Building Department FAQ

No answers matched your search
Frequently Asked Questions
When Do I Need a Permit?

Before a building or structure is constructed, altered, enlarged, repaired, moved, improved, renovated, or demolished, a building permit is required. (Section 106 of the Building Code).

Unless specifically exempt, a permit is required. For example, the following types of projects do require a permit:

  • replacement of existing decks
  • addition of a 5' X 5' entryway
  • major repair and replacement of interior or exterior walls
  • a roof over a 12" high deck
  • accessory buildings built on skids (if larger than 120 square feet)
  • tearing down an old building
  • excavations or fills more than 2 feet deep
  • installing boilers or "Monitor"-type heaters

Some work is exempt from permit. The common exceptions are:

  • one story detached buildings such as sheds, playhouses and similar uses provided the floor area does not exceed 120 square feet
  • retaining walls not over 4 feet
  • platforms, walks, decks, and driveways not more than 30 inches above grade (surrounding ground surface)
  • roofing, if the underlying sheeting or framing is not disturbed
  • siding replacement
  • window replacement if framing is not disturbed and no change in the rough opening size
  • fences not over 8 feet high

Even work exempt from permit must comply with zoning regulations, such as setbacks from property lines.

Why are Building Permits Required?

The City and Borough of Sitka, like most state and local governments, has adopted building codes for oversight of building activity. Codes provide for safety of owners, tenants, and the public. Building codes work hand in hand with zoning laws to balance the interests of communities and neighborhoods with individual property owners' freedom to build on and use their property.

What if I Don't Get a Permit?

The code requires the normal permit fee be doubled if work was begun without a permit. The Building Department may also order work stopped until a permit is obtained. Structures erected without a permit may be ordered removed or repositioned.

Also, bank financing or insurance may be difficult or impossible to obtain if work was not inspected by the city building department for structural and safety concerns during construction.

How do I get a permit?

The permitting process begins when the applicant comes to the Building Department and describes the project they wish to undertake. If a permit is required (See, when is a permit required), the applicant needs to first provide a plot plan showing the location of proposed and existing structures in relation to the property lines, and plans for the proposed structure. (See plan submittal requirements.) Depending on the project, the plot plan may vary from a formal survey document to a simple graph paper sketch by the applicant. The distance from the structure to each property line must be shown. The rest of this page describes the process to permit a home. For smaller projects not all steps apply.

The plot plan is reviewed by Planning and Zoning for compliance with zoning requirements, and by the Building Department for compliance with building codes. This process usually takes about two days.

After P&Z and Building Department approval, a Foundation Only permit is issued. This permit allows the applicant to begin site work, including grading and fill, and also to erect the foundation up to the mud sill (i.e. first piece of wood that attaches to concrete foundation.) You will be called by a representative of the Building Department when your Foundation Permit is ready. There is no charge for the Foundation Permit.

Next is the plan review. As soon as possible, the applicant should submit their complete plans for the structure, including elevations and floor layouts. (Depending on project scope, formal engineering or architectural services may be required.) These plans will be reviewed by the Building Department for compliance with applicable codes. This is the phase in the process where many potential problems are detected and corrected, before expensive mistakes get made in actual construction. The time span for this step varies depending on the project, but the process usually takes about two weeks for residential homes.

After the foundation is completed, an "as-built" survey usually must be provided. An "as-built" is necessary to show that the foundation, as described on the permit application, was actually built where it was shown on the plot plan. After the "as-built" is completed (applicant responsibility) and the "plan review" of the construction documents is completed (Building Department responsibility), the Building Permit itself can be issued.

A representative of the Building Department will call to let you know that your permit is ready to be picked up. At this time the permit fee is paid. The cost of the Building Permit is based on project value. Construction cannot commence until the applicant has the Building Permit in hand.

The applicant is responsible to call the Building Department to schedule required inspections. One working day's notice is generally required.

The Building Department prides itself on its commitment to customer service. Please let us know how we can help you, and always feel free to offer suggestions on ways we might improve. We look forward to serving you.

How Long Does it Take to Get a Permit or Plan Review?

The time it takes to complete a plan review and issue a building permit will vary depending on specifics of the project. The following guidelines provide a general idea for planning purposes. The time frames assume a clean set of plans with no unusual code or zoning issues.

Simple residential remodel / repair with no change in building footprint: 1-3 days; if you call first for an appointment and have a good plan, we can often issue the permit while you wait.

New residential home: 1 week.

Small commercial building or remodel: 2 weeks.

Large commercial project: 3 weeks (for first review or a major revision). Time to review revisions varies depending on complexity.

When are Stamped Plans Required?

The Sitka Building Department is required by law to conduct plan reviews of public and commercial buildings. It conducts these reviews under its deferral of authority from the State Fire Marshal's Office. The following guidelines explain when stamped plans are, or are not, required. (Definition: "stamped" means plans prepared by an Alaska licensed architect or engineer.)

Section 106 of the Building Code requires plans to be prepared and designed by an engineer or architect licensed by the State to practice as such in the specific discipline. There are some exceptions.

Under specific written standards issued by the State Fire Marshal's Office, the Building Department must require stamped plans under Section 106 except as below.

