About Development Permits
permits are required in almost every jurisdiction before a property
owner can construct a new building or project beyond a single
family home. Land divisions are a special form of development
permit (please also see our information bulletins on Parcel Maps
and Final Maps). Often, development permits are discretionary
, meaning they can be denied or modified, instead of being approved
if the City or County feels that this is necessary to protect
the environment or the public health, safety, and welfare. Some
development permits are ministerial , meaning that they will
definitely be approved if prescribed development standards are
met. Use Permits are a special form of a development permit that
may or may not be considered appropriate for a particular location.
In any event,
the process of obtaining approval of a development permit has
become far more complicated than in the past. A development permit
application is born out of your desire to use your land in a
particular way. As an example, you may have purchased land that
is properly zoned for an office building and you intend to construct
an office for your own use, lease, or sale.
We begin our
review of your idea with a meeting where we learn about your
goals and what you know about your land. We do additional research,
including a field review of the site, to make preliminary determinations
about whether your idea will work, and what challenges might
be faced in the process. Generally our preliminary review includes
consideration in three major, equally important areas affecting
and Rules: Is the use compatible with the General
Plan, Zoning Ordinance, and other applicable rules? Sometimes
meetings with agency officials or even a formal pre-application
process might be needed to fully understand how rules will
be interpreted and applied.
Constraints and Capabilities: Is your land physically
suited for the use and development intended? Does the particular
City or County mandate protection of certain resources like
steep slopes, large trees, or stream zones? Is there an available
method of sewage disposal, water, and an availability of
other utilities and services?
Realities: Is the particular City or County inclined
to approve your proposed use in this location? Is it likely
to be incompatible with the neighborhood or otherwise spawn
objections to the point of persuading the City Council or
Board of Supervisors to deny it?
most built projects, beyond a vacant lot land division, require
that you assemble a planning team to prepare an application meeting
prevailing City or County standards. Your design team usually
consists of planning and civil engineering services from our
firm, building design by an architect, and landscaping design
by a landscape architect.
require the preparation of various technical studies to fully
disclose site constraints, so that their environmental studies
and public review can be completed. Typical technical studies
include a Phase 1 Environmental Report to disclose any suspected
hazardous materials, a Preliminary Soils Report to disclose any
obvious soil stability problems, a Biological Inventory to disclose
any protected plants, animals or protected resources, an Archaeological
Report to disclose any pre-historic (Native American) or historic
cultural resources, and other similar studies.
Your team will
assist you in preparing a development permit application by preparing
all of the materials requested by the City or County. Typical
application materials include a detailed site plan, a preliminary
grading plan, a landscaping plan, building design (including
materials and colors), a lighting plan, and a signage plan.
is submitted to the City or County with a processing fee designed
to cover the average actual cost of public review and processing.
Sometimes the City or County will require a deposit and will
bill you as needed toward the actual cost. Once submitted, the
City or County has 30 days to determine wether the application
is complete. If not, they can stop processing until missing materials
have been submitted.
With the exception
of a few minor projects, the City/County planning staff will
complete an environmental initial study under the requirements
of the California Environment Quality Act (CEQA). This study
will objectively examine the potential adverse environmental
impacts of your project and suggest mitigation (offsetting) measures.
For example, if your property includes a stream, the City/County
might require that development be setback and that the stream
area be fenced during construction to protect it. Traffic impacts
might be mitigated by the payment of development fees and/or
the construction of selected traffic improvements.
projects, an environmental impact report (EIR) might be required.
For smaller projects, it is more likely that a "mitigated negative
declaration" will be used instead. This document is more informal
and faster than an EIR. The City/County always notifies interested
agencies and the public that it intends to take a particular
environmental action. The public then has a chance to request
a higher level of study or to request additional mitigation measures.
hold informal staff meetings on an application to discuss mitigation
measures, conditions of approval, public improvements needed,
and project design. Such committees are often called development
review committees, advisory committees, or design review committees.
Such meetings usually prove useful in providing clearer communication
between the City/County and you as the applicant. Often minor
project changes are made at this stage, as requested by the committee,
and quite often these changes actually improve the project.
City or County will hold one or more public hearings to make
a decision on your permit. Most decisions are made at the Planning
Commission level, but some projects need final approval from
the City Council or Board of Supervisors. Prior to the hearing,
formal notice is mailed to all property owners within 300' (or
500' in some cases) of your property. Neighbor notices must be
sent at least 10 days prior to the hearing.
one or more neighbors will object to your project. Sometimes,
neighbors are alarmed that they have only received 10 days notice
before the hearing. For these reasons, it is sometimes worthwhile
to do a voluntary neighborhood public relations or information
program. There are pros and cons to such early neighborhood contact.
The Planning Commission will greatly appreciate such an effort.
Often concerns about a project can be defused in advance with
minor changes and assurances for the neighbors' benefit. On the
other hand, sometimes early contact provides more time for neighborhood
opposition to be organized and directed.
Commission or City Council or Supervisors will weigh neighborhood
testimony to determine whether it has validity. They will work
with their staff to separate legitimate concerns from concerns
with little or no basis. They will strive to consider project
changes or mitigation measures that will help offset legitimate
public concerns. As an example, they might limit the operating
hours of a proposed store to provide more peaceful evenings to
the nearby neighbors.
Once a decision
is made at the Planning Commission level, it may be appealed
by any interested person. If you as the applicant feel that the
conditions of approval are too severe, you might elect to appeal
to the City Council or Board of Supervisors to have the condition
removed. By the same token, those neighbors that objected to
your project might also appeal. An appeal hearing is usually
a brand new hearing, where all aspects of the project and approval
can be reopened and reconsidered.
the City Council or Board of Supervisors may be challenged by
filing a lawsuit. In some instances, the initiative process is
also available to the public. With the initiative process, opponents
prepare a voter initiative and gather signatures to put the measure
to a vote of the people. The people, through the initiative process,
have the same power as the City Council or Board of Supervisors.
almost always filed within 30 days of the final action on the
project, when the "Notice of Determination" under CEQA is filed.
Almost all such lawsuits are filed on the basis of alleged flaws
in the environmental review process. Most jurisdictions now require
the applicant to be responsible for the cost of defending a lawsuit
against the City or County. You may be required to sign an indemnification
agreement guaranteeing the cost of defending the City or County's
Once you survive
the approval process, then you basically have a "contract" with
the City or County. In other words, as long as you satisfy that
long list of approval conditions and mitigation measures within
the approval time period (usually 2 years), you can build your
project. Extensions of time for the project approval are usually
possible. The major expense and time consuming points after approval,
are for the preparation of civil engineering grading and drainage
plans and preparation of full architectural building plans. These
plans, called working drawings , need to be reviewed and approved
by the City or County before grading and building permits are
issued. Often, approval by electrical and water providers are
The time frames
for the entitlement process vary considerably, depending on the
jurisdiction, the project, the neighborhood, and the work load
of team consultants. The following time ranges are typical:
Assembly and Preliminary Assessment
Studies and Formal Application Preparation
or County Processing (without appeal)
an Appeal is Filed
Drawing Preparation and Approval
Period (varies with seasons)
an EIR is Required, Add
Cassano of our office for additional information.