Zoning, Planning, & Variances
When is a building permit required?
By City Ordinance, a building permit is required “to construct, erect, demolish, install, alter or repair…any building, structure, equipment, appliances or system…”
A building permit is not required for repair work with a total valuation of less than $2,500; provided such work is otherwise lawful. Repair work means in-kind repairs which do not add to, alter, or otherwise modify the building or structure.
You can apply for a building permit online or in-person through the City of Atlanta Office of Buildings. Click here to learn about the permitting process and how to apply.
All commercial construction applicants should first review the Poncey-Highland Neighborhood Master Plan.
I applied for a building permit and was told I need a variance.
Poncey-Highland is a century-old neighborhood that includes many historical homes and buildings nestled under canopies of trees. Many residents choose to improve or renovate their home rather than move away as their housing needs change, and a number of business owners who are attracted to our vibrant neighborhood choose to build and renovate for commercial purposes.
When a planned improvement violates the City's zoning codes, but not the spirit of protecting the quality of life and property values of its residential communities, the permit is rejected and a variance is required to proceed.
The variance process enables a home owner to secure a building permit for renovations which keep within the spirit of the Poncey-Highland community, but may not otherwise technically conform to zoning standards.
Please note that variances and variance requests should not be the norm, but should occur only in instance of Undue Burden which must be proven to result in unnecessary hardship. The procedures, standards, criteria, and appeal provisions for decisions regarding such variances are outlined in Sec. 16-20M.008 of City of Atlanta Municode.
Variances are modifications of zoning regulations, granted by the City of Atlanta Board of Zoning Adjustments (BZA). The following process is designed to allow citizens and neighbors to weigh in on the application for the variance, but the final variance decision is always made by the BZA.
Understanding the variance process
In the event that, after a building permit is submitted, the City of Atlanta determines that a variance or special exception is required in Poncey-Highland, the applicant is asked to begin the process by seeking input and approval from the neighborhood.
- The person(s) seeking a variance first must submit an application to The City of Atlanta.
- The City and applicant will then route the application to Neighborhood Planning Unit-North (NPU-N).
- Typically, NPU-N will then refer the application to the PHNA Land Use Committee.
- PHNA Land Use Committee will review the application and make a recommendation to the PHNA Board. PLEASE NOTE: PHNA must receive the application from NPU by the last calendar day of the month in order to review in the following month.
- The Board then makes a recommendation to the Membership, and the issue is voted on at the monthly association meeting.
Please note: The Applicant must follow all guidelines established by NPU-N. Should the Applicant not have these guidelines, the NPU-N Guideline Documents will be forwarded to the Applicant by the Land Use Chairperson. PHNA can only act on variances that have already been submitted to The City and NPU-N.
Application must be received by the Land Use Committee by the last day of the month to be on the agenda for the next month’s Board and Membership meetings.
All application documents and associated plans shall be scanned and forwarded by email to the Land Use Chairperson.
Upon receipt of the application, the PHNA Land Use Chairperson (Jim McMahel), or a designee, will contact the Applicant to set meetings to comply with the following timetable.
The Applicant does not need to personally contact the Land Use Chairperson unless they have questions or would like to schedule an informal meeting prior to submitting to The City.
- In the first week or second week of the month (but prior to Land Use Committee Meeting), the Applicant may be asked to meet with a Land Use Committee member or members to present the application. This may involve physically visiting the site in question.
- On the second Wednesday of the month (directly prior to the PHNA Board Meeting), the Land Use Committee will meet to consider the Application. The Applicant may or may not be invited to attend the Land Use Committee Meeting. The Land Use Committee will vote whether to support or not support the Application.
- Directly after the Land Use Committee meeting (on the same second Wednesday of the month), the Land Use Committee presents its recommendation to the PHNA Board. The Board will then vote to support, or not support, the Application (The Applicant does not present to the Board).
- On the third Wednesday of the month at the PHNA Neighborhood Meeting, the applicant will be required to present the Application request to the membership. The Board will present its recommendation. Current members of the Neighborhood Association who meet the current eligibility requirements for Land Use Actions will be eligible to vote to support, or not support, the application.
- The Applicant will need to follow up the PHNA Neighborhood Meeting meeting with an additional NPU meeting. Applicant attendance to this meeting is mandatory and must contact NPU-N to set up this meeting.
The NPU Representative will ensure that the application is on the agenda for NPU-N’s next immediate meeting for a vote and, if so, will present the neighborhood’s recommendation. The NPU Representative may provide a count of the vote, if requested by the NPU-N Executive Committee. If the application is not on that agenda, the NPU Representative will advise the NPU-N Chair and may recommend that the application be added to the agenda in order to expedite the process.
