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PJR-056 Administrative Design Review Residential

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Many areas of Sonoma County have significant scenic resources. To allow for development while preserving scenic character, certain areas have been designated as Scenic Resource (SR) in the Sonoma County General Plan and Zoning Code. Scenic resources include three categories: Community Separators, Scenic Landscape Units, and Scenic Corridors. Most development within a designated Scenic Resource is subject to design review. Residential properties are subject to Administrative Design Review, which is conducted by staff. The purpose of Administrative Design Review is to ensure that proposed structures are screened from view from public roads by existing topography and vegetation to the maximum extent practicable. 

The Zoning Ordinance exempts from design review agricultural structures (barns, stables, etc.) which do not require Use Permits, with the exception of properties subject to the Bennett Valley Area Plan or the Local Coastal Plan. Other exempt categories include certain types of telecommunication facilities, and any structure not visible from public roads. See Section 26-64-020 of the Zoning Ordinance for development standards within Community Separators or Scenic Landscape Units. See Section 26-64-030 of the Zoning Ordinance for development standards within Scenic Corridors. Contact Planning to confirm whether your project requires design review. 


Administrative Design Review is conducted by a staff person in consultation with applicants. The applicant submits a complete application to the Planning Division, which is assigned to a project planner. The project planner will evaluate the proposal for consistency with zoning standards and policies within the General Plan or an applicable Area Plan, by reviewing the proposed building location(s), driveway location, architecture, building material and colors, site and building lighting, and landscaping. Driveway entrance locations onto public roads may require review and approval of an encroachment permit. A site visit may be necessary to determine visibility of the proposed development. On exposed sites, the project planner may require story poles (wooden or plastic poles that depict the outline of the proposed structure) to aid in assessing potential view impacts. (See below for installation guidelines.) Installation of water-efficient and native landscaping may be required to screen the proposed development from public view.

Upon completion of the project review, the planner may approve the project. This action, which will be in writing and will specify any conditions of approval, is appealable to the Sonoma County Design Review Committee. Appeals must be submitted within ten calendar days of the date of the approval letter. For complex or difficult projects, the project planner may refer an application to the Design Review Committee for review and comment. 

Story Poles

When story poles are required, applicants should follow these guidelines:

  1. The applicant must submit a story pole plan to the project planner for review and approval before story poles are erected on the development site. This plan shall identify the proposed story pole locations on the site plan and preliminary building plans.
  2. Story poles shall consist of white plastic pipe or wood (typically 2x4s). A minimum of three story poles are usually required: one at each outermost eave line and the third at the highest ridge line. Red triangles (minimum of one foot on each side) shall be placed at the final eave/ridge heights of the proposed building, atop each story pole.
  3. Additional story poles are sometimes necessary for buildings with varying roof heights, split‑level floor plans, etc. If directed by the project planner, construction barrier tape or similar material may be required to illustrate the ridgelines and full massing of the proposed building. As the story poles must represent the final height of the building with change in grade taken into account, applicants are urged to have their architect or contractor erect story poles in the approved locations.
  4. As some design review projects require multiple visits by staff and may include a review by a local citizen's committee, applicants should consult with the project planner before removing story poles. 

Required Application Materials

A complete application shall include the following items. Incomplete applications will not be accepted. Note: All documents must be submitted electronically. Permit Sonoma staff may, upon request, provide some assistance with electronic submittal if required.

  1. Application Forms:
    1. PJR-001 Planning Application(PDF), signed by the applicant and property owner(s).
    2. PJR-011 Indemnification Agreement (PDF), signed by owner or agent with owner’s written authorization. A separate indemnification agreement must be signed by each property owner.
  2. Site plan meeting the requirements of PJR-129, Site Plan Requirements for Planning Applications.
  3. Preliminary building plans, including elevations, floor plans, and sections. All rooms must be labeled and include built-in fixtures. Elevations must identify exterior colors and materials. Structural plans are not required until application is made for building permits
  4. Preliminary Site Grading Plans, distinguishing between areas of cut and areas of fill. Note: not all projects will require grading plans. Consult the Permit Sonoma Grading and Storm Water section for requirements. 
  5. Preliminary landscaping plans, showing location, species, common name, and size of plants to be planted. Landscaping should be compliant with the Water-Efficient Landscaping Ordinance (WELO) in Section 7D3 of Sonoma County Code.
  6. Tree protection plan. If any trees will be impacted by development or are proposed for removal, provide a site plan depicting all trees to be removed identifying diameter (in inches) and species type. Mitigation may be required by the Sonoma County Tree Protection Ordinance (Section 26-88-010(m)).
  7. Preliminary lighting plans. Provide the manufacturer’s specification sheet for each light fixture proposed for the exterior of the building(s) and the site. Include the location of fixtures on a site plan, floor plan, or elevations.
  8. Materials and color samples. Provide a diagram with material and colors details for the roof, siding, trim, and windows. Include proposed paint and finish as appropriate. Provide color photographs of the materials. Building materials should generally be low to nonreflective. 
  9. Photographs and key map. Provide photographs of the site and surrounding area. Photographs should be depicted on a key map with the location and direction in which the view was taken. Photographs should be taken from appropriate public road locations from which the proposed development may be visible.
  10. Filing fee. See the current Permit Sonoma Project Review Fee Schedule. Fees will be determined once the full scope of a project is evaluated by Permit Sonoma staff at the time of application submittal. If paying by check, please do not fill in amounts on checks prior to application acceptance.