LAND DISTURBANCE PERMITTING

What to Know Before You Get Started

What is a Land Disturbance?

Generally, land disturbance is the  result of any man-made change to a parcel of land that exposes soil and that may result in soil erosion. A land disturbance permit is typically required when 5,000 or more square feet of ground disturbance is proposed and includes – but is not limited to – clearing, grading, grubbing, and paving.

What Are the Types of Land Disturbance Permits?

Local municipalities typically issue land disturbance permits for any construction project that meets the land disturbing criteria. However, some projects also require additional federal, state, or special utility/private entity permits before receiving a local land disturbance permit.

Federal permits include wetland and stream (water of the US) Army Corps permits and FEMA Flood Study approval. Common Georgia state-level approvals include Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) encroachment, driveway and road permits, Environmental Protection Division (EPD) stream buffer variance permits, EPD Notice of Intent (NOI) to meet water quality requirements during construction, Georgia Soil & Water Conservation Commission (GSWCC) Erosion Control, and on occasion the state fire marshal. Special permits include permission to construct within utility easements/property such as Georgia Power. Additional permits may be required to encroach on private rights-of-way, such as railroad entities. Simultaneously, while obtaining federal and state approvals, construction plans are typically submitted to the local jurisdiction to ensure compliance with zoning regulations and local stormwater and utility connection requirements.

Why Does the Process Take So Long?

To begin with, we can blame the pandemic for a shift in work priorities, as well as the Great Resignation. Many industries and government agencies have seen significant turnover within the past two years, resulting in new employees being onboarded and “learning the ropes,” as it were. During the course of doing our jobs, we build relationships and learn to work with City/County engineers in various jurisdictions. Because of turnover during the preceding two years, those relationships no longer exist. We are working with new personnel in many jurisdictions and learning their preferred processes. It can be a time-consuming endeavor. To compound matters since the pandemic, several jurisdictions are still limiting the in-office reviewer meetings where interpersonal relationships would be developed in times past.

Another reason for extended review periods is the implementation of new requirements. Codes, standards, and policies are continuously updated. We not only have to be aware of these updates, but it also takes time for reviewing officials to determine their implementation strategy while project reviews are ongoing.

Additionally, unlike obtaining a building permit, which may involve two departments within a jurisdiction, land disturbance permits involve anywhere from five to ten departments depending on the size of the jurisdiction. Sometimes the people in these departments don’t see eye-to-eye. As a result, we find ourselves serving as a conduit of information between those departments offering the communication they don’t have internally. The struggle is that each department makes comments independently of the others, so it’s not a holistic approach within the jurisdiction. Often, this results in conflicting directions for us, so we have to work through comments to determine which department is responsible for each rule and how we comply with the regulations and avoid conflicting opinions. We are forced to be intermediaries at times between reviews and reviewers so that we can broker an agreed upon position to get permits issued.

Another issue that impacts the time it takes to obtain a permit is that some municipalities use third-party engineers to review projects. In these cases, the engineers are not employees of the municipality, so they don’t have the authority to make certain decisions. While the basis for their decision may be reasonable, there may be a gray area, so we have to contact someone within the city or county involved and work through the issue to find a solution.  fee.

Lastly, some jurisdictions do not have up-to-date online Geographical Information Systems (GIS). For example, a GIS system may indicate that a manhole doesn’t exist in a specific place, but we have been to the location and seen the manhole, so we know it does exist. Street addressing can be incorrect in the GIS database. In these cases, we have to talk with others within the jurisdiction, including local leadership (the mayor or a commissioner/council member, for example), to correct the information within their own system. These seemingly small pieces of incorrect information can add several weeks to the process.

Many of these issues can be overcome with proper planning and scheduling. As with any project, coordination with the developer, architect, owner, and other consultants on the team early in the process is key to a successful project.

How Do We Help Mitigate Long Review Times?

  • We maintain and cultivate relationships with review officials in jurisdictions in metro-Atlanta and across the southeastern United States. These positive working relationships help move the process forward in a shorter time.
  • We arrange pre-design and pre-submittal meetings for each project so that we can discuss the issues impacting a site early in the process.
  • Upfront research gives us a “leg up” in the process. We begin researching a project as early as possible. The regulatory issues we discover during this exercise help us to understand the challenges that need to be addressed.
  • Compiling a due diligence report for a site reveals many of the issues that need to be addressed. A stand-alone service that we offer, due diligence reports offer a deep dive into requirements and codes for a specific site. As part of this process, we also make calls for clarification. We provide an executive summary of the project challenges and opportunities, plus an appendix of required forms and documents needed for the land disturbance permit process within the jurisdiction. All of this gives us a deep understanding of what it will take to move a project along quickly.

Conclusion

Our firm has more than four decades of experience permitting projects. We approach each project with our client’s goals in mind and work to achieve those goals while also incorporating all of the permitting district’s requirements.

Services that we regularly provide on projects include:

  • Plans and exhibits that are provided to the environmental professional for their submittal to the Army Corps of Engineers and the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD).
  • State DOT permits
  • EPD-Notice of Intent for stormwater discharge
  • State erosion control permits
  • Special private entity encroachment permits
  • Local jurisdiction Land Development permits
  • Due diligence reports

Contact us today for any permitting questions – we are here to help!

By: Lauren Leyrer, PE and Wesley Reed, PE