On January 1, 2018, Act no. 225/2017 Coll. came into effect, amending the Building Act (Act no. 183/2006 Coll., on town planning and the building code) and other related legislation. This amendment aims to speed up the lengthy process of approving new construction projects. Developers and other experts say shorter waiting times for building permits can be expected. 

Other major changes include the simplification of zoning documents, the reduction of the time for lodging objections, the extension of the deadline for new zoning plans, the integration of zoning and building approval procedures and new definitions of interested parties. Other reforms will affect the tools for challenging authorities’ opinions and occupancy procedures. While reduced waiting times for building approvals are predicted, the amendment’s biggest breakthrough may be the introduction of “coordinated permit procedures”. These will allow applicants to combine the previously separate processes of zoning and building approval and environmental impact assessment.

The drafters of the amendment had hoped to establish a single procedure leading to a single administrative decision and option for appeal/court action. Their efforts were, however, not entirely successful. Though the amendment may be a step in the right direction, there are interpretation issues that will need to be resolved when it is applied. Transport, water and energy infrastructure continue to be the sources of many problems, especially when it comes to acquiring land. The current situation is no longer acceptable, and the Czech Transport Ministry has proposed another amendment focusing on presumptive land title. This would allow developers to start building before the land they need is bought or expropriated.

A simpler process for changing zoning documents

The amendment will simplify the process of changing zoning documents by introducing faster systems for updates and modifications. This change should reduce waiting times.

Zoning approvals and building permits

The amendment extends the options available to project investors by combining a number of – previously separate – approval procedures into a single process. Three new integrated procedures are available : 1) zoning approval including environment impact assessment (EIA), 2) combined zoning approval and building permit and 3) combined zoning approval, building permit and EIA. These integrated procedures will avoid the duplication of common elements often seen in multiple applications. The amendment also preserves the option of obtaining separate zoning approvals and building permits (i.e. pursuing separate procedures). Investors will be free to choose between undertaking separate processes and applying for a combined permit. Factors like project complexity should be taken into account. The integrated procedures may cover one or more buildings.

It is expected most investors will opt for separate zoning approval and building permit procedures after obtaining an environmental impact assessment. This will allow them to avoid the potentially greater cost of an unsuccessful integrated procedure. The latter would require the redrafting of substantial parts of already submitted – and thus, already paid for – documents.

Changes to the parties to the proceedings

The amendment changes the kinds of parties eligible to join zoning and building approval proceedings. This issue has long attracted criticism, directed especially at section 70 of Act no. 114/1992 Coll. on Nature and Landscape Protection, as amended, which allowed environment protection groups to take part in these proceedings.

Binding opinions of competent authorities

The amendment changes the options available to applicants who wish to challenge the binding opinions of authorities that form the basis for final administrative decisions. Under the old law, if a competent authority issued a negative opinion, the building authority was not allowed to grant a zoning or building permit. Applicants could, however, seek to amend or overturn invalid opinions through a review process (i.e. a separate process from the main one leading to the administrative decision) or by filing an appeal. Those appeals had to be filed after the final decision was issued and they had to focus on the underlying opinion.

The amendment introduces a new approach. It will no longer be possible to contest binding opinions through a review process. Instead applicants will need to apply to amend or overturn invalid opinions by appealing the final decision. If an authority issues an invalid opinion that rejects a planned project or imposes unreasonable or unlawful requirements, the applicant will not be able to challenge the opinion directly. It will need to wait for the building authority to reject the application and then file an appeal. All things considered, this new approach appears inefficient, complicated and time-consuming.

The amendment also extends the range of cases where only a binding opinion will be issued. There will be no separate administrative decision in these situations.

Binding opinions of zoning authorities

Applicants will now be required to obtain a “binding assessment from a zoning authority” to confirm their project’s compliance with relevant zoning documents and objectives. Under the old system, building authorities were directly responsible for assessing a project’s compliance with relevant land use plans as part of the zoning process. The amendment states that building authorities (i.e. the entities handling the main proceedings) will no longer assess these issues. Zoning authorities will instead be responsible and their assessments will bind building authorities. These assessments will be valid for two years. After that time, they will need to be renewed.

Occupancy permits

The process surrounding the use of completed buildings has also been significantly altered. Only buildings that required occupancy approval under the old law will be subject to occupancy proceedings. All other buildings may be used freely on completion without the need for any approval from building authorities.

Under the old law, completed buildings could be used in most cases after the delivery of simple notice to the building authority. Some types of buildings, however, required special occupancy approval. After the amendment, no occupancy notice is required, and buildings that were once subject to this formal notice may now be used freely without any communication with the building authority. Buildings that previously required occupancy approval will still be managed through an occupancy procedure. The amendment distinguishes between occupancy approvals and occupancy permits. Occupancy approvals do not require separate administrative proceedings. In contrast, occupancy permits are issued at the end of the administrative proceedings for certain participants defined in the statute.

Current zoning plans to be extended until late 2022

The deadline for preparing new zoning plans has been postponed until the end of 2022. Under the original Building Act, if municipalities failed to propose new zoning plans by 2020, then their existing plans would become invalid. This original deadline proved unrealistic, however, and the amendment simply reflects this state of affairs. City councils and municipalities have welcomed this change, which should give them reasonable time to prepare new plans.

A shorter period for contesting zoning plans

The amendment reduces the statute of limitations for taking court action against general measures about land development, zoning and development. This period has been decreased from three years to one year.

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