Frequently Asked Questions about Design Review

What kinds of projects are subject to design review?

Division 17.66 of the Piedmont City Code authorizes the City to perform design review on all projects that require a building permit unless they are specifically exempt. Typical projects subject to design review include:

  • New buildings

  • Upper story or ground level additions

  • Room enlargements and “pop-outs”

  • New or expanded decks

  • Fences over 6’ and retaining walls over 30";

  • Fences or walls of any height when in setbacks along public streets

  • New garages or carports

  • When above grade: Swimming pools, hot tubs, exterior spas

  • Air conditioners

  • Skylights and dormers

  • Other structures (arbors, gazebos, etc.)

A Design Review Permit is also required for large satellite dishes, some children’s play structures, patios within the street setbacks, and parking pads, even though building permits are not always required for some of these improvements.

A Design Review Permit is not required for:

  • Interior remodeling if there will be no changes to the exterior of the house and no new bedrooms are proposed.

  • Landscaping with plant materials

  • Painting of existing buildings

  • Normal repair, replacement and maintenance of existing construction, as long as it is an exact replacement (no change in style, material, size, etc.)

Depending on their location on your property, certain fences, trellises, patios, and walkways also may be exempt. A full list of projects exempt from a Design Review Permit are listed in section 2.05 of the City's Design Review Guidelines. Check with the Planning Division before proceeding.

Who gets to see my plans? 

Your plans are kept on file at the Public Works Counter and may be reviewed by any interested member of the public. For Design Review Permits - Reviewed by Director, the City sends a letter to the owners of all properties adjacent to yours inviting them to review your plans and to submit written comments. This usually includes two side yard neighbors, three houses across the street, and three neighbors to the rear of your house.

For applications subject to review by the Planning Commission, you must notify the owners of all properties adjacent to yours before your application can be accepted (instructions and a notification form are provided in the application packet). In addition, the City sends a letter to all property owners within a fixed radius of your house inviting them to review your plans, submit written comments, and provide testimony at the public hearing. The radius varies from 100 to 500 feet, depending on what you are building.

How do I know if my project will be reviewed by the Planning Commission?

The Planning Commission will review your project if it meets any of the following criteria:

  • The value of the project exceeds $142,445

  • It requires a zoning variance

  • It involves a fence, gate or retaining wall in the setback (within 20 feet from the front property line) of a public street

  • It involves a site feature located within a setback area, depending on its height

Design Guidelines section 2.01.01 provides more information on the criteria that determines the level of design review required for a project.

What happens if I also need a variance? 

Planning Division Staff will notify you if you need a variance. An additional fee will be required and “findings” will need to be made by the Planning Commission before the variance can be granted. Please refer to the application form or division 17.70 of the City Code for more information.

What design criteria are used to evaluate my project?

Section 17.66.060 of the City Code (PDF) specifies three criteria for evaluating projects. These relate to the aesthetics, compatibility, and safety of the project. They are:

  1. The proposed design is consistent with the City’s General Plan and Piedmont Design Guidelines.
  2. The Design has little or no effect on neighboring properties’ existing views, privacy, and access to direct and indirect light.
  3. The Proposed design does not adversely affect pedestrian or vehicular safety.

In addition, the City adopted Design Guidelines (PDF), which includes the following chapters:

1. Introduction
2. The Design Review Process
3. Site Design
4. Building Design: General
5. Building Design: Single-Family Residential
6. Building Design: Multi-Family Residential
7. Building Design: Commercial and Mixed-Use Residential
8. Wireless Communication Facilities

All projects submitted for design review permit are evaluated in terms of their compliance with the standards, General Plan, and Design Guidelines.

How Do I Withdraw my application?

If you would like to withdraw your planning application, please fill out the request to withdraw application.