Approval Processes and Inspections
Various types of projects need to go through one or more different types of approval processes. Some projects are simple and may not require a board or committee to approve. Other projects are a little more complex and require a more thorough review by a pre-determined group of certified professionals and/or an appointed board or commission. This page helps explain the differences in the review processes and what to expect with each process type.
Planning Approval Processes
A voluntary annexation is when a person or entity asks the City to bring property into the City in order to receive City of Durham services. The most common example is when a property owner wants to connect to City water or sewer for a development project. Land owners outside the City limits with well and septic tank problems may also seek to connect to public water and sewer.
In Durham, floodplain development is regulated through the Floodplain and Flood Damage Protection Standards in the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO). Any activity that will disturb land in a FEMA mapped floodplain requires a floodplain development permit. This means permits may be required not only for buildings but also structures like fences, signposts, and trails. It is important to keep floodplains clear of items that could float downstream in a flood and cause damage. This means that items such as swimming pools, sheds, and picnic tables also require permits to make sure they are properly anchored in place. The location and the extent of the proposed floodplain disturbance will determine what requirements apply.
Modifications to historic properties within the City of Durham and Durham County require a Certificate of Appropriateness (COA) before revisions and construction may be made. A Certificate of Appropriateness is a document approving work on local historic landmarks or properties in local historic districts based on consistency with the applicable review criteria. When changes are proposed to properties within local districts or to landmarks, the proposed changes are reviewed against the Local Historic Properties Review Criteria (PDF). If the proposed changes are consistent with the Criteria, either staff or the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) will issue the COA. Any COA application that cannot be approved by staff may be set before the HPC for review. A COA is required prior to the issuance of a building permit and is required even if no other permit is needed for the work proposed.
A Site Plan is an accurately scaled development plan that shows existing conditions on a site as well as depicting details of proposed development. Along with a site plan, a plat is required for review. A Plat is a map, chart or plan of a tract or parcel of land which is to be or which has been, subdivided.
Special use permits are required when specified in the Unified Development Ordinance, and generally indicates that the proposed development or use may be appropriate but needs additional review and approval due to the potential impact of the proposed use or development on the surrounding area. There are three types of special use permits:
- Minor special use permits are heard and decided by the Durham City-County Board of Adjustment (BOA).
- Major and Transportation special use permits are heard and decided by the governing body (City Council or Board of Commissioners) with jurisdiction.
Special use permit cases are quasi-judicial public hearings (that is, a courtroom-like procedure) where the applicant must prove specific findings in order for the approving body to grant an approval. Section 3.9, Special Use Permit, describes the requirements for these applications. A pre-submittal meeting is required before an application can be submitted. If you have questions regarding whether you need a special use permit, please email [email protected], and a staff member will respond.
A zoning map change is the process to change a property’s zoning designation. This process is more commonly referred to as a "re-zoning" in many jurisdictions and by members of the public. A property owner may request to change the zoning of their property so that they can build a new type of development (like changing a property from residential to commercial) that follows different zoning rules. A zoning map change may be initiated by the governing body, the Planning Commission, the Board of Adjustment, the Planning Director or designee, a community member, the property owner, or their agent. The first step is to request a Presubmittal Meeting with the Growth Management Team. Once this meeting has been held, the next step is to hold a Neighborhood Meeting following the Neighborhood Meeting Guidelines. After these presubmittal requirements have been met, a formal Zoning Map Change application can be formally submitted to the Planning Department. Once the application is submitted, and staff have deemed the application complete, Planning will initiate the review of the zoning map change with other departments.
Comment on Zoning Applications
The initial review is 40 business days, and any re-review is 15 business days. Staff will also upload the project to the Interactive Growth Management Engagement Site, so that community input may be collected throughout the lifecycle of the project.
Upon completion of the proposal has been reviewed, and all staff comments are satisfied, the case will be scheduled for a Planning Commission Public Hearing. After Planning Commission, the zoning map change goes to either the City Council, or to the Board of County Commissioners, depending on the jurisdiction, for a public hearing. Public notification is required prior to all public hearings for zoning map change requests. The governing bodies make the final determination on approval or denial of the zoning map change request.
A Variance is an application request to receive an exception, or a unique circumstance, to a standard in the Unified Development Ordinance based primarily on a proven unique hardship that prevents compliance with the ordinance standard. Variance applications are heard in a quasi-judicial public hearing by the Durham City-County Board of Adjustment (BOA), and the BOA can only approve a variance if it determines the applicant has proven specific findings of fact.
Prior to submitting a Variance application, a pre-submittal meeting with staff is required. Submission of any documents and preliminary plans is helpful for staff to review your case and guide you in the review process.
Planning Inspection Sign-off
The following items require an Inspection by the Planning Department to confirm compliance with the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO).
- Building Permit Certificate of Occupancy (CO). See the Planning Inspection Checklist.
- Retaining Wall
- Certificate of Appropriateness (COA)
- Properties with Historic/Design District designation
- Subdivision Common areas
For more information and to request a planning inspection, use Planning Inspection Request link.
Note: You will only be contacted if your presence at the inspection is necessary. The inspection will be conducted in the next available time slot based on the type of inspection and site location. Inspections for Certificate of Occupancy will generally be completed within two completed working days following the day the request was entered. Non-occupancy inspections such as signs and retaining walls will be worked into the inspections schedule based on their location, generally within five working days from the request.
If you need information on Outdoor Lighting Certification, Landscape Extension Request Forms, and/or Landscape Compliance Certifications, please see the Planning Inspection and Compliance Forms page.