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What You Need to Know About Construction & Building Permits on Nantucket


Building on Island

Liza Hatton
Nantucket Construction

When it comes to building on Nantucket, there are many things to be mindful of to ensure your project runs as smoothly and successfully as possible.  Below is a summary overview of what you may need to consider when undertaking a build or renovation project on the island, including the steps required to get your building permit in hand. It might seem daunting at first, but if you go through step by step and use the resources available, you can build your dream home! Read on for this informative blog from Agent Liza Hatton.

Engaging a Contractor and Architect

Nantucket Construction

Working with contractors and architects who have experience on the island will go a long way in helping to make sure you have a smooth experience.  Due to the restrictions of being 30 miles out at sea, there are many factors that off-island architects and contractors have never had to deal with before. The extreme and unique weather conditions we experience on Nantucket has an influence on all aspects of the build. It impacts not only commuting to and from the island (many of the people building your home commute on a daily/weekly basis), but the weather also affects getting building materials to the island. In addition, it will impact the final product. Contractors and architects who know how to build to withstand high winds, wind-driven rain, high humidity and the salty air will all benefit you in the long run and help ensure your home will last for decades to come.

Complying with Local Zoning Regulations

In addition to permitting, it is helpful to be aware of Nantucket’s zoning laws. Below is a map and chart showing the different zones with minimum lot sizes, ground cover percentages, frontage and setback requirements. Here is a link to the pdf file. Depending on where your home (or land) is located there are different rules governing how you can build or expand.

○ Ground cover is the footprint of a building.

○ Only the enclosed building counts towards ground cover.

○ Porches, decks, patios, pools and hardscaping are not included in these calculations.

If you are looking to add a second dwelling, keep in mind that the main house is required to have at least a 20 percent bigger footprint in relation to the second dwelling. In Town, in zone ROH (Residential Old Historic), lots have a minimum size of 5,000 sq. ft., and recently the ground cover allowance changed from 50 percent to 40 percent (which is 2000 sq. ft.) In ROH and SOH, pools are not permitted. If your lot is undersized within its zone, there are different allowances for ground cover than what is described on the chart (usually between 1500 sq. ft. and 2000 sq. ft. depending on the location). *It is important to note that zoning laws are always being updated and changed (In fact, at the time of this writing, there are several citizen warrant articles proposed for the April 2020 town meeting which could impact these calculations). In order to get the most up-to-date information on zoning laws and possibilities for your own property, please contact a local architect or general contractor to discuss your options. You can also stay up to date on proposed zoning changes by going to the Nantucket town website and accessing the Planning Board minutes if you are curious!

Complying with Health Department Regulations

One decision that needs to be made for new build projects is whether the property will be connected to town water (if available in your location) and town sewer (if available). You also need to figure out if you will install a well and/or septic system. Depending on where you are there may be town sewer and water running by your property. If this is the case, it will be relatively easy to connect. If not, you may have to install a septic system and drill a well for water. Recently, laws have changed that require that some areas only have Innovative Alternative septic systems installed. This is in the Watershed Protection Districts. The requirements vary depending on where you are located. Therefore, it is important to consult with someone who is aware of all the laws and regulations and knows of them as they change.

Obtaining Approval From the Historic District Commission

The Historic District Commission (HDC) process can be rigorous. It helps to have your architect understand what the HDC requires before the committee approves a design plan. It is best to work with architects who have worked on Island previously because they understand the nuances of designing for the island and building here. This may save you valuable time and money in the approval process. Please click HERE to see the checklist of what you need to submit your plans to the HDC. Depending on where your home is located and what you want to change, there are stringent rules. You must get approval on everything from the style of doors and windows to the paint color of the exterior. In addition, the HDC must review your hardscape plans and you must have proof you have notified abutters of the work you are planning. When submitting plans to the HDC, you should plan on doing at least one round of revisions before everything is approved. This process will take around two months, possibly shorter, and potentially longer. Approval from the HDC is valid for two years from the date plans are approved.

Obtaining a Building Permit

To obtain a building permit, you must have everything encompassed in your build project approved.  This means your plans must comply with this checklist, much of which can be completed/fulfilled by your contractor or may not be applicable to your particular project. 

A building permit application can be picked up at the building department at 2 Fairgrounds Road. The checklist includes anything from driveway approval from the DPW if you are adding/changing the curb cut, to septic permits or sewer connection permits, Conservation Commission Approval, Zoning Board of Appeals Approval and compliance for hurricane-rated windows and doors. Most importantly, before applying for a building permit, your plans must be approved by the Historic District Commission (HDC). Most likely, your general contractor will obtain the building permit on their own and go through all this paperwork, but it is helpful to understand what goes into the process. If everything is done properly, it should take between two and three weeks to receive your permit.

Helpful Information:

Link to Sample Septic Permit Application

Link to Curb Cut/Driveway Permit Application

Link to Building Permit Fee Schedule

Written By

Liza Hatton

A Lincoln, Massachusetts native, Liza has a long-running history with Nantucket as she grew up spending her summers in ’Sconset.