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The city’s planning & zoning division is responsible for citywide planning and zoning administration, regulating subdivisions, and administering a comprehensive land use plan for the city, enforcing & implementing the existing subdivision and zoning codes (Chapter 26 and Chapter 31). Planning & Zoning also works closely with other departments, including Building and Public Works or project proposals and reviews, and Property Maintenance for code enforcement.
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Planning & zoning reviews and issues permits for the following:
Planning & Zoning also reviews and processes all applications for the Zoning Board of Adjustment, Planning Commission, and Downtown Review Board, including:
Applications and permits can be found online or in the Planning & Zoning office.
Planning & Zoning does not directly issue permits for applications for accessory structures, swimming pools, solar panels, additions, new residences, commercial projects, etc. but permit applications for these projects are reviewed by Planning & Zoning to ensure compliance with Chapters 26 and 31.
A subdivision or plat is one or more parcels of land that have gone through the subdivision process outlined in Chapter 26 and are recorded as a “lot of record” with Buchanan County. This creates a recorded “plat” or map of a property showing important information like property lines, utility and access easements, drainage, etc. Properties are typically required to be platted for development and permits to be issued for any project on that piece of land. Properties that are not platted would need to go through the subdivision or platting process.
A common misunderstanding is hearing the word “subdivision” can bring to mind large residential subdivision developments. This is not usually what the city means when using this word. In this case, a subdivision simply means the division of land (in many cases only one piece of property) into legal lots, blocks, tracts, or parcels. Neither is incorrect, but one specifically refers to the process utilized by the city.
Platting is the process of creating a “lot of record” with Buchanan County through the city’s subdivision process outlined in Chapter 26. This creates a recorded “plat” or map of a lot or lots showing important information like property lines, utility and access easements, drainage, etc. Platting a property requires working with a surveyor and submitting a plat document and application to the city for review. Platting can be considered one of the first steps in development of a property, along with zoning.
The City has two subdivision processes:
The Planning & Zoning division can provide more information about the platting process and requirements.
For property that is already platted, you can submit a Lot Line Adjustment Application. This application allows applicants to split existing lots, combine existing lots, or adjust boundary lines on existing lots, within limits outlined in Chapter 26. Applications require a survey and are submitted to the Planning & Zoning office for review and approval. Approved lot line adjustments may be recorded with Buchanan County.
The city does not provide surveying services. For applications that require surveying services, it is important to do your research and explore all cost and service options available to you. You can contact the Planning & Zoning division for more information.
A property’s zoning determines what uses are permitted on the property and helps guide development. For example, most properties along the Belt are zoned “C-3, Commercial” allowing for uses like restaurants, grocery stores, etc. Zoning districts also determine things like setback requirements for buildings, height requirements, parking requirements, landscaping, and more. Information on every zoning district in St. Joseph can be found in Chapter 31 of the City Code.
Some parts of St. Joseph are in special zoning districts such as Downtown, which is in the Downtown Precise Plan district. These special districts have certain development standards that regulate more specifically than the standard zoning districts. Information on Precise Plans can be found online.
It is helpful to know information about what your property is zoned, as it determines the use and regulation of your property.
Rezoning (Zoning District Change) is the process of changing the zoning of a property from one district to another, i.e.: M-2 Heavy Manufacturing to R-1A, Single Family Residential, to allow new uses or development on a property that otherwise would not have been allowed before, or for reasons specific to a particular piece of land, such as a property historically being industrial but is now used as a residential property.
A rezoning starts with completing the Zoning District Change Application. Once the application has been received by the appropriate deadline, it is placed on a Planning Commission agenda and from there it would move onto City Council for approval or denial. If approved, the zoning district will officially be changed in the city’s records.
There are several ways to find out information about properties in St. Joseph. The city and county offer a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) web portal that allows you to search addresses and find out more about them, including info like zoning.
To turn on the zoning layer:
This will allow you to see current zoning of properties in the city and county. All properties in the city are zoned a specific district. Information on zoning districts and their permitted and conditional uses can be found in Chapter 31 of the City Code.
You can search for a specific address via the toolbar along the top:
Zoning determines what kind of structure can be built on a property and what regulations there are including setbacks, height limits, façade, and more depending on the zoning district. For example, residential zoning districts may have more restrictive setback requirements than commercial districts to promote separation between houses. These regulations also determine accessory structure setbacks and height, fence height, signs, and other uses within the city.
If a property is not zoned correctly, it will prohibit the construction of any nonconforming use on that property, potentially requiring a rezoning of that property.
A fence permit application can either be obtained in Room 107 of City Hall, or online, on the Planning & Zoning Applications & Permits page. The rules for fences, including material and height requirements, are outlined in Chapter 31.
The city does not require an official survey for a fence permit application; however, the city does require a site plan, showing the location of the fence on the property (these do not have to be done by a contractor or other professional).
