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Story Poles

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If you haven’t managed a construction project in Los Angeles County, you may be confused when asked to submit your story pole survey to the Planning and Zoning Committee.

Story poles are tall poles with flags or contractor tapes on them that depict the outline of the project. They are put into place on site for review by architectural review and compliance boards, neighborhood associations, and the general public as part of a due notice requirement. The intent of story poles is to illustrate that planned development abides by city ordinances, and in many cases, does not encroach upon public and coastal views.

In one project I worked on a few years back, prior to making an offer, we used story poles to mark the potential allowed development of neighboring homes to see what the effect would be on the view of a particular property my boss wanted to buy. When we saw who could build high enough to block the view, we reached out to those individuals to buy their development rights. We created a view easement to attach to their deed that changed the height allowances of future construction. The offer was a current market rate per square foot of potential new space.

There are companies who specialize in story poles and there are land survey companies who offer the service. They will work in coordination with your architect or project manager to create the plan required for your particular circumstance. In general, story pole plans include the proposed roof plan with top of pole elevations labeled at points of ridges, parapets, hips, gables, chimneys etc… and the corners of the proposed building. Exaggerated or architecturally significant roof overhangs are sometimes included, but not always, as they can distort the bulk of the project and make it more difficult to pass review.

After the poles are erected, they are photographed from multiple angles and allowed to stay in place for a pre-determined period of time, based on your city. It’s generally a fairly quick process, but to be sure, allow 2-3 weeks from hire to receiving the story pole report.

Here’s a link to the City of Malibu’s Story Pole Policy so you can see what we’re talking about:

 https://www.malibucity.org/DocumentCenter/View/4578

Kimberly Varney

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