How to build a house in Santa Cruz county

DETERMINING PARCEL BUILDABILITY

Additional handouts are available for Pre-Development Site Reviews (PDSR) and Parcel Legality Study Requirements.
To determine if a parcel is potentially buildable, it is the responsibility of the property owner or applicant to provide the County with evidence of the following items:
1. Water The parcel must have a Will Serve Letter to obtain water service from a water district or an Individual Water Service Permit issued by the County Environmental Health Department1 for a well or other water source.
2. Sewer/Septic The parcel must have a proper sewage disposal system, either a septic system approved by the County Environmental Health Department1, or a sewer connection issued by the County Public Works Department2 or
Salsipuedes Sanitation District3 (if applicable).
3. Emergency Vehicle Access The building site must be accessible to emergency vehicles, such as ambulances and fire trucks. Contact the responsible fire agency for their access guidelines.
4. Site Safety The building site must be free from geologic hazards to the extent that the safety of the structure can be ensured. A soils (also called geotechnical) and/or geological report may be required to assess or address environmental/safety concerns. County Resource Planners are generally available to discuss environmental issues
from 8:00 am to 12:00 and 1:00-3:00 pm Monday through Thursday in the Planning Department.
5. Legal Access A parcel may not be used as a building site unless its principal frontage and access is located on a
public or private right-of-way*.
• Forty (40) foot minimum right-of-way width is required for new/proposed rights-of-way unless the parcel has an
approved Level III or Level V Residential Development Permit allowing access via a less-than-40-foot wide right-ofway *.
• A deed or title report may be required to show the existence of a private right-of-way.
*A public or private right-of-way is the area that includes the roadway AND additional width for existing or future
roadway/roadside improvements, such as curbs, gutters, sidewalks, bike lanes, landscaping and parking. Rights-ofway, like property lines, are not visible unless demarcated by a survey. Rights-of-ways are almost always wider in
width than roadways.
6. Parcel Legality Building permits will only be issued for parcels that were legally created. Do not assume that legal
status is conferred because a parcel has an assessor’s parcel number, the property taxes have been levied, a title
report has been done, and/or that the parcel is described in a deed or shown on a survey map. These items do not
confer legal status. The following is a brief overview of the criteria for determining if a parcel was created legally.
• The parcel must have been created by a County approved minor land division or a subdivision on file with the
County Planning Department and Public Works Departments; or
• If the parcel was created prior to January 21, 1972 (deeds required to demonstrate this), then:
a) The parcel must have been created as part of a land division of four or fewer cumulative contiguous lots
created by the subdivider, and
b) The parcel must have been in compliance with the minimum parcel size, width, and frontage established by the
zoning in effect at the time of parcel creation; or
• An Unconditional Certificate of Compliance or a Conditional Certificate of Compliance (in which the conditions have
been met) was issued and recorded, or
• The lot was created consistent with the State Map Act and applicable County ordinances at the time of creation.
If more than four parcels were created after 1963, then a tentative map must have been approved and a final map
must have been recorded.

 

Related studies available from the Planning Department to interested parties with
written permission from the current property owner:
• Pre-Development Site Review (PDSR) is a useful (optional) tool offered by the County Planning Department
for property owners, potential buyers, and other interested parties to obtain an understanding of the site standards,
constraints, discretionary permit and technical requirements prior to investing in specific building plans and engineering
studies.
A PDSR is completed by a planner utilizing in-house resources to obtain parcel information and by a resource planner
who performs a site visit and evaluates the building site and access road to determine what technical reports (e.g.
geotechnical/soils report, geologic hazards assessment, biotic assessment) may be required to develop the parcel.
Although a PDSR provides valuable information, it does not determine parcel buildability and may not always
indicate if a geologic report is necessary. A Geologic Hazards Assessment (see below) should be applied for to
determine if a geologic report will be required. Written permission of the current property owner is required to apply
for a PDSR. A list of required submittal materials can be obtained on our website or at the Planning Department. If a
building permit is applied for within one year of the PDSR, a portion of the fee will be applied to Building Permit fees.
• A Geologic Hazards Assessment (GHA) is a study addressing physical conditions /safety concerns of the
parcel. Like a PDSR, a Geologic Hazards Assessment includes a site visit to evaluate the building site and access road
and determine what technical reports (e.g. geotechnical/soils report, geologic report) will be required to develop the
parcel. Written permission of the current property owner is required to apply for a GHA.
• A Parcel Legality Study/Certificate of Compliance is sometimes necessary to determine if a parcel was
created legally and if not, what conditions must be met to legalize the parcel. The resulting document, issued by the
Planning Department, is called a conditional or unconditional Certificate of Compliance. A deposit is taken at the time
of application and the actual cost is based on the number of hours spent processing the study.
Santa Cruz County Planning Department Resources:
Office Location: 701 Ocean Street (corner of Water St), 4th Floor, Santa Cruz, CA 95060. See hours below.
Walk-in Hours for Planning/Zoning information: 8am to 12:00 noon and 1 to 3pm Monday-Thursday*.
Please arrive early since transactions must be completed by closing times noted.
*The County Planning Dept. is closed to the public every Friday and County offices are closed on the fourth Friday of
each month due to budget shortfall furloughs.
Website: http://www.sccoplanning.com. A wide variety of brochures and mapping resources (GIS) are available.
Planning/Zoning Information Phone Line: (831) 454-2130 1:00-4:00 pm Monday through Friday**.
**County offices are closed the fourth Friday of each month due to budget shortfall furloughs.
Other County Offices referred to in this handout:
1 Santa Cruz County Environmental Health Department 701 Ocean St, 3rd floor, Room 312, Santa Cruz.
Environmental Health Specialists are available from 8-9:30 weekdays to discuss septic feasibility and wells. (831) 454-
2022.

2 Santa Cruz County Public Works Department 701 Ocean St, 4th Floor, Room 410, Santa Cruz. (831) 454-2160.
This department includes the Survey, Roads, Driveway Encroachment and Sanitation. This department is available to
discuss County maintained rights-of-way and sewer connections and will print assessor’s parcel maps and recorded
maps. Hours: 8 am to 12:00 noon and 1 pm to 5 pm weekdays, except Survey closes at 3 pm.
3
Salsipuedes Sanitation District 739 East Lake Ave. Watsonville (831) 722-7760

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