If you want to develop land in Lincoln, City government wants to make that process as short, smooth, and understandable as possible. The narrative below gives you a quick summary of the process for obtaining development approvals, with links (bolded) to more detailed information and staff contacts.
We strongly encourage pre-application meetings at an early stage of your plans, so you can get a clearer understanding of the prospects, expectations, and time frames for your project and identify a point of contact for your questions.
If your property is inside the City limits, zoned and subdivided for your intended use, you probably will not need the Planning Department's assistance to obtain a building permit. However if you do need to meet any or all those prerequisites, we are here to assist you with that process.
Development sometimes requires extending public water and sewer lines and improving access roads out beyond the current city boundaries. The City of Lincoln has planned carefully for urban expansion through its Comprehensive Plan and Capital Improvement Program (CIP). The Comprehensive Plan lays out a long-range vision for the pattern and timing and character of land uses in Lincoln and Lancaster County and the transportation system and other community facilities needed to serve the future land users. The CIP provides a schedule of the community facilities that the City expects to be able to construct over the next six years.
The City's general policy is to extend services to land that is contiguous to the city limits if the proposed development is consistent with the Comprehensive Plan and the owner/developer agrees to annexation. Land that is being annexed in exchange for services and zoning approvals generally is governed by Annexation Agreements between the City and land developer. These agreements set out the obligations and expectations of both parties for building necessary public improvements roads, sidewalks, utilities, etc. to and through the property. These agreements are commonly accompanied by applications to provide proper zoning for the prospective development and preliminary subdivision plats. Specific questions about the Comprehensive Plan, CIP, and annexation should be directed to the Lincoln-Lancaster County Planning Department, Long Range Planning section.
The City has developed a checklist of common questions and information for new annexations of new subdivisions. The checklist (Annexation Checklist for use in proposed annexations) shall be "utilized by all departments in evaluating proposals to annex land into the city limits and extend public services and as the basis for negotiation of annexation agreements by all city departments."
The City of Lincoln has adopted a Zoning Ordinance for all the land inside the city and within a 3-mile radius of its boundaries. The ordinance consists of a text, containing all the zoning standards, and an official Zoning Map. The Zoning Map assigns categories called "districts" to all properties in and around the city. Every district has separate rules on what uses are allowed, what height and bulk of buildings is permitted, what yard areas are required, etc. The Zoning Ordinance also contains standards for parking, signs, and other aspects of development, plus references to additional Design Standards which are adopted by separate resolution.
If land is not properly zoned to accommodate the intended development, the owner or prospective owner will need to apply for a Change of Zone. Typically, this will be for a change to the Zoning Map that places the property in a district that allows the proposed development. Occasionally, the applicant may need to request a "text change" -- a change to the uses permitted or the development standards in the zoning text, instead of or in addition to a map change.
Uses allowed in each zoning district are classified as "Permitted", "Permitted Conditional Uses", or "Permitted Special Uses." Permitted uses are allowed in that district with no special review or requirements. Conditional Uses have special limitations and standards for each particular uses in a district which must be met in order to be allowed in that zoning district without public review. Uses allowed by Special Permit must be considered and approved by the Planning Commission after an advertised public hearing. A few types of Special Permits must be approved by the City Council after receiving the recommendation of the Planning Commission. The approval of a Special Permit may include special requirements that are imposed by the Planning Commission or City Council, in addition to any requirements listed in the zoning text, if the board believes they are needed in a particular situation to assure that the use will be compatible with its neighbors.
All these applications must be approved through a public hearing process by the Lincoln-Lancaster Planning Commission. The Planning Commission advises the City Council on applications for amendments to the Comprehensive Plan, Changes of Zone, and text changes. For most other types of applications, the Planning Commission is the decision-maker, although subject to appeal by the applicant or other interested party to the City Council. The Planning Commission generally hears applications within four weeks their submittal. Most items requiring City Council action are heard within three weeks of the Planning Commission action. Minor changes to conditions in the approved ordinances or resolutions of the Planning Commission and City Council can be approved administratively, by the Planning Director, in three weeks or less.
Generally, these boards will look to the applicable development policies and maps in the Comprehensive Plan as a guide to whether or not the applications should be approved. Sometimes, it may be appropriate for the applicant to request an amendment to the Comprehensive Plan be considered along with the zoning application.
Occasionally, when a property is unique in its shape or topography or is otherwise different from neighboring land, and the zoning standards would otherwise create an undue hardship to developing the land, the Board of Zoning Appeals can review applications and decide if a variance of those rules is warranted.
Generally, properties must be platted in accordance with the City's Land Subdivision Ordinance before a property owner can sell off portions of his land, or obtain a building permit to begin construction. Exceptions to this requirement are described in the regulations. Subdivisions are official maps laying out and naming the intended streets and lots and blocks on which improvements will be built. The standards in the Subdivision Ordinance and in referenced Design Standards assure that the pattern of access and circulation meets City standards and fits with the development of surrounding land, the needs of utility companies and other public agencies are considered, adequate land for roads and utilities is dedicated, drainage and utilities are properly sized and designed, and streets are constructed with necessary sidewalks, lighting, and other appurtenances.
Subdivisions usually are approved through a 2-step process involving a preliminary plat, which is approved by the Planning Commission, and a final plat approved by the Planning Director. Specific questions about the subdivision process should be directed to the Development Review section of the Planning Department, and questions about the location, capacity, design and construction of public facilities for subdivisions should be directed to the Transportation and Utilities Department, Development Services office.
