Denied a Building Permit on Environmental Grounds? What Are Your Options?

Posted on: 4 December 2019

Homeowners who wish to break new ground on a construction project or make changes to their existing property must seek a government-issued permit before construction can begin. In situations where construction or alteration may impact wildlife or natural resources, the state's Department of Natural Resources or equivalent bureau often serves as the gatekeeper by approving, modifying, or denying permits based on the prospective effect on the environment. But what happens when you're denied permission to make a necessary repair or renovation?

Read on to learn more about your options if you've been denied a construction or renovation permit on environmental grounds. 

Appeal to an Administrative Agency

In most cases, if your permit is denied by the Department of Natural Resources, you'll have the right to automatically appeal this decision to the appropriate administrative agency. This proceeding is similar to a court proceeding. As the petitioner, you'll be asked to present evidence as to why the DNR erred by denying your permit.

During the administrative proceedings, you may be able to mediate your dispute with the DNR by agreeing to certain concessions so that the permit can be issued. For example, if you're applying for a permit to construct a seawall, the DNR may require you to use a natural substance like stone (or bioengineered materials) instead of concrete to minimize the impact on area fish and waterfowl. Or if you're planning to build a new house near a protected wildlife area, you may be required to halt construction during certain times of the year so as not to interfere with wildlife migration and breeding habits.    

If an administrative board or administrative law judge approves the DNR's denial of your permit application, your next step is generally to petition for judicial review of that decision. That takes the case from the administrative branch of government to the judicial branch, and the matter will then be litigated in a trial court just like other civil cases. 

Contact an Attorney

If it becomes necessary for you to petition for judicial review of a DNR decision, it's a good idea to contact an attorney. Litigating a matter in civil court can be complicated, and you'll be held to the same standards as a trained attorney if you attempt to handle it yourself. By working with an environmental law practice, you could build your case without having to worry about the procedural rules and regulations that govern court proceedings.