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PJR-133 Fence Guidelines

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To summarize the regulations on fence height and location, and the process for obtaining planning approval for exceptions. 

Fence Height and Location

The allowable location and height of fencing is determined by the property’s zoning district. 

Residential and Recreation / Visitor-Serving Districts

Fences in residential or recreation and visitor-serving districts (AR, RR, R1, R2, R3, K) may not exceed three feet in height within the front yard setback and within 15 feet of a street corner, and six feet in height within the side and rear yard setbacks (Sonoma County Zoning Ordinance, Section 26-88-030). 

Restrictions on fence height within the setback areas may be exceeded with a minor use permit. See Required Permits, below. 

Yard Setback Areas (in feet): 

Zoning DistrictR1R2R3ARRRK

Front Yard Setback Area (distance from front property line / centerline of road [whichever is greater])

20/45 15/45 15/45 30/55 20/45 15/45
Side Yard Setback Area (distance from side property line) 5 5 5 10 5 5
Rear Yard Setback Area (distance from rear property line) 20 20 10 20 20 10

Example: Applying the Yard Setback Areas chart to an R1 (Low Density Residential) zoned property.

  • Fences located within either 20 feet of the front property line or 45 feet of the road centerline (“front yard setback area”) may not exceed 3 feet in height. If the front property line setback is more restrictive than the road centerline setback, the front property line setback applies. Likewise, if the road centerline setback is more restrictive than the front property line setback, the road centerline setback applies.
  • Fences located within 5 feet of the side property line (“side yard setback area”) and within 20 feet of the rear property line (“rear yard setback area”), may not exceed 6 feet in height. 

Generally, the front property line is the side where access to the property is located. However, if a property is on a corner, the two street-facing property lines are both considered front property lines. 

If the fence is located outside of the Yard Setback Areas shown above, the fence needs only to adhere to the height restrictions for structures in the zoning ordinance. Fences built on properties with the SR (Scenic Resources) Combining District may be subject to design review. Fences within the public right-of-way are not permitted. 

Agricultural and Resource Districts

Properties located in agricultural or resource zoning districts (LEA, LIA, DA, and RRD) have no height restrictions on fencing. However, if the property is zoned with the SR (Scenic Resources) Combining District, administrative design review is usually required. See the Design Review section below. 

Industrial and Commercial Districts

Other zoning districts (CO, LC, C1, C2, C3, CR, AS, MP, M1, M2, and M3) do not have height restrictions on fencing, although administrative design review is required for fences on properties with commercial or industrial land use or zoning. See Design Review, below. 


No fencing of any type is permitted in a floodway (designated by the F1 zoning district). 

Riparian Corridor

RC (Riparian Corridor) zoning designates streamside conservation areas along certain streams or waterways within the County. Within the specified conservation area, or setback, as measured from the top of bank, structures and land disturbance are generally prohibited to protect riparian resources. Fencing within an RC setback is limited to existing outdoor activity areas, such as yards, gardens, and landscaped or natural vegetation, associated with a legally established structure or use and not involving further encroachment into existing riparian vegetation (Sonoma County Zoning Ordinance, Section 26-65-040(G)). Fences within an RC setback may require a Zoning Permit and should be designed to be wildlife friendly (generally, open fencing no taller than four feet).

Required Permits

Building Permit 

Building permits are not required for open fences, such as wood lattice or wire mesh 10 feet or less in height, and solid fencing, such a solid wood, concrete or masonry, seven feet or less in height. All other fences require a building permit (with plan check). 

Use Permit

Submittal of an application for a minor use permit is required for consideration of any request to exceed the height restrictions described in Residential and Recreation / Visitor-Serving Districts, above. Use permits are discretionary, meaning there is no guarantee of the process resulting in an approval. Use permits require public noticing, and if requested by a neighbor or any interested member of the public, may require a public hearing.

Application Requirements

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. 

Of the standard application requirements for use permits, only a select few are necessary for a fence use permit: 

  1. Application Forms:
    1. PJR-001 Planning Application (PDF: 180 kB), signed by the applicant and property owner(s).
    2. PJR-011 Indemnification Agreement (PDF: 132 kB), signed by owner or agent with owner’s written authorization. A separate indemnification agreement must be signed by each property owner.
    3. PJR-095 At-Cost Agreement (PDF: 80 kB). Use permits are processed on an at-cost basis. An At-cost Agreement is required at the time of submittal to provide a minimum fee and deposit sufficient to cover the cost of staff work on the project. Deposits must be maintained to cover staff costs or work may be halted on the project.
  2. Site plan meeting the requirements of PJR-129, Site Plan Requirements for Planning Applications. The site plan must show the right-of-way, the centerline of the road, the edge of the road pavement, all property lines, location of required yard setback areas, and the proposed location of fence, all distinguished by line weight or color. 
  3. Graphic or photographic representation of proposed materials, finish, and colors
  4. Photographs of the property, where the fence will be built (or fence as built, if the fence is existing)
  5. Landscaping plan, if landscaping is proposed, showing the use of native and fire-resistant plants
  6. 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. 

Design Review 

Many areas of Sonoma County have significant scenic resources. To allow for development while preserving scenic character, certain areas have been designated as Scenic Resources (SR) in the Sonoma County General Plan and Zoning Ordinance. Scenic resources include three categories: Community Separators, Scenic Landscape Units, and Scenic Corridors. Administrative design review of fences is required for properties with  Scenic Resources Combining District zoning. The Scenic Resources zoning district gives direction for structures to be screened by “natural landforms and existing vegetation” or “screening with native, fire resistant plants.” Additional building setbacks may be required for properties within designated Scenic Corridors. If local design guidelines apply (indicated by the “LG” zoning district), those guidelines will be used to evaluate the design of fences in addition to the criteria within the applicable Scenic Resource section of the Zoning Ordinance. 

Application requirements for administrative design review of a fence are the same as required for a fence use permit, described above, although fees and processing procedures vary between the two. 

Measurement of Fence Height: Slopes and Retaining Walls 

Height measurements for fences on slopes and retaining walls are measured from the lowest existing grade to the top of the fence, which includes lattice. 


Corner Lots and Sight Distance 

While fencing provides security for a property owner, it is important to consider the safety of others. Sight distance refers to the length of a roadway that is visible to a driver. Solid fencing, or fencing that is too tall, can impede a driver’s ability to see around turns, past driveways, or through intersections. Fences located within 15 feet from a street corner shall not exceed three feet in height, unless a use permit has been secured (Sonoma County Zoning Ordinance, Section 26-88-030).