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Zoning & Development Review

Administrative Discretionary Permits: Levels 3 and 4

In Santa Cruz County, many kinds of construction projects and land uses must have development permits in addition to any building permits that may be required. A planner must first visit the site and review the plans and any supporting documents to see if the project meets all Zoning and General Plan requirements and will not create an environmental hazard.

What Level of Development Permit is Required?

Applications for these permits are reviewed by the Project Review Section of the Planning Department at different decision-making levels, depending on their size and neighborhood impact.

Level 3 Projects include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • Preliminary grading approval (up to 8,000 cubic yards)
  • Pre-Development Site Review
  • Lot line adjustments
  • Unconditional Certificates of Compliance for legally created parcels
  • Temporary uses
  • Minor variations to approved Zoning permits

Level 4 Projects include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • Minor Exceptions
  • Administrative permit for nonconforming structures
  • New commercial buildings or changes of use in existing commercial buildings of less than 5,000 sq. ft. 

Filing an Application

Please review the information on the Discretionary Permits webpage.  

Application Processing

The processing of Level 3 and Level 4 Applications is done by a planner in the Discretionary Review Section. They will visit the site, review your plans, and prepare a report of their analysis. This report will contain a recommendation either for approval (usually with certain conditions) or for denial if the following findings cannot be made.


In order to approve an application, the Planning Director must make certain findings. Findings for development projects appear in Section 18.10.230(a) of the County Code. Briefly, they require that the project:

  • Will not be detrimental to the health, safety, or welfare of people living or working in the neighborhood or the general public, will not result in wasteful use of energy, and will not be injurious to properties or improvements in the area
  • Will be consistent with all County ordinances and with the allowed uses in the zone district
  • Will be consistent with the County General Plan and with any Specific Plan that has been adopted for the area
  • Will not overload utilities, and will not generate more than an acceptable level of traffic on the streets in the area
  • Will complement and harmonize with existing and proposed land uses in the area and will be similar to the design, land use intensities, and dwelling unit densities of the neighborhood.


The Department Director or their designee is the decision-maker.

Public Notices

With Level 3 applications, there is no public noticing. You will be notified by mail when action has been taken on the permit. This information is also available to the public.

With Level 4 applications, 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. If approved, a copy of the permit and findings are sent to the applicant, and an announcement of the proposed action is published in a newspaper, posted on the site, and sent to owners of all property within 300 feet of the site, fourteen calendar days before the permit takes effect.


The applicant may appeal the Director's decision on any level of application. Any interested person may appeal Level 4 and higher decisions.

For More Information

This information above is an overview of the procedures for obtaining Level 3 and 4 discretionary permits. For complete regulations, see the Santa Cruz County Code, Chapter 18.10. If you have questions about Discretionary Permits, please contact Zoning staff by email at or by self-scheduling an appointment with Zoning staff.