort and planning that we put forward during the Coastal Permit process, will slightly simplify the separate Building Permit application. The Building Permit encompasses most of the information that shows how the design conforms to the building code, and for this reason we usually do that after we get the Coastal Permit, and we show how the final design follows through with the commitments made in the Coastal Permit.

Next month we will look closer at how the process challenges are opportunities for creative design.

Alcorn & Benton Architects in La Jolla have been designing projects throughout Southern California for more than 30 years. To learn more visit or call (858) 459-0805.