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Limits of Disturbance Stakeout

Guidance for Limiting Land Disturbance on Your Next Project

Whether you are working on a home addition, patio, or landscaping project in Northern Virginia, it is important you keep your land disturbance to a minimum to avoid costly site plan and permit requirements. Knowing the difference between a small land disturbance project that doesn’t require a grading permit, and a medium to large land disturbance project that will need to be regulated with a site plan and permit, will save you from a stop work order, violations and fines.

What is Land Disturbance?

Land disturbance or “Land Disturbing Activities” include any man-made activity that changes the land surface. These activities include more than just exposing bare soil during a landscaping or construction project. For example, if you are building a 450 Square Foot addition in the snippet below, the land disturbance is more than just the 450 SF Addition area. It also includes a 10-ft buffer area around the addition, material storage/staging area, a 10-ft wide access path along your driveway all the way to your property line and any area for a dumpster.

land disturbance/land disturbing activity

It is important to take into account all of these construction areas and not just the area of the rear addition work. Even if the material storage area, access path, and dumpster is all on an existing asphalt driveway, where it isn’t breaking ground and exposing soil, all of this area still counts as land disturbance. This is where homeowners can find themselves in trouble with a stop work order and notice of violation from their local county inspector in the middle of a project if they fail to account for these areas. 

When is a Site Plan and Grading Permit Required?

Below are the county-specific land disturbance thresholds where a grading plan and grading permit will be required:

  • Loudoun County:Any land disturbance 5,000 square feet or more in Loudoun County will require a grading permit. Any land disturbance in zoned sensitive areas in Loudoun County, such as Mountain Side Overlay District, Limestone Overlay District, or Steep Slopes, even if the disturbance is under 5,000 square feet, may require a grading permit.“ Loudoun County Grading Permit Application 
  • Fairfax County: Any land-disturbing activity that exceeds 2,500 square feet will require an approved site plan and land disturbance permit. 
  • Arlington County: Land Disturbance between 2,000 and 2,499 square feet will require a survey with a scaled drawing and stakeout markings to show the disturbed will be under 2,500 Square Feet. Any land disturbance over 2,500 square feet will require a full site plan.
  • Washington DC: “In the District of Columbia, an Erosion and Sediment Control (ESC) plan is a required part of the permit process for building construction and redevelopment projects that disturb or move more than 50 square feet of land.” Read more about DC Erosion and Sediment control requirements here.

If you receive a building permit for a small project, without a site plan and grading permit, by staying under these limits, your contractor will need to keep all of their construction activities under these land disturbance area maximums. For example, if a home addition project in Fairfax County is under 2,500 square feet, then you decide to landscape your yard with sod, your project will no longer be under 2,500 SF disturbance and will require a grading permit.

If you need a Site Plan and Grading Permit for your next Land Development project, please contact us for a quote.

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