Municipal Land Use Permitting

If you are thinking of making a change to how you are using a piece of real estate, you need to ask yourself, “do I need a permit for this change?”  Whether it’s building a home or accessory structure, converting a home to business use, or dividing a larger lot into multiple lots, you will likely need one or more permits from some governmental entity. The tricky question that you need to answer, which permits do you need?

Any real estate development could require a variety of permits from various governmental bodies at the State, Federal, or municipal levels. Focusing solely on the municipal level, one proposal could require permits from multiple town permitting bodies. For example, a project could require a variance from a Board of Appeals, a Conditional Use or Site Plan permit from a Planning Board, and, if in a downtown area, a permit from a Design Review Board. This does not even include potential State or Federal permits that could be triggered depending on the scope of the project or proximity to protected resources.

Frequently, towns have several permitting bodies that an applicant will need to go through. Small projects that do not require aesthetic review can often get by with just a permit from the CEO.  Planning boards commonly have authority over subdivisions, site plan review, conditional uses or special exemptions. Next, Zoning Boards of Appeals deal with variances, some conditional uses and administrative appeals. A permit from a Design Review Board is triggered often in downtown districts to ensure cohesive development.  For example, Brunswick has a Village Review Board that reviews exterior design of buildings in the downtown area.

Your first step should be to take some time to go over your plans with your town’s Code Enforcement Officer (CEO). The CEO will be able to go over which permits your town will require. A missed permit, or performance standard, could be ripe for use by abutters to delay your project and cost you money having to make extra appearances before permitting bodies. This is important because, generally, any permit will be subject to appeals by abutters. It may seem great if a town is supportive and being lenient on the permitting process. However, this sort of leniency can pose challenges if an abutter takes issue with your plans.  Alternatively, a town may take a position that an excessive permit is required. Depending on the time and expense of the process, it could be easier to just go along with town officials, even when you do not agree with their position. Ultimately, it is important to have an attorney review your project and associated permit requirements in order to make sure your interests are represented and protected with respect to the municipality and adjacent land owners.

A land use attorney can help you do three things. First, an attorney can determine the types of activities that trigger permitting in your project’s location. Second, he or she can suggest revisions to a proposal that could make the permitting process easier. Third, an attorney can flag items in permitting standards that need extra attention and preparation. A prepared applicant has a better chance at avoiding extra Planning Board meetings which will save time and money.


*Blog posts are meant to be brief introductions to legal issues. All posts are for educational purposes and are not a substitute for direct consultations with an attorney regarding your situation.