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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) Application Processing

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How long will it take to process my planning application?

The length of time to process an application depends on many factors, including the complexity of the project, whether there is public controversy about the project, and whether the application materials you have provided are complete. From the time that a complete submittal is received, Administrative (or staff) reviews take from 6 to 8 weeks. If a public hearing and environmental review is required, processing time takes approximately 6 months. If an Environmental Impact Report is required, processing may take one year or more. General Plan Amendments and Zone Changes generally take from 6 months to one year. Applications approved by the county will generally include conditions of approval which must be satisfied by the property owner/applicant.

Can you tell me if my application will be approved?

Most planning applications are “discretionary,” meaning that approval or denial involves some judgment on the part of the County decision makers. In order for a project to be approved, it must be consistent with the Zoning Ordinance and General Plan and potential environmental impacts must be addressed. For Use Permits that require a public hearing, the Board of Zoning Adjustments will listen to testimony from neighbors and others at the hearing and consider potential environmental impacts and neighborhood compatibility before making a decision on any project. All decisions by the hearing body are appealable to the Board of Supervisors.

As a permit applicant, what is expected of me at the public hearing? What is the procedure of the meeting?

At the public hearing, the staff planner will summarize the project and key issues, then the applicant (or appellant, in the case of an appeal) speaks on the matter. As a project applicant this is your opportunity to present your case to the decision makers. After the applicant speaks, anyone else in the audience can speak and then the applicant/appellant has the opportunity for rebuttal. The hearing is then closed. The decision making body then discusses the issue and makes their decision.

May I look at a planning application file?

Yes, nearly all files are public record and open for anyone to see. Go to the Receptionist, located in our Public Lobby area, to get a number and a sheet to hand the Records Counter clerk, and the clerk will locate the file for you.

What steps can I take to facilitate or speed up the processing of my application?

Submitting a complete and clear application, including a thorough project description and a clear site plan, is very important. Also, discussing your proposed project with your neighbors before you finalize your plans is highly recommended. After you submit your application, you should respond to requests from your project planner promptly and follow up on permit conditions and comments from County departments and other agencies.

What is a Use Permit?

A Use Permit (commonly known as a Conditional Use Permit) is an approval that allows a specific use of land, generally subject to specific conditions and/or limitations. A Use Permit is a discretionary approval, meaning that the County decision makers will exercise judgment in determining whether a specific proposal conforms with the codes and policies adopted by the County. Each zoning district lists specific land uses that can be allowed with a Use Permit. These land uses are generally those that are more intensive in nature and may have environmental or neighborhood impacts if not designed appropriately. The Use Permit process generally takes approximately 6-9 months at which time a public hearing is held before the Board of Zoning Adjustments (BZA). At the conclusion of the public hearing, the BZA will conditionally approve or deny the Use Permit application. Decisions of the BZA can be appealed to the Board of Supervisors. If approved, the applicant has two years to meet conditions of approval and implement the approved use.

If the use I propose is listed as a Permitted Use, is a planning application required?

Each zoning district lists specific land uses that are allowed as “permitted uses.” In contrast to uses which require a Use Permit, permitted uses are generally less intensive in nature and have little or no environmental or neighborhood impacts. Most permitted uses are considered “ministerial,” meaning that they are approved or denied based on compliance with fixed measurable standards. These uses do not require a special planning application. However, building permits, grading permits, septic permits, etc. may be still be required. Some permitted uses require Zoning Permits which are either over-the-counter permits or require administrative review by an assigned project planner. Commercial and Industrial zoning districts require Design Review approval for all permitted uses.

Does my proposed project require a public hearing?

All General Plan Amendments and Zone Changes require public hearings before both the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors. Most Use Permits and Design Review applications require public hearings before the Board of Zoning Adjustments or the Design Review Committee, respectively. An Administrative Design Review approval (processed by staff with no public hearing) is often the only requirement for new commercial or industrial uses in existing buildings or for minor additions to existing commercial and industrial buildings.