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Biotic Review and Approval Process

County Code section 16.32.060 requires that any development activity in sensitive habitat receive biotic approval prior to disturbance.

To initiate the process, the applicant submits project plans and pays a fee to the Planning Department. A plot plan must show the location and type of existing and proposed development, property lines, and features such as roads, gullies, significant vegetation, and other pertinent information.

The Review may consist of one or more of the following:

  • A biotic pre-site: a preliminary site visit by County staff to determine if the site lies within a sensitive habitat. If staff finds that the proposed development is not within sensitive habitat, the process ends and no biotic approval is necessary. If the parcel is within or immediately adjacent to sensitive habitat, a biotic assessment may be required.
  • A biotic assessment: a brief review of on-site biotic resources conducted by a County-contracted biologist. A biotic assessment may result in a determination that the proposed project will not impact sensitive habitat, that under certain attached conditions there will be no significant impacts, or it may result in the need to do a more in-depth study of the resources through the biotic report process.
  • A biotic report: (an in-depth study) will be required if the biotic assessment indicates that more information is needed. This report will be prepared at the applicant's expense by a professional biologist (the County has a list of biologists and revegetation specialists familiar with County report and plan preparation requirements. The biotic report must be written according to County guidelines. The biotic report will be reviewed by a biologist contracted by the County for this purpose.

Result of Review

In all cases, the final determination of the review process lies with the Environmental Coordinator. In the case of a biotic assessment or biotic report review, the Environmental Coordinator will issue a Biotic Approval letter that spells out the conditions under which a project may move forward in sensitive habitat. Proposals that are not consistent with the County Code and/or General Plan may not be supported by Planning Staff to the approving body.

If the biotic review or report indicates that development may be permitted in a sensitive habitat, the project may be conditioned to avoid certain areas, to mitigate for impacts, or both.

Mitigating Conditions

The developer will be required to compensate for any significant effects on the environment, as determined by the County's Environmental Coordinator. In addition, the developer may be required to:

  • Deed an easement to the County to protect the undisturbed portion of a sensitive habitat: and/or,
  • Restore any portion of a sensitive habitat which has been degraded; and/or,
  • Limit the portion of the site that will be disturbed; and/or,
  • Restrict land use. For example, livestock grazing may be prohibited.

Other conditions specific to the site and project may be required by the Environmental Coordinator based on information contained in the biotic assessment or biotic report.

Exemptions

Exemption from the requirements of the Sensitive Habitat Protection Ordinance include:

  • Existing commercial agricultural operations.
  • Projects which are determined by the Planning Director to have received sufficient biotic review during the granting of a Riparian Exception for the project site.
  • Projects for which an Environmental Impact Report is required which includes biotic review through the California Environmental Quality Act.

Violations

Violation of the Sensitive Habitat Ordinance or the conditions on a biotic permit may result in the issuance of a Notice of Violation, which describes the actions necessary to correct the problem and may include restoration of the area to its original condition. If the required corrective actions are not taken promptly, the Notice of Violation is recorded on the title to the property and becomes part of the public record. In addition, the current property owner is subject to a levy of all enforcement costs incurred by the Code Compliance staff in obtaining compliance as well as the possible imposition, through legal action, of penalties of up to $2,500 a day while the violation exists.

Appeals

The usual County Planning appeal process is available to any applicant who is dissatisfied with a biotic permit decision (see the "Planning Appeals" brochure).

If you have questions about the Biotic Approval and Review process, please contact Matt Johnston at matt.johnston@co.santa-cruz.ca.us.

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