Site plan application tips

Creating a site plan can be challenging, this article provides some general suggestions to consider when preparing a site plan review application.

Paper, hand and pencil.
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If you are building a new structure on your property, you will most likely need an approved zoning permit. The zoning permit approval process allows your local government to make sure the development complies with the local zoning ordinance. Depending on the specifics of the zoning ordinance and what is being built, you may not need to be a professional architect or engineer to do a site plan. It is important to carefully and accurately complete the necessary paperwork to provide staff or the planning commission with all of the details they need to make an informed decision.

An important first step is to check with your local unit of government to find out who oversees planning and zoning where you live. It may be the county, township, city or village. Each community is unique. Then, visit that local office for an application and instructions. Some municipalities have staff available to assist you with the process, but not all do. This article is intended to provide some general tips for completing a site plan, but check with your local planning commission or department for specific requirements and more information.

Collect necessary information to complete the application such as:

  • Property dimensions from a survey (which may be required to be prepared by a professional for your submission)
  • Setback standards from the local zoning office (will be used to show how close you can build on your property)
  • Road right of way information may or may not be required (contact the city or village street authority or County Road Commission for those details)

Complete all paperwork thoroughly, be sure to answer every question.

Ask what kind of site plan is required. Is a hand drawn site plan acceptable?  If so, it might be referred to as a ‘basic site plan’ or ‘plot plan’ in the local ordinance.  Is there an example you can see?   Is a professionally created site plan required?  If so, what kind of professional is acceptable?  Such as a surveyor, engineer, architect, landscape architect?

If provided, use the site plan form provided in the application packet. If there is no specific form, use a clean 8.5x11 white sheet of paper (graph paper would be even better if you have it). 

  • Websites like Google Maps can help you visualize the property from a bird’s eye view. Type in the address of the property. Zoom in using the + sign to see your property. You may want to select “satellite” in the bottom left corner of the map to see a photograph of the property.

Using ruler, carefully draw an outline of the property on your blank piece of paper. Make sure to indicate which way is north and that you are drawing to scale. The drawing needs to be large enough so all details can be clearly read.

  • Label all of the dimensions of the property using feet.
  • Draw and label all roads, driveways, and easements.
  • Draw and identify any bodies of water, lakes, rivers, streams, wetlands etc.
  • Draw and identify unique property features that might have an effect on building location such as steep slopes or wet soils.
  • Your drawing should look similar to the image on Google Maps if the features and structures are drawn to scale.
  • Designate where you would put or where you have onsite well and septic including future drain field expansion. If you are using public sewer or water, draw the location of the sewer and water lines to the structure.
  • Draw and label the dimensions of current structures using feet then draw the proposed structure(s) and/or structure additions and label them so.
  • Label the dimensions of the structures including height. If the ground is not even around the structure (such as a walk-out basement), ask the zoning department how they measure height.
  • Draw setbacks to all structures on the drawing (both current or proposed). The setbacks show how close you can build to property lines, septic, or roadways/easements, and water bodies.
  • If the structure is too close to a required setback, see if it could be built in another location. If not, you may be able to apply for a variance. A variance should be avoided as it is typically a more expensive permit fee, it takes longer, and it could be denied (and the fee is non-refundable if it is denied).  A preferred option is to design or locate the structure such that a variance would be unnecessary. 

Visit your local Planning and Zoning Department for assistance. A city planner or building department representative may be willing to look at a draft of your site plan. There may be a fee associated with this service. If staff or the planning commission make changes to your site plan for any reason, be sure to initial those changes to show that you agree with them.

Read over your application to ensure it is accurate and all writing is legible. You may want to have someone look over your application before you submit to make sure they can read it and understand the site plan drawing.

The process for site plan review and the specific requirements for a site plan vary between communities and every property has its own unique features and situations. This article serves to help you avoid common pitfalls in site plan applications to consider before submitting your application. Contact your local planning and zoning office or seek professional help for further guidance.

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