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Zoning & Development Review

Zoning Administrator Discretionary Permits Level 5

The Board of Supervisors, through adoption of County Code Section 18.10.410, has established the Office of Zoning Administrator (ZA) and has designated the Planning Director as the ZA. The Planning Director may appoint one or more Deputy Zoning Administrators to carry out the functions of the Office of Zoning Administration.

Discretionary Permits: Level 5

In Santa Cruz County, many kinds of construction projects and land uses require discretionary permits in addition to building permits. Level 5 projects are those that are required to be considered at a public hearing before the Zoning Administrator. As a part of reviewing the project, Planning Department staff must visit the site and review the plans to see if the project meets all Zoning and General Plan requirements and will not damage the environment.

Common Level 5 Project

Common Level 5 Projects include, but are not limited to:

  • Coastal Zone projects.
  • Single family dwellings exceeding 5,000 feet.
  • Variances for setbacks, height, lot coverage and floor area ratio..
  • Commercial development of 5,000 to 20,000 sq. ft.
  • Two to four units on one residential parcel.
  • Some home occupations.

Filing an Application

Please review the information on the Discretionary Permits webpage.  

The Permit Process

The planner assigned to your project will visit the site, review your plans, receive comments from other reviewing agencies, and write a staff report. This report will contain a description of the project, its location, and a recommendation either for approval (usually with certain conditions), or for denial if the affirmative findings cannot be made.


Required findings for development permits appear in Section 18.10.230(a) of the Santa Cruz County Code. Briefly, these require that the project:

  1. Will be consistent with the Zoning Plan, General Plan, and all County ordinances.
  2. Will not be detrimental to the public or to property in the neighborhood.
  3. Will not generate too much traffic, overload utilities, or waste energy.
  4. Will harmonize with existing land uses and densities in the neighborhood.

For Coastal Zone permit findings, see the Coastal Permits webpage and Section 13.20.110 of the County Code.

Environmental Review

Some discretionary permit applications are subject to environmental review per the California Environmental Quality Act.

Public Notices

You must place a project description sign or signs on the project site before your application will be deemed complete for processing. Your project planner will contact you with details (see the Guidelines For Neighborhood Notification of Proposed Development brochure for additional information). A copy of the staff report, findings, and recommendation for either approval or denial will be sent to the applicant and to surrounding property owners. An announcement of the proposed hearing will be published in a newspaper, posted on the site, and if the site is within the Coastal Zone, to all legal occupants of properties within 100 feet of the site ten days before the hearing.

The Hearing

The Zoning Administrator will conduct a public hearing which anyone may attend. A decision based on the planner's findings and statements made by the applicant and the public will be made. The permit, if approved, becomes effective (subject to any conditions of approval) ten business days after the Zoning Administrator's decision, if not appealed.


All actions of the Zoning Administrator are appealable to the Planning Commission as described in Chapter 18.10 of the County Code (see also the Planning Appeals webpage.)

For More Information

This brochure describes the general information for obtaining Level 5 discretionary permits. For complete regulations, see the Santa Cruz County Code, Chapter 18.10.

If you have questions about discretionary permits, contact us by email at or by self-scheduling an appointment with Zoning staff.