Floodplains, Wetlands and Land Disturbance
In some cases, part or all of the land intended for development lies in an area that is subject to flooding. The City has adopted flood standards that limit where and how land can be filled within floodplains or floodprone areas, whether new buildings can be constructed or existing buildings expanded, and what construction standards must be met for such buildings. Maps of the city's floodplain and floodprone areas are available for viewing on the City's website. For specific information on building or filling in a floodplain, contact the Building and Safety Department. For information on engineering and environmental studies that may be needed to allow fill in certain floodplains, contact the Watershed Management Division in the Transportation and Utilities Department.
Proposed alterations to qualifying wetlands must be permitted by the Corps of Engineers Omaha District. It is recommended that this "404" permit be obtained prior to applying for stormwater permits and subdivision plats or associated applications, to determine the extent of wetland alterations that will be allowed.
Federal law requires that all land disturbance on over one acre of land requires a Construction Stormwater Permit to ensure that erosion and off-site sedimentation are limited through the use of Best Management Practices. The Lower Platte South Natural Resources District is the local lead agency for authorizing Construction Stormwater Permits for land inside and within 3 miles of the Lincoln City Limits. The Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality is the lead agency for issuance of NPDES Permits for land disturbance of one acre or greater for areas outside the City of Lincoln 3-mile limit.
Generally, building permits will be issued if the submitted plans are consistent with the applicable zoning district standards, any special permit requirements that may be applicable, subdivision regulations, and the building code. In some situations, there are special design review requirements that also may be applicable (contact the Planning Department for more information):
- Neighborhood Design Standards are applied administratively to new residential construction proposed inside the 1950 city limits. These standards are intended to encourage new infill development that is compatible with the character of its surrounding neighborhood.
- Exterior alterations to locally designated historic landmarks and buildings in designated historic districts are subject to review and recommendations by the City's Historic Preservation Commission.
Responsibilities For Obtaining Commercial Building Permits
The Owners Responsibility
An owner is ultimately responsible for any development or construction on their property. In most cases, owners pass the responsibility of a project to a general contractor or designer to manage and coordinate a development or construction project. State Law also has requirements that dictate the involvement of registered professional engineers and architects for commercial projects. It is suggested that owners monitor the progress of a project through their professionals to ensure the proper steps are being followed for design, permitting and inspections. Any pertinent information an owner can provide design professionals prior to preliminary design will aid in the success of obtaining a permit. Failure to submit complete information during any phase of design, permitting or construction can cause delays in issuing permits, performing inspections, and obtaining Certificates of Occupancy.
The Professional Engineer and Architect’s Responsibilities
The designer, usually a registered professional engineer or architect, is required to take responsibility for projects submitted to the Building & Safety Department. During the review process, the architect or engineer is responsible for supplying adequate construction drawings and making timely corrections to those drawings when requested. Building permits cannot be issued until all drawings are correct according to city codes and standards. The designer is expected to have taken into consideration all applicable construction code provisions, as well as all zoning requirements which may apply to a specific property. Preliminary meetings are strongly suggested to bring attention to any specific code issues or site specific zoning requirements which may be necessary for issuing a building permit. Initial building permit reviews are performed in 10 working days by City staff with reviews of revisions occurring in 5 working days after an architect or engineer has resubmitted. Preliminary meetings and proper code research help to eliminate unnecessary delays in the permit process. A strong partnership should be created between the design professional and the building official before a building permit can be issued.
The Contractors Responsibility
The general contractor is responsible to see that a project is built in accordance with the permit issued plans and specifications. Often, the contractor is the permit applicant and must coordinate plan submittal from the design professionals to the Building & Safety Department. Timeliness of this coordination can be critical to preventing delays in obtaining a building permit. The general contractor is also responsible to see that work is not commenced without obtaining a permit and that such work progresses according to code. Inspections can be scheduled via the internet or telephone the same day if contacted by 7:30 am. The general contractor is also responsible for coordinating all subcontractor permits, inspections and obtaining the Occupancy Certificate. No one may use or occupy a facility until a Certificate of Occupancy has been issued by the Department.
Building & Safety Department’s Responsibility
The Department’s responsibility is to review submitted plans thoroughly and in a timely manner. The Department of Building & Safety coordinates all reviews that occur by multiple city departments as well as those which are to be performed by Building & Safety staff. The policy of the Department is to have all reviewers complete their initial review within 10 working days of receiving a complete permit application. Reviews of corrected or resubmitted plans are to occur within 5 working days. A building permit cannot be issued until all reviewers are satisfied their code requirements have been met properly and legally reflected on the permit drawings. Limited construction permits may also be issued by Building & Safety if enough information warrants such an approach. Proper research and preparation by owners and their design professionals and quick response to reviewers comments will aid in a permit being issued in a timely manner. After a permit is issued, the Department is responsible for performing progress inspections and final inspections before issuing a Certificate of Occupancy.
More specific information, forms, contacts, and statistics can be obtained by visiting the Building & Safety Department webpage.
An impact fee is a fee, paid at time of building permit, that can only be used to build new public improvements. On January 13, 2003 the City Council approved five separate impact fees: 1) arterial streets, 2) water system, 3) water distribution, 4) wastewater and 5) neighborhood parks and trail fee. Each fee will be deposited into a separate account. These funds could then be used only for new construction. For example, the water system impact fees could only used for new water improvements, such as reservoirs, pumping stations and water treatment. (Impact Fee Ordinance #18113 adopted January 13, 2003.)
For more information on Impact fees, visit the Transportation and Utilities webpage.
Access Management Policy
In response to the need to provide a more consistent and effective access management policy for the City of Lincoln, an Access Management Policy has been developed. Providing better access management on our streets will result in increased safety and efficiency for motorists and pedestrians. Information is included covering the conditions and requirements that must be met in order to obtain a driveway approach permit that will allow access to property within the City of Lincoln or within the surrounding three-mile zoning jurisdiction limit.
For more information on the Access Management Policy, visit the Transportation and Utilities webpage.
See the webpages of the Urban Development Department.