Plan Your Project

Depending on the scope of your project and your parcel's characteristics, there are a number of considerations when planning a project. Follow the guidance below and contact us if you have any questions.

Before designing your project, you will want to review the feasibility of it. Consider the following.

What is the permit history of the parcel?
Visit our Records & Parcel Research webpage to learn how to research the permit history of your parcel. Permit history is important if your project involves modifying an existing structure and, in some cases, to verify that a vacant parcel was legally created. Our records for your parcel may contain site and architectural plans as well as technical reports which may be helpful in preparing your application.

If your parcel is vacant, determine whether it is buildable.
There are a number of factors that determine whether or not a parcel will be buildable. You can read about them here.

Will your project comply with the zone district use and site standards?
Visit our Zoning Information page to learn more about zoning requirements.

What are the environmental and land use constraints that may impact the design of your project?
The County’s Geographic Information System (GIS) allows you to run a Property Report which details the mapped constraints affecting your property. Instructions for running the Property Report are available on the How to Use the GIS webpage.

Environmental Planning staff can answer questions about environmental constraints such as steep slopes as well as environmental resource protection requirements such as buffers designed to protect streams & wetlands. You can email Environmental Planning staff:  EnvironmentalPlanningInfo@santacruzcountyca.gov or schedule an appointment to meet in person or remotely.

Zoning staff can answer questions about land use regulations such as zone district setbacks, height, and lot coverage standards. You can email Zoning staff:  Planning.ZoningInfo@santacruzcountyca.gov or schedule an appointment to meet in person or remotely.

Does your parcel rely on an OWTS (septic system)?
If so, find guidance on Environmental Health’s website before proceeding. You can schedule an appointment with Environmental Health staff.

Will your project require a Discretionary Permit?

Most projects do not require a Discretionary Permit. Examples of Discretionary Permits are variances, coastal permits, commercial permits, and subdivisions. These are permits that require the exercise of discretion by a decision-maker based on written findings supporting their decision. Visit the Discretionary Permits webpage for more information.

If you are not sure whether a discretionary permit will be required for your project, email Zoning staff: Planning.ZoningInfo@santacruzcountyca.gov or schedule an appointment.

Need additional help?

  • Go to our Apply for a Building Permit webpage for application requirements.
  • If you are proposing a residential project, use the Camino Online Permit Guide. The Guide will provide you with customized application requirements and will even flag feasibility issues related to your parcel or project. 
  • Use the Application Requirements for Residential Structures - PLG280 to guide the preparation of your application.
  • An overview of the building permit process is available here
  • An overview of ePlan Review, our online application portal, is available here
  • If you are considering becoming an owner/builder, learn about the important considerations and risks of doing so here.
  • Building Code information and other resources are available here.


  • The ADU website provides information about eligibility, financing, regulations, and a “How-to” guide. You will also find free pre-designed ADU plans in three sizes and three styles.
  • Senate Bill 9 establishes a streamlined process to develop two primary residential dwelling units on one eligible single-family zoned parcel, and to split one eligible single-family zoned parcel into two separate parcels of approximately equal size. You can find eligibility and application information on our Senate Bill 9 webpage.
  • *TIP*: Did you know that remodel projects that do not alter walls--such as kitchen and bath remodels--are eligible for a same day In-Person EZ Permit

We are here to help! The Unified Permit Center staff are available by email and by scheduling an appointment.

  • For residential projects, use our Residential Building Permit Estimator for an estimate of your building permit cost.
  • An explanation of permit fees is available here.
  • If your project is an EZ Permit (e.g., mechanical, electrical, plumbing, interior remodel with no wall alterations, roofing, window replacement, etc.) go to the EZ Permit webpage for fee information.

Most people find that they need to hire professionals to assist them with their project.