A Special Permit isn't actually a permit in the familiar sense, but permission to construct a building or establish a use that is not allowed by right. It usually consists of a set of plans that are accompanied by a list of findings and conditions for their approval. Special permits are always required for multi-family housing and larger commercial projects. They often are required when special site characteristics or design features warrant a deviation from the zoning standards for a typical lot. Common requests for exceptions to these standards include variations in building height, setbacks, floor area ratios (FARs), and the number of parking spaces provided. Sometimes a proposed use has unique characteristics that warrant special review to make sure it will be compatible with other uses nearby.
Check with a land use planner or building inspector. He or she can provide information about City zoning standards and other regulations that may apply to your situation as well as the options available to you to most easily achieve your goal.
The Land Use Committee consists of eight members of the Board of Aldermen, one from each ward.
First, they'll look at the specific criteria that are prescribed in the Zoning Ordinances. They also assess consistency with the goals and objectives of the City's Comprehensive Plan. They’ll consider by-right alternatives and whether unusual site features limit the ability to build a by-right project on the site; these could include environmental constraints (such as wetlands), significant vegetation, unusual topography or lot shape, historic context, accessibility by various modes of transportation, archaeology, drainage, emergency access, or related public safety issues. In general, they’ll want to know the proposed project will be a good neighbor, fits in its setting, and enhances the quality of life. Approvals must be exercised within a year, but may be extended for a second year with Board approval.
You might, depending on the complexity of the project. An attorney will make sure to ask for all the appropriate "reliefs" and look out for your interests. However, legal counsel is not required and may not be necessary for simple requests.
It varies, depending on the scope of the project and available meeting dates, but review of an average petition takes about 2-4 months. More complex projects may require 6 months or more to review.
Fees are $350 for residential and $750 for commercial projects.
NOTE: Approval of a Special Permit alone may not be the only approval needed. Please consult with a land use planner to determine whether you need additional reviews. To ensure your questions are answered promptly and to schedule necessary reviews, please call 617.796.1120 to talk with a planner. The Zoning Regulations (Chapter 30 of the Newton Code) can be viewed on the City website.