The Development Review Division is the first stop to getting a building permit in the City of Pittsburgh. Approval by the Zoning Department is required for all new construction and for any changes in use of the property.
When is Zoning Approval Needed for Building Permits?
Zoning Department approval is needed for all exterior construction ranging from residential decks and parking pads to new building construction. Zoning approval is needed for most interior work too. Examples of projects requiring Zoning approval include, but are not limited to, the following:
New building construction
Master plans (institutional, SP Districts)
NOTE: A stamped survey is required for approval of all new construction, extensions/additions, and renovations.
Other Applications Requiring Zoning Approval
The following projects require zoning approval too:
Institutional Master Plans: Institutional Master Plans (IMP) provide a frame work for development of institutions, such as hospitals and colleges, which control large areas of land within the City. Zoning approval is required for increased densities and potential zoning category changes for implementation of an IMP.
Zone Changes: Zoning category changes begin in the Development Review Division. For more information about changing the zoning of a property, please set up a pre-application meeting.
Specially Planned Districts: Specially Planned Districts (SPD) are planned unit developments that are intended to provide a flexible framework for alternative forms of development for very large sites. Similar to Institutional Master Plans, Preliminary Land Development Plans (PLDP) and subsequent Final Land Development Plans (FLDP) of a SPD require zoning approval for amended Zoning Code text and Zoning map changes.
How are Zoning Approvals Obtained?
Depending on the size and scope of the project, there are six types of approval that can be granted for above projects:
Over the Counter: Permitted by right, these projects can be approved at the zoning counter if all code requirements are met. These uses are listed at "P" in section 911.04 of the Zoning Code. NOTE: Although permitted by right, some projects may require additional review based on size, scope, and location.
Special Exception: Some uses and densities are permitted in certain zoning categories by special exception. Listed as "S" in section 911.02 of the Zoning Code, special exceptions are granted by the Zoning Board of Adjustment.
Variance: Variances may be granted to projects that do not comply with Zoning Code standards. Specific to the zoning category in which the project is located, variances may be given to projects that deviate from permitted uses, required setbacks, floor-area-ratios, and building heights without negative impact on the surrounding context. Variances are granted by the Zoning Board of Adjustment.
Administrator's Exception: Certain uses and conditions shall be granted by the Zoning Administrator. These uses are listed as "A" in section 911.02 of the Zoning Code. NOTE: Although permitted by right, some projects may require additional review based on size, scope, and location.
Conditional Use Exception: Conditional uses, listed as "C" in section 911.02 of the Zoning Code, shall be approved by City Council after consideration from the Planning Commission.
Site Plan Review: Site plan review is administered to projects that require additional review as outlined in the Zoning Code. Site plan review checks for code compliance relating to setbacks, parking, and landscape and screening requirements to name a few.
How are Approvals Evaluated?
Zoning Counter: Smaller projects with uses permitted by right can be approved at the zoning counter. Approval is granted provided that the project meets the Zoning Code requirements. These projects include but are not limited to new construction or alterations to 1 and 2 family detached units and the construction of accessory uses such as decks, porches, garages, and swimming pools.
Zoning Board of Adjustment: Through a posted notice and public hearing process, the Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) reviews requests for variances and special exceptions. These include dimensional and use variances for all zoning categories.
Planning Commission: The City Planning Commission is primarily responsible for guiding land use and development in the City of Pittsburgh. Planning Commission reviews zoning amendment text, major development plans as well as projects located in downtown, downtown riverfront, and public realm districts.
City Council: City Council is responsible for the introduction of new legislation that has been initiated in the Development Review Division, amongst many things. City Council is reviews and approves the following items and projects:
Legislative Changes to the Zoning Code
Certain Uses with City Wide Impacts
Zone Change Requests
Institutional Master Plans
Guide to Permitting
Project approval and permitting are conducted by both the Zoning and Development Review Division and the Bureau of Building Inspection. Once Zoning approval for any land or building project has been granted, BBI will review the project and issue building permits. Click here for a guide to the City of Pitsburgh's permitting process.