Pre-Application Services

Are you thinking about an upcoming project and need help getting started, or need more information about the codes and policies that may apply to your property?  If so, the Planning Division offers a range of information and services designed to help you. 

In addition to the information available on the website, we offer fee-based Pre-Application Services. These are appropriate when a project requires additional research or a more in-depth analysis. Planning staff may suggest that you apply for one or more of the following.

Early information on the feasibility of a project and on the codes and policies that will apply can minimize potential delays and can even result in cost savings overall.  Therefore, prior to making an investment in complete architectural or engineered plans, purchasing a property or >making a formal Discretionary or Building Permit application, you may want to apply for a Consultation to allow planning staff to review your proposed project, research relevant permit history, provide guidance, and help you resolve potential problems. Your assigned planner will also be available to discuss the specifics of your proposed project and answer any questions you may have.

Consultations are intended to provide you with the information you need, wherever you are in the process, and there are no specific application requirements. However, at a minimum, it is recommended that you provide a letter setting out the details of your proposed project and any questions that you may have. Preliminary plans are extremely helpful as the more information that you provide, the more detailed will be the feedback.  Please note, however, that Consultations provide planning‐related feedback only and are not routed to other agencies. 

For more information, email Planning.ZoningInfo@santacruzcountyca.gov

The DRG is similar to a Consultation, except that in addition to the project planner, other agencies such as Public Works, Fire and Environmental Planning will also review the project and provide you with feedback. DRGs are appropriate for more complicated projects such as subdivisions and large commercial or mixed-use projects, and require submittal of preliminary plans.

Once you submit your plans (and any other materials you want reviewed), this information will be routed to the same agencies that would review the project in an actual permit application. Your project planner, in consultation with you, will then schedule a meeting at which the reviewers will present their feedback on the project.  The meeting is an excellent opportunity for you to ask questions and develop solutions. If a reviewer cannot attend the meeting, they will provide written comments.  After the meeting you will also receive a letter summarizing the meeting discussions and setting out all of the preliminary comments from all reviewing agencies.

For more information, email Planning.ZoningInfo@santacruzcountyca.gov

Senate Bill 9 (SB9) 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. In order to be eligible for the streamlining provided by the bill, a parcel must meet specific criteria. For a fee, Zoning staff will confirm whether your parcel / project is eligible to use SB9. You can read more about SB9 and the eligibility requirements on the Senate Bill 9 webpage. 

A PDSR is a useful tool for property owners, potential buyers, and others that are interested in the site standards, constraints, and other characteristics of a property, prior to investing in project plans and engineering studies. 

The PDSR has three parts:

Part 1 is a simple review, completed by a planner using in‐house resources, to provide basic parcel information such as site development standards (setbacks, height limits, lot coverage, etc.), basic access and parcel legality review, and whether a discretionary permit such as a Coastal or Residential Permit may be required. Please note that if more detailed or specific feedback is required in relation to your proposal, you may wish to substitute part 1 of the PDSR with a Consultation. 

Part 2 is completed by Environmental Planning staff, who perform a site visit and evaluate the proposed building site and access road relative to environmental constraints, geologic hazards, the presence of protected areas (e.g. riparian corridors), and protected plants and animals. The PDSR will list what reports (e.g. soils or biotic reports) may be required. A Geologic Hazards Assessment, not a PDSR, should be applied for to determine if a geologic report will be required (see below).

Part 3 of the PDSR report is a list of the next steps to be taken to prepare for a building or discretionary permit submittal.

More information is available on the PDSR webpage

A GHA may be required if you are proposing any construction, grading or land division that would be located in an area where a potential hazard has been identified such as an earthquake fault zone, flood plain or steep/unstable slopes. When submitting a GHA application, you must provide at least:

  1. A site/topographic plan indicating the proposed development, all access ways to buildings, and the septic location(s);
  2. Any soils or geologic reports that may have been prepared for the site, even if outdated; and
  3. Any preliminary building plans.

Environmental Planning staff will then visit the site, review hazards maps and any other relevant information, and write an evaluation of the site conditions and any permit requirements necessary to ensure that the development will be safe, including whether a geologic report and/or geotechnical (soils) report will be required in support of your project.

Recommendations and requirements are site‐specific and can include such things as modifying the project location, elevating the structure, or recording a declaration of geologic hazards with the County Recorder.

For more information, visit the Geologic Hazards Assessments webpage.

Riparian areas and other bodies of water provide floodwater storage, water quality benefits, and important habitat for fish and wildlife, as well as open space.  To ensure protection of these valuable areas, if you are planning a new development near a year‐round or seasonal stream or other body of water, it may be helpful to apply for a preliminary riparian site inspection (Riparian Pre‐Site) so that you can avoid disturbing these sensitive areas.

Environmental Planning staff will review your application and will then perform the field investigation and may also contact you to discuss your project or any questions they may have about the property.  The letter you receive will summarize the results of the evaluation and will include a delineation of the riparian corridor and, if applicable, the associated buffer. This information will help you locate your project and minimize unnecessary impacts.

Riparian corridors are protected areas and may not be developed or disturbed unless specific “findings” for a Riparian Exception can be made. If there are specific constraints on your property (e.g. steep slopes, limited access), that make such disturbance unavoidable, the letter will also include a preliminary opinion about whether the necessary “findings” can be made to allow encroachment into the riparian corridor and/or buffer.

For more information about Riparian Corridors, visit the Riparian Corridors webpage.

Santa Cruz County contains a number of sensitive habitats, many of which are legally protected because they support threatened or endangered species. A Biotic Site Review is a service provided by Environmental Planning staff to help you determine whether a sensitive habitat exists on a parcel, and if so, how to avoid or minimize impacts to the habitat.

It is best to have a review done before developing your site plan, so that you can use the information from the Biotic Site Review to design your project. But, if you already have a conceptual site plan, submit a copy when you apply for the Biotic Site Review.

Once you apply, Environmental Planning staff may contact you to discuss the review if they have any questions about the property or project proposal. They will then perform the field investigation and send you a letter summarizing the results. In some cases, further evaluation by a qualified expert may be recommended. Identifying sensitive habitat early in the planning process is beneficial because it will allow you to site and design your project appropriately before incurring the expense of plan preparation.

For more information about biotic resources and sensitive habitats, visit our Sensitive Habitats webpage.

  • The Unified Permit Center website
    In addition to information about permit requirements, our website provides links to the County Code and General Plan; publications on a range of building, environmental, historic and policy topics; and much more.
  • The County’s Geographic Information System (GIS)
    The GIS provides information on zoning, General Plan designation, mapped resources such as riparian corridors, and hazards such as steep slopes and fault zones. For help getting started with the GIS, visit our How to Use the GIS webpage.