Planning Approval

Updated Planning Approval Process

The Planning Department is making changes to the way we process building permit applications. Recent State legislation, Assembly Bill 1114, regulates review time of post entitlement permits. Post entitlement permits include building permits for housing development projects (construction of one unit or more). In addition, the Department of Building Inspection is requiring electronic plan review (EPR) of in-house (not over-the-counter) building permits. 

Starting January 1, 2024, all new building permit applications that require Planning Department review, with a few exceptions noted below, must first receive a Planning Department Approval Letter (also known as a Zoning Approval Letter) before submitting an application to the Department of Building Inspection.  A Planning Approval Letter is a cover letter confirming that the Planning Department has reviewed the project and checked for code compliance.

These two changes (EPR and the changes to the Planning Approval process) will help facilitate concurrent review of building permits by each agency and helps ensure that the City meet mandated timelines for building permit review. Although AB 1114 only applies to housing development projects, process improvements around EPR submittals and Planning Approval Letters will apply to all building permits. 

If you already have a permit on file and are submitting either a revision or an addendum, a Planning Approval Letter is not required. You may submit either the revision or addendum online, according to Department of Building Inspection instructions. Please do not submit revisions or addendum directly the Planning Department.  

Planning Department Approvals can range in scope from a one-day approval at the Planning Information Counter to a complex development project requiring a public hearing. 

In-house Review by Planning

There are three categories of projects that receive in-house review by the Planning Department:

1. Projects that require intake review and/or neighborhood notice

  • Examples include:
    • Changes of use that require Planning Code Section 311 neighborhood notification
    • Building expansions/construction that require Planning Code Section 311 neighborhood notification
    • 10-day deck notices
  • Prior to submitting a building permit application, file a Project Application (PRJ) and any required supplemental applications with the Planning Department by following "How to Submit" instructions below.
  • There is no change to the notification requirements. The only change in process is that the building permit can no longer be filed concurrently.  
  • The planner assigned to review the Project Application will issue a Planning Approval Letter following review. The Planning Approval Letter, including all necessary attachments, will be required for submittal of a building permit application.

2. Ministerial housing projects that require intake review but are administrative (more on Ministerial Projects)

Ministerial housing projects do not require public hearings or discretionary entitlements.

  • Examples of ministerial housing projects include:
    • Mixed-income ministerial housing development projects pursuant to bills such as SB423, AB2011, SB9 etc.
    • 100% Affordable ministerial housing development projects pursuant to bills such as AB2162, SB4, SB423, AB2011
  • Prior to submitting a building permit application, file the required ministerial housing project application for the State program listed above and any required supplemental applications. Submit applications to Planning by following submittal instructions below. 
  • Planning staff will issue a Planning Approval Letter following review. The Planning Approval Letter, including all necessary attachments, will be required for submittal of a building permit application.

3. Projects that require entitlements (submittal of a Project Application is required)

Entitlements may or may not have a public hearing.

  • Examples of entitlement applications include:
    • Conditional Use Authorizations
    • Variances
    • Office Allocations
    • Large Project Authorizations
    • Certificates of Appropriateness and Permits to Alter
  • Prior to submitting a building permit application, file a Project Application (PRJ) and any required supplemental applications and submit to Planning by following submittal instructions below. There is no change to the entitlement process or notification requirements. The only change is that a building permit cannot be filed concurrently.
  • Planning staff will issue a Planning Approval Letter following review of the entitlement and all relevant appeal periods. The Planning Approval Letter, including all necessary attachments, is required for submittal of a building permit application.

Previously Approved Projects

If your entitlement was approved by the Planning Department prior to January 1, 2024, and you’re preparing to file a building permit, please email your planner and include the Planning district team manager who approved your original project and request a Planning Approval Letter. The name of the district team manager is available on the Details tab on PIM. Your planner will issue a Planning Approval Letter for the previously approved project within three (3) business days.

How to Submit

If your project requires an intake review, neighborhood notification, or an entitlement (#1 and 3 above), please review the appropriate Project Application form and submit the required materials to the Planning Department. Please also submit all necessary entitlement supplemental applications (e.g. Conditional Use Authorization etc.)  

If your housing project meets the requirements for a ministerial review (#2 above), please review the Ministerial Projects webpage to understand which forms to submit.  

Applicants may submit all required materials for #1-3 above, to the Planning Department either by:

Over-the-Counter Approvals

There are two categories of over-the-counter approval by the Planning Department.

1. Approvals that are over-the-counter for all agencies

Some small projects may be processed over-the-counter at the Planning Counter at SF Permit Center with a building permit. The Planning Department will issue approval for these projects directly on the building permit at the Permit Center.

These projects do not require the separate Planning Department Approval Letter noted above:

  • Windows, doors, siding
  • Decks* 
  • Light well infills and popouts 
  • Signs 
  • Facade alterations
  • Storefront alterations

*Please consult with a planner at the Planning Information Counter to verify if the proposed project meets the requirements for an over-the-counter approval.

2. Approvals that are over-the-counter for Planning Department review by in-house for DBI review

Some small projects may be processed over-the-counter from a Planning perspective but require in-house review by other agencies. These permits must be submitted electronically to the Department of Building Inspection and Planning staff will issue a Planning Approval Letter as part of the review process.

Next Steps

After you have received a Planning Department Approval Letter (also known as a Zoning Approval Letter), if your project requires a building permit, you will submit your building permit application and plans to the Department of Building Inspection. In your submission, you must upload the Planning Department Approval Letter and any required attachments.

Once you submit your building permit, it will be routed to the Planning Department to confirm the permit submission matches what was previously approved by the Planning Department.

Questions?

Contact pic@sfgov.org