If requested by the Applicant, by the Poncey Highland Land Use Chair, by the Poncey Highland NPU Representative, or by the NPU-N Chair, the President of the Poncey Highland Neighborhood Association will write a letter to the appropriate City Board (LRB, BZA or ZRB) providing the specifics of the neighborhood’s position on the application, the date and exact count result of the vote, any necessary explanation, and conditions or stipulations, as applicable.
An applicant whose request is not supported by the neighborhood still may go forward to the NPU and the relevant City Board with the Application. It is the policy of the Poncey-Highland Neighborhood Association to actively monitor Applications that are voted upon by the neighborhood membership. The Poncey-Highland Neighborhood Association Board may assign a member of the Board or a member of the Land Use Committee to represent the Neighborhood Association at City Board hearings on the Application in order to state the neighborhood’s position and reasoning for the support for, or request for denial of, any Application. There is not an appeal process; however, an amended Application, appropriately refiled, will be reconsidered.
Land Use FAQs
Do I have to follow the procedures outlined above?
Yes, any deviation to the above stated procedures will result in non-action by the Land Use Committee and NPU-N.
What types of activity require approval from the neighborhood association?
Typically, any building activity that requires a variance or special exception from zoning ordinances. When you go to obtain your building permit, the permit office will tell you whether your project requires a variance or special exception. Rezoning, Special Permits, and Liquor Licenses are also frequent Land Use issues. Note: All commercial construction applicants should additionally review the Poncey-Highland Neighborhood Master Plan.
What does the Applicant do if the Applicant needs a variance or special exception?
Contact the Chairperson of the Land Use Committee. Be prepared to provide a electronic copy of your variance application and all supporting documents. The committee will review the application and make recommendations as noted above.
What happens if I get approval from the neighborhood?
After you get approval from the neighborhood, you will go before the NPU (Neighborhood Planning Unit). The process is similar to that which you go through at the Neighborhood Association.
What happens if the Applicant requires a Deferral (for any reason)?
A Request for Deferral must be in writing and sent to the Land Use Chairperson and the NPU-N Chairperson with a complete explanation of reasons why a Deferral is requested and/or required. Such Request must be received a minimum of ONE day prior to the scheduled meeting of the Land-Use Committee for which the Application is to be reviewed.
Where can I find property information?
- Zoning details, tax information, owner + mailing address: gis.atlantaga.gov. Click the small “more” link in the Property information box. Search for the address, try to start out with just the house number and the first word of the street name. Use the “online map” link to start an interactive map with “layers” like NPU’s, neighborhoods, Tax Allocation Districts, etc.
- Property appraisal details according to the Fulton County Board of Assessors.
- Permits, complaints, inspections, status updates, search the City of Atlanta’s Citizen Gateway. Search tip: provide as little information as possible, for example to find permits issued for 123 Main St. Apt. 4-a Atlanta, GA 30307, initially only enter Street No.=123 and Street Name=Main.(Pre-November 2009 permits)
How do I know which zoning code an address/property is in?
- Use the overview map to find the relevant detail map.
- Search by address, parcel ID, owner or land lot. This search is fairly forgiving: you can, but don’t have to, add “ave”, “st.” etc.
Where can I report a code violation?
Please see the Office of Buildings Inspections Division page for more information.
Where can I report a noise violation?
Atlanta Police Department via 911, or zone 6: 404-371-5002.
Atlanta Noise Ordinance.
How is tree removal handled?
Tree removal is typically handled through the Bureau of Buildings. Signs are required to be posted on the property. Trees are marked prior to the advertisement period and then they can be removed, if no one objects. Objections are filed with the City of Atlanta and heard before the Tree Commission.
Stop work orders
Decisions by the Bureau of Building and the Office of Zoning Enforcement are easily appealed – a temporary stop work order is issued and the appeal is reviewed by City of Atlanta staff.
What is the yard setback for my property? How high can I build? How many parking spaces is a community center supposed to have?
The relevant section of the Code of Ordinances will tell you! Determine the zoning code you’re interested in, then open the Code of Ordinances, City of Atlanta, Georgia. In the menu on the left, locate PART III > Part 16 – Zoning.
Contacts & Resources:
- City of Atlanta's Office of Buildings Permitting Services
- Neighborhood Planning Unit-North (NPU-N)
- City of Atlanta zoning FAQs
- City of Atlanta, GA : Residential Permitting Primer FAQs
- Jim McMahel, PHNA Land Use Chairperson: firstname.lastname@example.org