The city recommends that all fences be built at least a foot into the property off of the property lines. This can help avoid disputes with neighbors and confusion of who owns the fence. If you plan to build on the property line, the city requires the signature of the owner of the shared property and the permit application be notarized.
The city does not enforce HOA requirements for fences within HOAs. If you are a member of an HOA it is important to check any regulations your HOA may have regarding fencing before applying for a fence permit.
For requirements regarding the fencing of vacant lots, please contact the city directly for more information on how to apply for a fence permit.
Fences that do not or cannot meet requirements outlined in the code would either be denied a permit or could proceed by obtaining a variance or exception from the Zoning Board of Adjustment.
A pool permit application can either be obtained in Room 107 of City Hall, or online, on the Planning & Zoning Applications & Permits page. The rules for pools are outlined in Chapter 31 of the City Code, and are applicable for all residential areas.
When applying for a pool permit, the city requires a site plan showing the location of the pool on the property with measurements to nearby buildings and property lines (this does not have to be done by a contractor or other professional).
Any pool, in-ground or above-ground, over two feet in depth requires a fence with locking gate.
Pools that do not or cannot meet requirements outlined in the code would either be denied a permit or could proceed by obtaining a variance or exception from the Zoning Board of Adjustment.
The city defines buildings such as garages, sheds, etc. as “accessory buildings”. These are buildings that are “accessory” to a primary structure, usually a house. The city regulates accessory buildings through Sec. 31-050 of the City Code, including setback requirements, height limits, etc.
The city does not permit accessory structures on vacant lots. Accessory buildings must be accessory to a primary structure on the same property.
Structures over 120 square feet are required to obtain a building permit through the city’s building department. Any accessory buildings applying to be permitted would require a site plan showing the location of the building in relation to nearby buildings and property lines (this does not have to be done by a contractor or other professional).
Structures that do not or cannot meet requirements outlined in the code would either be denied a permit or could proceed by obtaining a variance or exception from the Zoning Board of Adjustment.
Sign permit applications are found online, as well as sign regulations for both residential and nonresidential areas of the city. To obtain a permit, submit the application to the Planning & Zoning department along with a site plan, images of the proposed signage, and any other supporting materials.
Some areas of the city, such as Precise Plan areas, have specific sign regulations that must be adhered to. If any sign application does not conform to the sign code, or the applicable Precise Plan regulations, then the sign would either not be permitted or could be potentially approved through the application for an exception from the Zoning Board of Adjustment.
A site plan is a prepared document similar to a map that shows the property where a project is taking place and several elements that allows the document to be reviewed for permitting. This information includes existing buildings, proposed buildings, required setbacks, proposed setbacks, dimensions, and other information specific to the application.
Site plans do not have to be professionally drafted, but they do have to be legible. Site plans that are difficult or impossible to read delay the permitting process and may result in a project not being approved at all.
The Zoning Board of Adjustment, also known as ZBA or BZA, reviews and makes decisions on variance and exception applications within the city. They review applications and make a determination on whether the proposed structure would be appropriate and if the request is reasonable and supported by the application provided.
Applications for the ZBA can be found online and are submitted to the City Planner to be placed on a ZBA hearing agenda. It is recommended that applicants meet with the City Planner prior to any applications being submitted to determine the best course of action.
A variance can be described as official permission from the city to allow something to be constructed or put in use within certain parameters that otherwise does not meet the standards of the City Code. For example, an applicant who wants to build an attached garage within required setbacks would need to request a variance from the Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) and in their application explain why they are making this request. The ZBA reviews this application and makes a decision.
An exception is similar to a variance, but focused specifically on signs, parking, fences, telecommunications towers, and accessory uses. Like a variance, an applicant would need to request an exception from the ZBA explaining the reason for the request, and the ZBA would make a decision on the application.
More information on variances and exceptions, including the full description of application requirements and procedures can be found online.
The Planning Commission reviews applications for zoning district changes (including Precise Plans and Planned Unit Developments), major subdivisions, code amendments, and generally all major planning documents adopted by the city. For most applications (zoning, subdivisions, code amendments, etc.) the Planning Commission provides a recommendation that is forwarded to the City Council who has final approval.
Applications for the Planning Commission can be found online and are submitted to the City Planner to be placed on a Planning Commission hearing agenda. It is recommended that applicants meet with the City Planner prior to any applications being submitted to determine the best course of action.
The Downtown Review Board (or DRB) is the reviewing body for applications for certificates of appropriateness for projects taking place within downtown St. Joseph. The downtown area has specific regulations outlined within the Downtown Precise Plan document, and any variation from this document requires a certificate of appropriateness (or COA) from the DRB to move forward. This body is similar to the Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) in this respect, though the scope is limited to the downtown area.
Applications for the DRB can be found online and are submitted to the City Planner to be placed on a DRB hearing agenda. It is recommended that applicants meet with the City Planner prior to any applications being submitted to determine the best course of action.