Zoning, Specific Plans, and Special Planning Areas

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Land Use Development Standards

Overview

Land use development standards are created by the City to govern the use of land within City limits. Development standards regulate what uses are allowed on individual parcels and also establish standards all structures on these parcels must comply with, including height, setbacks, special architectural standards, and density. All applications for planning entitlements and ministerial approvals, such as Building Permit plan reviews, must conform to the City's development standards. Different standards are applicable to different parcels; however, the standards applicable to any given property are always defined by one of three tools:

  • The Zoning Code
  • A Specific Plan
  • A Special Planning Area ordinance

These tools are discussed in further detail below. 

The Zoning Code

The Zoning Code is the primary implementation tool of the General Plan. It translates General Plan policies into action by dividing the City into districts and applying different regulations to each district. Each parcel in the City is regulated by the Zoning Code. The Zoning Code establishes allowed land uses, the maximum bulk of structures (e.g., height limits, setbacks), and the performance requirements (e.g., landscaping, parking) for each district. However, the Zoning Code cannot always provide the best land use development standards for areas with special needs or challenges. In these cases, the Zoning Code may designate parcels for a Specific Plan or Special Planning Area ordinance.

For further information, read the Zoning Code section. 

Specific Plans

A Specific Plan goes one step further than the Zoning Code. Whereas the Zoning Code implements the General Plan by creating districts and regulations for each district, a Specific Plan implements the General Plan by providing a special set of detailed development standards that apply to a particular geographical area. The Specific Plan provides greater flexibility than a Zoning Code in implementing General Plan policies, and facilitates better implementation through the inclusion of financing, infrastructure, phasing, and other relevant information in the Specific Plan document. The Zoning Code establishes the minimum requirements of what each Specific Plan must include.

In areas covered by a Specific Plan, the Specific Plan standards supplant the Zoning Code standards. The Zoning Code designates parcels to certain Specific Plan areas, and then the regulations of each Specific Plan govern all parcels that fall under Specific Plan designation. Hence, parcels in a Specific Plan do not have to abide by both Zoning Code and Specific Plan standards; rather, the Specific Plan fulfills the requirements of the Zoning Code and provides all relevant standards that must be considered (unless the Specific Plan says otherwise). The Specific Plan works in coordination with the Zoning Code.

For further information, read the Specific Plan section, or follow the links below to read about the City's approved Specific Plans:

Special Planning Areas

Similar to Specific Plans, Special Planning Areas allow for creative implementation of the General Plan. Special Planning Areas are more conducive to the use of imaginative planning standards that would not be allowed through the application of standard zoning districts. The flexibility in Special Planning Areas can also be used to protect unique environmental, historic, or architectural and other features that require special consideration. Unlike Specific Plans, Special Planning Areas have a limited focus: the provision of unique standards through a land plan and development standards. Special Planning Areas do not include discussions on financing or timing. They are well-suited to projects that do not have the finances or time required to create a detailed Specific Plan. The City’s Zoning Code establishes the minimum requirements for Special Planning Areas.

Maps of the City’s Special Planning Areas can be found below:

Related Information

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