How due diligence research is the key to get discretionary land use and building permit approvals through cities and counties in the shortest time possible with the least money and frustration.

[Case Study]

Whether it is a 7 story hospital tower, parking structure, church, industrial complex, office building, multi-family apartment building, or a restaurant; I wanted to share with you how due diligence research can save you time, money, and frustration when getting your discretionary land use planning approvals in this current marketplace.

I get calls daily asking questions like:

  • Will my zoning allow this type of use?
  • If I don’t have the proper zoning for my project, what is the discretionary process I need to go through to get approvals for the use I want?
  • What is a realist timeframe?
  • What technical studies will be required, and what will they cost?
  • How much are the city or county processing fees?

The following case study will give you come clarity on these issues:.

There are so many variables that it is hard to give an answer to those questions without doing research on the specific project, but let me share a case study of one of our past project’s to give you an idea of the process and a game plan to tackle it.

In the City of Chula Vista, for the Sharp Healthcare Ocean View Tower project, it took 10 months to get City Council approval for a Conditional Use Permit (CUP), a Precise Plan, a Design Review, and an Environmental Impact Report (EIR).

The Conditional Use Permit was required to allow for the expansion of the existing hospital campus. The Precise Plan was required to allow a height of 120 feet to accommodate the new hospital tower, where the existing zoning only allowed a height of 45 feet. The Design Review Permit was required to make sure the aesthetics of the new hospital tower met the requirements of the city.

Lastly, the Environmental Impact Report was required to make certain findings of fact for the city and adopt a mitigation monitoring and reporting program pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

When I was originally brought on as a consultant to do the due diligence research for this project, I was asked these questions. At that point we didn’t know what permits or environmental review process would be required by the City of Chula Vista to build the seven story Ocean View Tower.

So how do you launch any project with confidence?

We start with due diligence research to find out the following:

Does the general plan land use definition and zoning designation fit the project? If not, will a general plan amendment or zone change be required, and how low will that take and cost?

If project does meet the general plan land use definition and zoning designation; is the use a permitted use, or is it a limited or conditional use?

What is the environmental documentation required. Is it an exempt project; or does it require, a negative declaration, a mitigated negative declaration, or an environmental impact report. Each of these has a very different time frame and cost.

What discretionary and ministerial permits are required?

Discretionary means that a person, board, commission, or council must approve the project. With discretionary permits (i.e. Conditional Use Permit, Major and Minor Use Permit, Design Review, Tentative Parcel Maps) you are given broad guidelines, and the discretionary body (i.e. planning director, hearing officer, planning commission, city council, or county supervisors) has “discretion” in reviewing and approving your project.

I am often asked, can you guarantee that a discretionary permit will be approved, and I say we can assess the probability of success, but we can never guarantee what a discretionary body of humans will decide. If a project is controversial and/or might be seen by the public in a negative way, it is best to get information about your project out to the public as early as possible, and get feedback from the public (good or bad). This will often help your project be seen from a more positive perspective by the discretionary body.

Ministerial permits (i.e. grading permit, street improvement permits, tenant improvement and shell building permits) are governed by code and ordnances. In order to obtain a ministerial permit, the discretionary permit (if required) for the project must already be approved. There is no discretion with a ministerial permit. If the ministerial permit meets all the required codes and ordinances, the city or country must approve it.

Most of my clients want the above described due diligence research done before they commit to a project. This often saves them significant time and money if the project has a low probability of success, because they may decide to go in a different direction. Or, if they decide to move forward with the project, the due diligence research will give them a road map to complete a project, which helps to reduce the time, the cost, and the uncertainty of the entitlement process.

In the Sharp Healthcare Ocean View Tower project, after the due diligence research we found that the project had a high probability of making it through the City of Chula Vista’s discretionary review. We found out that we needed a CUP, Precise Plan, Design Review, and EIR, with an expected time frame of 12 months with an expected budget. The entire process ended up taking only 10 months and was on budget. We are very proud of results like that, and were told we even set some records at the city.


Types of Permits/Approvals Expedited

Land Use, Zoning, Planning, Construction (Grading, Building & Safety, Public Works/Engineering, Traffic), Other Governmental and Municipal Agencies, and Utilities (Water, Sewer, Electricity, Cable, Gas)

Conditional Use Permit (CUP) • Variance  • Major Use Permit • Minor Use Permit • General Plan Amendment • Annexation • Change of Zone • Costal Development Permits • Planning Approvals •  CEQA and NEPA Environmental Approvals (MND & EIR) • MSHCP (Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan) • Line Lot Adjustment/Parcel Merger • Tentative and Final Parcel Map/Tract Map • Parcel Map for Condo Purposes • Planned Unit Development • Specific Plans • Storm Water Permits • Substantial Conformance Review • Inclusionary (low cost) Housing • Traffic Approvals • Army Corps of Engineers (404 permit) •  Regional Water Quality Control Board (401 Water Quality Certification) •  California Department of Fish and Game (Wildlife permits and Streambed Alteration Notifications), •  Port Authority/District • County Environmental Health  • County Air Pollution Control District • County Flood Control • FAA • Airport Land Use Commission • County Regional Airport Authority • County Hazardous Materials Review • Bureau of Indian Affairs • Building and Safety Construction Permits • Grading Permits • Shell Construction Building Permits • Tenant Improvement Building Permits • Offsite and Street Improvements Permits • Encroachment Permits • Potable & Recycled/Reclaimed Water Permits • Sewer  • Public Works Approvals/Permits • Electrical, Telephone, Cable, & Gas Utility Designs and Approvals • Right of Way Permits • Fire Department Permits • State Child Care Center Licensing •Community Facility Districts &Subdivision Agreements • Street Lighting & Landscape Maintenance Agreements • Neighborhood Outreach Programs • Community Planning Groups


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