The permitting process can differ depending on your town. Find out which application process concerns you with Sonoma County Active Map

Your project may be simple enough that a permit can be obtained “over the counter” on the same day that you apply. Depending on the type of work and complexity, drawings may not even be required.

Permit applications for more complicated projects will take longer due to plan review by various agencies, public notifications, and the need for certain agencies to complete their review before other agencies can begin. In a moderate residential project, the agencies that may be involved reviewing your permit application are the Planning Department, Department of Building Inspection, Department of Public Works, and (sometimes) the Fire Department.

If your project cannot be permitted over the counter, the time it will take to process the application is – unfortunately – long and difficult to predict. The Building Department review studies the purely technical aspect of your proposed construction. Other departments require additional time. A Planning Department review checks that the architectural and design features conform with the town’s policies, regulations, and guidelines and requires neighborhood notification. The previously described, Design Review, adds months to the permit application process.

These figures are just guidelines, of course, and based on simple residential projects without variances or other complications. The plan checker's workload at the time of your application is also a variable that you cannot control. There are ways to "expedite" the permitting proces that may somewhat accelerate the building department's review. Where appropriate, we help clients organize projects into work that can be permitted over the counter, work that can be permitted without neighborhood notice, and work requiring neighborhood notice. This adds some cost for the permits, but allows work to advance.

Here are some sample review times per the websites for these towns:

Petaluma: The Plan Check can take 15 to 20 days.

Santa Rosa: The Plan Check can range from 4 to 6 weeks.

Sonoma: Estimate Plan Check time is available upon submittal.

Sonoma County: Design Reviews take from 6 to 8 weeks. If a public hearing is required, processing can take approximately to 6 months.

Permit cost is based on the project’s estimated construction cost derived from data from a national appraisal organization. Separate fees are charged for the permit application and plan review (paid when the application is filed) and for the permit itself. These will vary according to the project size, value and the number of departments that have to review the application. Additional fees are charged for other activities that may be required by your application, such as, processing of variances, mailing of neighborhood notices, review of Historical Resource Evaluations, and mandatory hearings. Attempting to predict the precise cost of a building permit for even a moderately complex project is daunting, but the Building Department of your town does publish Permit Fee Tables that you can access below.

If you project creates more than 499sf of new living space, under California law, you will also be assessed “developer fees” payable to your local School District BEFORE permit issuance.

For permit fees specific to your town, please refer to the links below:

The steps to obtain a building permit vary according to the building type. We’ll assume here a residential addition or remodel of an existing structure because unbuilt lots are unusual. For new construction on undeveloped lots, the process is somewhat different.

The first steps occur long before the permit application is filed. At the start of any project, we research the property’s zoning, age, preservation status, design review controls, permit history, and legal status according to tax records and to anticipate the items required for the permit application. For example, alterations to an older home may require a “Historic Resource Evaluation” which is a lengthy process that should be started as soon as possible to be complete before the application is filed. Another common example is the conversion of spaces that was never legally permitted in the first place. The Building Department considers these unwarranted spaces as an addition of conditioned area to a home and this triggers calculations for energy code compliance and possibly developer fees from the San Francisco Unified School District.

Not every project fits neatly into the code. If there are specific questions or uncertainties about how the various codes might apply to your project, a “Pre-application meeting” can be scheduled through the Building Department for a fee. Attending the conference will be plan checkers from the departments with authority over the issue(s) you want to discuss. The written decisions and interpretations made at these meetings are “official” and may be relied upon in your final permit application.

If the project will be subject to neighborhood notification, we encourage an early outreach meeting with the adjacent neighbors and the local design review boards after the design program has been set, but before going too deep into design itself. The neighbors do not determine our design, but being proactive permits us to hear their concerns, anticipate and try to avoid future obstacles if possible, and build trust and communication that will be important throughout the project.