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Zoning & Development Review
Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors Discretionary Permits Levels 6 & 7

In Santa Cruz County, many kinds of construction projects and land uses must have discretionary permits in addition to any building permits that may be required. A Planning Department staff member must first visit the site and review the plans to see if the project meets all Zoning and General Plan requirements and will not have a significant impact on the environment.

By law, the public must be notified about the application, and a public hearing must be held. Applications for these permits are reviewed in the Development Review section of the Planning Division. 

Planning Commission (Level 6) and Board of Supervisors (Level 7) Discretionary Permits:

Level 6 Projects Include:

  • Minor Land Divisions
  • Subdivisions of 5 to 19 Units
  • Multiple residential development of 5 to 19 units
  • Commercial development over 20,000 sq. ft.
  • Major grading projects (8,000 + cubic yards)
  • Appeals of decisions made by the Zoning Administrator

Level 7 Projects Include:

  • Subdivision of 20 or more lots
  • Residential projects of 20 or more units
  • Policy changes such as:
    1. Rezoning
    2. General Plan Amendments
    3. County Code Amendments
  • Appeals of Planning Commission Decisions

The Development Review Group (DRG)

Before you prepare the required plans and pay the application fees for a large project, you must obtain a preliminary review by the DRG. This panel consists of representatives from Planning, Public Works, Environmental Health, the County Surveyor and other agencies as appropriate. You will have an opportunity to discuss your project with them at a meeting. They will inform you of (1) any technical studies that will be required, (2) any Zoning or General Plan limitations on your project, (3) any site improvements or fees that will probably be required, and (4) whether the legal findings required for approval of the project appear likely to be made. Their comments will be summarized in a letter.

To apply for a DRG review, contact Zoning staff by email at or by self-scheduling an appointment with Zoning staff. Zoning staff will provide you with the submittal requirements and application fee.

Neighborhood Meeting

After the DRG, but before you file your application, you must hold a meeting with your neighbors to discuss your proposal with them. This is a very important step and can reduce or eliminate neighborhood concerns at the Planning Commission and/or Board of Supervisors public hearings. You must provide a report about the meeting along with your application (see the Earlier Notification Guidelines brochure for additional information).

Filing an Application

Please review the information on the Discretionary Permits webpage.  

Environmental Review

Most planning permit applications at these levels are subject to environmental review.

The Permit Process

The planner assigned to your project will visit the site, review your plans, and prepare a report of their findings and analysis. This report contains a description of the project, its location, and a recommendation for approval (usually with certain conditions) or denial, if affirmative findings cannot be made. 

Required findings for the approval of development permits appear in Section 18.10.230(a) of the County Code. Findings for subdivisions and minor land divisions appear in Section 14.01.402., 403., and 407.2.

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. A copy of the staff report containing the applicant's proposal, maps and plans, staff analysis, findings, and recommendations, plus any correspondence from the public is sent to the applicant and the Planning Commission. An announcement of the hearing is published in a newspaper, posted on the site, and sent to all owners of property within 300 feet of the site ten days before the hearing.

The Hearing

The Planning Commission will conduct a public hearing which anyone may attend. The Commission will make a decision or recommendation (if the final decision-maker is the Board of Supervisors) based on the staff recommendation and the statements made by the applicant and the public.

For Level 6 projects, the Planning Commission's decision becomes effective fourteen (14) calendar days after the hearing, with the exception of Tentative Maps, if not appealed. (See the Planning Appeals brochure).

For Level 7 projects, the Planning Commission's recommendation is forwarded to the Board of Supervisors who will conduct another hearing with the same notification procedures as listed before. They will make a decision which is not subject to appeal. However, if the Planning Commission denies an application for development, their decision is final unless appealed to the Board.

For More Information

This information above is an overview of the procedures for obtaining Level 6 and 7 development 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.