How to Get Building Plans From the Department of Buildings

Whether you're a concerned citizen who wants to research a zoning change or a builder who wants to check the blueprints on a new home design, there is a chance you may someday wish to acquire a set of plans for a new commercial or residential development.

Building plans can often be acquired through a planning and zoning commission or the developer of the project.

Many cities, counties and parishes have planning and zoning commissions that must approve a proposed development before issuing a building permit. Building plans can typically be acquired through these commissions or the developer.

  1. Determine who has jurisdiction over the development for which you want the plans. Jurisdiction is based on where the property is, inside city limits or in an unincorporated area. If the property is inside city limits, that city's planning and zoning commission will have jurisdiction. If the property is outside city limits, it is unincorporated, which means that the county or parish planning and zoning commission will have jurisdiction. In most cases, this is simple enough to determine. But annexation, which is the process by which a city brings an unincorporated area into city limits, often for the purpose of collecting sales tax revenues, can sometimes make this determination tricky. If all else fails, visit a nearby homeowner or business and ask whether they are considered "in city limits" or unincorporated.

  2. Write down a physical address if there is one. This will help you later to track down the project with the planning and zoning department. In many cases, however, there may not be a physical address or one that can easily be seen. If this is the case, write down the names of the streets at the closest intersection. Also, if it is a piece of property that has recently been excavated or on which construction has just begun, look around the site for any signs that may have the zoning information. The zoning case number may be posted on such signs.

  3. Visit the planning and zoning office that has jurisdiction over the property for which you want the plans. Explain to them what you are seeking and give them the information you have on the property. This information will help them look up the development by its planning or zoning case number. If they have copies of the blueprints or plans, they can make copies for you. However, there may be a charge. It is also possible that the planning and zoning department may not have actual copies of the plans yet. It is typical for planning and zoning commissions to send developers back to the drawing table with variances or other adjustments they requirer to approve the development. If this is the case, ask for the name of the developers or architectural firm handling the case.

  4. Contact the developer directly and request copies of the plans.