Unstamped plans are only acceptable if they meet the exceptions outlined in Alaska Statute 08.48.311 as follows:

"Sec. 08.48.331. Exemptions. This chapter does not apply to:

  1. a contractor performing work designed by a professional architect or engineer or the supervision of the construction of the work as a supervisor or superintendent for a contractor;
  2. workers in building trades crafts, superintendents; supervisors, or inspectors in the performance of their customary duties;
  3. an officer or employee of the United States Government practicing architecture, engineering, or land surveying as required by the person's official capacity;
  4. an employee or a subordinate of a person registered under this chapter if the work or service is done under the direct supervision of a person registered under this chapter;
  5. associates, consultants, or specialists retained by a registered individual, a partnership of registered individuals, or a corporation authorized to practice architecture, engineering, or land surveying under this chapter, in the performance of professional services if responsible charge of the work remains with the individual, the partnership, or a designated representative of the corporation;
  6. a person preparing drawings or specifications for
    1. a building for the person's own use and occupancy as a single family residence;
    2. farm or ranch buildings, unless the public health, safety, or welfare is involved;
    3. a building that is intended to be used only as a residence by not more than four families and that is not more than two stories high;
    4. a garage, workshop, or similar building that contains less than 2,000 square feet of floor space to be used for a private noncommercial purpose;
  7. a specialty contractor licensed under AS 08.18 while engaged in the business of construction contracting or designing systems for work within the specialty to be performed or supervised by the specialty contractor, or a contractor preparing shop or field drawings for work that the specialty contractor has contracted to perform;
  8. a person furnishing drawings, specifications, instruments of service, or other data for alterations or repairs to a building that do not change or affect the structural system or the safety of the building, or that do not affect the public health, safety, or welfare;
  9. a person who is employed by a post secondary educational institution to teach engineering, architectural, or land surveying courses; in this paragraph, "post secondary educational institution" has meaning given in AS 14.48.210;
  10. an officer or employee of an individual, firm, partnership, association, utility, or corporation, who practices engineering involved in the operation of the employer's business only, and further provided that neither the employee nor the employer offers engineering services to the public; exclusions under this paragraph do not apply to buildings or structures whose primary use is public occupancy."

Exceptions 8 and 10 are further clarified as follows:

Exception (g): "alterations or repairs to a building that do not change or affect the structural system or the safety of the building, or that does not affect the public health, safety or welfare."

As a matter of policy, the Sitka Building Department will accept unstamped/unsealed plans if the project is valued at less than $50,000; the alteration or repair is uncomplicated; and the plans submitted are detailed enough to answer all key/essential items for the plan review and are complete enough so that a list of additional information or details is not required. As a guideline, if over 10 additional items are annotated, the plans are not complete enough for review.

Exception (10): allows for unstamped/unsealed plans if the plans are drafted by and received from the owner.

As a matter of policy, the Sitka Building Department will accept plans under this exception using the following criteria:

  1. The building cannot be open to the general public on a regular basis; and
  2. The plans must be received from the owner or the owner's employee, not a third party contractor, temporary employee, or draftsman.

In addition, Exception 10 requires that the building/structure must be an uncomplicated project and the plans must contain enough detail to provide all key/essential information to complete the review. As a guideline, if over 10 items an required, the plans are not complete enough for review.

All building structures of Type A (assembly), E (educational), H (hazardous), I (institutional), or R-l (residential) over four units, or buildings which require an area separation wall, fire protection system or is a mixed occupancy, are to be considered complicated and stamped/sealed plans are required.

While the above criteria offers a guide to the circumstances under which we may accept unstamped/unsealed plans, the Sitka Building Department still has the authority to order stamped/sealed plans on any building where drawings submitted are not, in our estimation, sufficient for review. In such a case our justification for requiring signed/stamped plans will be in writing if requested, and the decision will be discussed with the builder. This process is to ensure uniformity.

NOTE: "Uncomplicated" shall mean: Plans will not involve area separation walls, change of occupancy to a more restrictive category, and/or does not require more than minor changes to mechanical or fire systems.

If we receive plans that do not meet the criteria in the paragraph above the procedure is to write a letter back to the applicant and notify them that the plans are insufficient for review and a set of stamped/sealed plans are required. The Building Department will not normally provide list of over 10 items that still need to be included or detailed.

If the plans are stamped/sealed the same procedure applies except that our letter back to architect or engineer will state that we have started a plan review however there are too many problems with the plans to conduct a review. The letter may make a recommendation that they review specific sections of the UBC/UFC.

The following is to clarify on when a plan review is required for fire systems:

Notwithstanding the following, a plan review can be required by the Building Department any time a fire system is changed or modified if the Building Official determines a special circumstance exists which brings the system changes or modifications into question for compliance with the controlling standard.

A plan review will be required on all new fire systems whether the system is required or not.

A plan review will be required for a fire sprinkler system under the following conditions:

  1. If five or more sprinkler heads are added.
  2. If five or more heads are relocated from any branch line to another branch line.
  3. When ten percent of more or the heads on the system are relocated for any reason.
  4. If there is an addition or relocation of ANY heads in the original remote hydraulic design area or the remote hydraulic design area changes.
  5. Pipe schedule systems must be plan reviewed if the changes will affect pipe size anywhere other than one branch line.

A plan review will be required for fire alarm systems under the following conditions:

  1. When the fire alarm control panel is replaced.
  2. If there is an addition of three or more devices on any loop/circuit.
  3. If five or more devices are added or relocated on the system.

A plan review will be required for special hazard systems under the following conditions:

  1. If there is any addition to the system.
  2. If the system is relocated.

In cases where changes are made to fire systems and a plan review is not required by this policy, the following actions will be required by the company/individual making the changes:

  1. The changes must be designed by a person holding a Level C permit.
  2. The changes must be made by a person holding a Level B or C permit. The changes cannot be made by a person holding a Level A permit.
  3. The person making the changes must put a new maintenance tag on the system. The tag must contain the person's signature, permit number, and the date changes were made.
  4. The person who designed the changes must provide the Fire Marshal's Office with a letter no later than thirty (30) days after the changes are made explaining what was changed, a statement verifying that the changes are in compliance with the appropriate standard/code, the permit number of the person who actually made the changes, and the permit number and signature of the person who designed the changes.