permits and variances—who needs them?
Most likely, you. One phone call could save you a lot of hassle.
You know that saying, “measure twice, cut once?” This is like that. If you pick up the phone and call the Mt. Lebanon Inspection Office before starting a DIY project, you can save yourself a lot of trouble and expense down the road when you have to tear down your monkey dance hall because, even though it’s awesome, it violates a bunch of ordinances and also bananas don’t grow this far north.
“You need a permit for anything structural,” says chief inspector Joe Berkley.
For example, if you want to create some open space in your house by extending a window opening or cutting through an interior wall, you need to find out whether it’s a load-bearing wall and have a plan for how you’re going to do it. For residential projects, you’re not required to have plans prepared by an architect, but a call to an engineer to design a workable plan could save you a lot of trouble.
“We can’t design a project for you,” says Berkley. “We can only look at it and tell you what you did wrong.”
You also need a permit of one kind or another for—and this is not an all-inclusive list—decks, air conditioning units, demolition, driveways and parking pads, electrical work, fences, furnaces, a home business, signs, storage sheds, swimming pools and windows if you’re changing the size of the opening.
Generally, when you hire a contractor to do work, he will be familiar enough with the building codes to know when to talk with inspectors and apply for a permit, but any irregularities with the permit will come back on the homeowner, and this will just delay progress of your project. Again, if you’re in any doubt, make the call.
You can pick up and drop off permit applications at Mt. Lebanon’s Customer Service Center, 710 Washington Road, or download them from the municipal website.
Along with the application, you’ll need to include two copies of building plans and two copies of your property survey. The survey is only needed for exterior work such as sheds, air conditioning units, decks or additions.
You can expect to receive your permit for a residential project within 15 business days; commercial permits can take up to twice as long. Cost for single-family home renovations and additions is $35 for the first $1,000 of the estimated value of the project; add $6.85 for each additional $1,000, or 55 cents per square foot of the addition, whichever is the larger amount. Permits for single-family new construction is a flat 85 cents per square foot. A complete fee schedule is available on the Inspection Office section of the municipal website.
Once you get your permit, display it prominently in the window so it is visible from the street. You also should keep copies of the approved plans onsite.
If your construction project requires the use of a dumpster, placing one on the street requires a permit; please call the police traffic division at 412-343-4086 for details.
If you want to do something on your property that does not conform to Mt. Lebanon’s zoning ordinance, it’s not impossible, but it can be pretty difficult. Before you begin work, you need to obtain a zoning variance from the Mt. Lebanon Zoning Hearing Board.
An applicant must appear before the board to explain why it is impossible to conform to the requirements of the zoning ordinance and then request permission to build something that is not permitted by our code.
The zoning code is pretty specific about what you can do in every zone—single family residential, multifamily residential, commercial, mixed-use—and what you can’t. Code exemptions are granted on a case-by-case basis, but receiving one can be very difficult.
Here’s how a zoning variance usually progresses: A homeowner or commercial property owner submits a proposed project that is found to be in violation of the zoning ordinance. The inspection office denies the request for a building permit. The applicant then applies for a variance from the Mt. Lebanon Zoning Hearing Board, a three-member panel of appointed volunteers who meet at least once a month.
To receive a variance, an applicant must prove that a hardship exists in the present condition—one that cannot be remedied. Before the board can grant the variance, the applicant must meet five conditions:
- There must be unique physical circumstances peculiar to the property, such as a steep hill next to the house or a house on an irregularly shaped lot.
- There must be no way possible to develop the property in conformity with the ordinance.
- The unnecessary hardship cannot be one created by the applicant. For example, if you built a pool in your back yard that now prohibits you from bumping out your kitchen, you will not receive approval.
- The variance cannot alter the character of the neighborhood, impair the use or development of adjacent property or be detrimental to public welfare.
If granted, the variance must be done with the least modification to the zoning ordinance.
Some of the issues that came before the board last year were:
- A request to install three large signs on a commercial property
- A deck project that did not meet the setback requirements (the distance a structure must be from the adjoining property).
- A planned governor’s drive that came up 5 feet short of the 70-foot lot width requirement.
The board can deny a request, grant it or grant it with conditions. Of the 14 requests that came before the board in 2013, seven were granted.
More information can be found on the Inspection Office section of www.mtlebanon.org.