Regulatory and other site restrictions that you should be aware of before you buy a building site and before you begin the design process
Nearly every building site has restrictions that dictate a great deal about where you can build on the site and even what you can build. Commonly, people who sell land are not totally familiar with all of these restrictions, which leaves you with some homework. We suggest you tackle this, if at all possible, before you purchase a building site (since the information you glean from your research might make you want to reconsider) and certainly before you begin any design work. Gather up all the information and keep it together in one easy refer to file.
Here are some of the most common types of regulatory restrictions to research:
A trip to your local zoning department will enable you to get a copy of the zoning bylaws that affect your site. Those that you should look for are:
- Setback requirements: how far from the front, side and rear lots lines the structure can be built. Will the remaining building envelope be large enough for what you want to build?
- Lot coverage restrictions: How much of the site area can be covered with the structure and with impervious (e.g. asphalt drive, tennis courts) surfaces.
- House size limitations: some local zoning restrictions limit the size of houses or the height of houses.
Utility restrictions and easements:
If your site is serviced by water and sewer services, you simply need to find out where they come onto you site. If, on the other hand, your site will require a septic system or a well, many restrictions may apply. The best thing to do here is to engage the serves of a local site engineer who can walk you through the requirements and handle the administrative work of getting permits and designing your septic system. Here are some to consider that will affect your house design:
- How far away from each other do the septic system and the well have to be? (this also applies to the distance from neighboring septic systems and wells).
- Are the percolation test completed for the site yet? Is the septic system already designed?
- For how many bedrooms (or in some towns rooms) has the septic system been designed or is there a limitation on bedrooms?
Many sites contain wetland or are near enough to wetlands to affect the site even if the site itself contains none. The main consideration here is how near the wetlands can you build and can your septic system be located. There is typically a building restriction of 25 to 100 feet and you can only build within that area with a variance (which is often a long process). In some areas there is a _buffer zone in which you may not be able to disturb the site at all (e.g. no removal of vegetation, no digging, no fill, etc.). Also, does your community have a 100 year high water restriction that affects the building area on your site?
If you are building near the ocean, your local build department can tell you if there are additional tidewater and other restrictions that affect your site.
Other Special Restrictions:
Some communities impose these restrictions, for which your local building department can provide documentation. These may include:
- House size restrictions
- Historic district restrictions that affect the architecture that is allowed; the types and shapes of windows that can be used; even the color of the house. It is best to verify with your local building department that no such restrictions apply to your site.
- Seismic, special wind load and other special restrictions. Your site may be affected by certain seismic restrictions, or, if it is near the ocean, certain wind loading requirements. And yet other sites that have steep grades have restrictions about houses being built on slopes that exceed prescribed steepness.
- Some early CC&R’s incorrectly called limited building of prefabricated homes confusing prefab with mobile homes. A quick look at plans can quickly dispel this myth.