New Code Changes Will Help Builders in Unincorporated Santa Cruz County

Posted by Kim Tschantz on Mar 18, 2015

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By Kim Tschantz,
Cypress Environmental and Land Use Planning

On March 20, the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors adopted several new changes to the County Code that will affect development and construction. In most cases they are “friendlier” to construction. They are voluminous and detailed. I know you don’t want to hear all the details. If and when you need to know any details is probably when you’d want to hire a person like me. For now, I’ll provide you with the big picture stuff in three parts. This article will focus on changes on the concept on “non-conforming uses and structures”.

The Concept of Non-Conformity in the Zoning World
Similar to most local jurisdictions, the County of Santa Cruz allows non-conforming uses and structures to continue after the zoning has been changed and the use at the site no longer conforms to what is allowed in the zone district; or the size or location of the structure no longer conforms to the building setbacks, lot coverage, and other the site standards of the new zoning. One example of a non-conforming use is Scarborough Lumber in Ben Lomond. This lumber yard–related business is no longer permitted in the small-scale retail zoned area of Ben Lomond village. Yet, it has important value to the village. The historic Soquel Congregational Church in Soquel Village is one example of a non-conforming structure because some Today's zoning of Ben Lomond Village doesn't allow lumber of its buildings are located too close to yards. New regulations will make it easier for the lumber the street and other property lines. yard to continue and even to expand.

While these land uses and structures can remain, the County’s zoning regulations make it quite difficult to do more than limited maintenance and repair of these non-conforming buildings or buildings containing non-conforming uses. This is due to the philosophy that non-conforming uses and structures should wither away over time so everything can come in to conformance with the new idea of what is appropriate. This orientation is about to undergo a major shift. On March 20, the County Board of Supervisors had its final public hearing to consider a large group of code amendments that will allow more non-conforming uses and structures to remain and be improved under significantly more lenient requirements.

Why Should Builders Care?
Any construction beyond limited maintenance and repairs of non-conforming structures (or structures with non-conforming uses) has typically required a Use Permit before you can submit plans for a Building Permit. Most Use Permit approvals require public hearings and there is no guarantee that a proposed project needing a Use Permit will be approved. If it is approved, the approval comes with a list of conditions that must be incorporated into the either the building plans and/or the construction work. Of course, all this translates into additional time and cost for the project. The new code amendments will significantly reduce the situations where a Use Permit is needed to make structural alterations or additions to non-conforming structures and similarly reduce the instances where changes to non-conforming use properties need Use Permits prior to submitting building plans. When Use Permits are required, the new amendments allow administratively approved Use Permits more often than their public hearing counterpart. The Use Permits have lower application fees and take substantially less time than Use Permits that must be approved in a public hearing.

If you want to understand more about these ensuing changes to the code, please feel free to contact me at [email protected] or through my Contact Page at Next time: The New Definition of “Reconstruction”.

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