When you decide you’re ready to tackle your landscaping project, you want to get started without delay. After all, it probably took you a long time to come to a decision, and you don’t want to have to wait any longer to see your dream become a reality. Unfortunately, the dreamy horizon where that reality awaits may appear to move farther away as you approach.
Obtaining Permits for Your Landscape Design Project
Your ideal landscape may feel just beyond your reach due to state and county regulations. For example, in Virginia and Maryland, certain types of projects—depending on the square footage involved—require permits, and the rules in various jurisdictions seem to be continuously in flux. So, how can you make any plans when you don’t know how to move forward?
You need to consult with a landscape architect about these preliminary details. They will educate you on what’s required by your state and county with respect to the type of project you have in mind. They’ll be up to speed on the rules and regulations in your area, and then be able to help you work within and around those requirements to design and install your landscape project.
To give you an idea of what you and your landscape architect will have to deal with, we’ve highlighted the most pertinent landscape permit information below.
1 General Permit Guidelines
In general, any time you disturb 2500 square feet of soil or change the grade more than 24 inches (either taking away or adding), you must apply for a permit. The precise rules may vary based on your county or state, but this is a basic rule of thumb.
For example, you don’t need a permit for planting trees, shrubs, or flowerbeds unless you exceed the guidelines based on the total disturbed area. So, let’s say you were to clear three separate areas of 1000sqft around your house for flower beds, that would need a permit because, in total, it’s more space than you’re allotted.
Your county and municipality may have additional regulations on top of those required by the state. For example, Loudon, Fairfax, Montgomery, City of Arlington have extremely strict water management regulations that conform with Chesapeake Watershed Protection whereas City of Falls Church and the City of Reston have an HOA that overrides the county rules.
Your landscape architect will always check with all jurisdictions before you invest significant time or emotional energy into a project to ensure your plans are based on current information. They’ll make sure you understand the required fees as well as the time cost of obtaining the necessary permits. Depending on how many layers of bureaucracy are involved, your landscape design company may hire “permit runners” to speed everything up.
2 Landscape Features that ALWAYS Require a Permit
Beyond the general disturbed area guidelines, there are also specific landscape features that ALWAYS require permits and inspections. These landscape features, include:
- Adding a swimming pool and pool deck.
- Building a retaining wall higher than two feet.
- Installing a footer to support a wall or deck post.
- Installing electrical, plumbing, or gas lines.
- Building a fence higher than four feet in your front yard or higher than six to seven feet in a backyard.
- Tree removal.
3 Landscape Situations to Keep an Eye Out For
Lastly, there are some landscape projects, due to their location or the characteristics of the site, that require permits, engineering plans, or multiple inspections. These projects require extra attention and skill, which a landscape architect can provide.
Resource Protection Areas
Resource Protection Areas (RPAs) are corridors of environmentally sensitive land that lie alongside or near the shorelines of streams, rivers, and other waterways that drain into the Chesapeake Bay. If your home is located within or adjacent to an RPA, you will, at the minimum, need a complete site survey that includes RPA delineation. Additional investments may also be required.
If your property includes steep slopes and your landscape design specifies the use of retaining walls for terracing, you’ll need to complete a global stability study. This involves drilling down 20 feet to take core samples. Depending on the results, you might be required to remove unstable soil and replace it with a substrate.
Newer homes frequently include loose backfill soil that’s of poor quality for building. This can be an issue if your landscape plan calls for walls or a driveway. Typically, the depth for footers or substrate is just 24 inches, but if your soil quality is poor, you may be required to excavate down as much as 48-inches.
In each of these situations, a landscape architect can help evaluate your property to see what, if anything, is required and how to work within the necessary guidelines to complete your vision.
Consult with a Landscape Architect
Even if you have a basic understanding of your property’s permit requirements, moving forward just based on this information isn’t enough. You could think something is out of your reach or will cost an arm and a leg when that’s not actually the case.
When you consult with a landscape architect, they’ll know all the rules, requirements, and regulations inside and out, which means they can tell you right away what’s required. Best yet, they are experienced in finding creative ways to meet your county and state requirements without compromising your vision. They’ll also advise you on the potential cost and time involved in obtaining the necessary permits, so you can focus on bringing your landscape to life.
If you’ve been thinking about investing in a landscape design project, our eBook: Expert Guide to Planning the Landscape Design of Your Dreams, is full of valuable information to help you get started.