What is a Use Permit?

Use Permits (UP) are required for the use of land or land development when required by the Zoning Ordinance, typically for projects that have potential for negative impacts on the surrounding neighborhood.  A UP is issued by the Zoning Adjustments Board after a public hearing, and may be appealed to the City Council by any aggrieved body.

Below is a list of frequently asked questions:

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When is a UP required?
The Zoning Ordinance specifies which projects require an UP, including, but not limited to, the following:

  • New buildings

  • Adding or removing dwelling units

  • Specific uses of existing or new commercial buildings including but not limited to:  retail sale of alcoholic beverages, food service, smoke shops, pet stores

  • Childcare centers

How are neighbors involved? 
Before applying for a UP in, or adjacent to, a residential zoning district, applicants must give surrounding neighbors an opportunity to review the project plans and indicate any concerns they may have (see "Neighbors' Signatures Instructions").  The purpose of this requirement is to help identify and resolve major concerns early in the process, and alert staff to any unresolved issues. Neighbors are welcome to submit written comments to staff at any point during the process. Written comments provided prior to the public hearing will be distributed to Commission members.  Verbal testimony can be provided at the meeting.

What if neighbors oppose a project? 
Whenever possible, staff encourages applicants and neighbors to work together to resolve outstanding concerns.  SEEDS Community Resolution Center (formerly East Bay Community Mediation) provides free mediation for UPs, and in many cases can help achieve compromise.  If there are outstanding concerns staff must determine whether these concerns warrant modification or denial of the project.

How does the ZAB decide whether to approve a UP? 
To approve an UP, the ZAB must find that the project would not be “detrimental” to neighbors or to the City’s general welfare, and make any other findings required by the Zoning Ordinance. Staff may place conditions on a project if necessary to make the required findings or promote the public welfare.

 

"Detriment" is determined on a case-by-case basis, depending on the project type and setting. Staff can provide further guidance during preliminary review as to whether or not a particular project may cause detriment. A project may be considered detrimental if it has the following impacts:

 

a) Residential areas:

  • Substantial loss of direct sunlight or privacy in a dwelling or an adjacent dwelling

  • Unreasonable obstruction of a neighbor’s significant view

  • Construction that is incompatible with the scale and character of the neighborhood

b) Commercial areas:

  • Excessive traffic, noise or odors

  • Incompatibility with surrounding businesses

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How do I apply for a UP? 
Applications must be filed in person at the Permit Service Center , and must include all of the applicable requirements listed in the "Zoning Project Submittal Requirements".  Minimum requirements include (but are not limited to):  

  • Application fees (see Fee Schedule)
  • Application form with owner's signature
  • Signatures from neighbors (for projects in & adjacent to residential zoning district)
  • Photo of posted project notice
  • Written description of project
  • Site plan, floor plans, and elevations
  • Additional information may be required to demonstrate that the project will not have a negative impact on the environment or neighborhood.

How long does it take? 
UP applications that are complete when submitted and do not require environmental review, major revisions or mediation are typically processesed in 6 to 12 months, depending on the complexity of the application.  Once an application is filed, applicants can check with the assigned planner to get a more precise time estimate.

  • Applicants can help reduce the time required to process an UP by doing the following:
  • Seeking input from affected neighbors before finalizing plans
  • Bring plans to staff for preliminary review before filing application
  • Submit professionally prepared drawings
  • Ensure that all application and zoning requirements are met

What is the process?
Acknowledgement of receipt of an application and assignment of a project planner will be mailed to the applicant within one week.  Application will be accepted as complete or additional information will be required within 30 days of submittal. 

When staff analysis is complete, notice of the public hearing before the Zoning Adjustments Board (ZAB) will be mailed to all property owners and residents within 300 feet of the project site and posted at least 14 days before the public hearing.  For more detailed information on the ZAB process see the "Guide to the Zoning Adjustments Board."

If the project is located in a non-residential zoning district, referral to and recommendation from the Design Review Committee is required prior to ZAB consideration.

If the Use Permit also involves the alteration or demolition of an initiated or designated landmark, an Alteration Permit application must be submitted and separately reviewed by the Landmarks Preservation Commission. Staff will coordinate review to ensure that necessary information is available for all decision-makers.

Following the ZAB decision, staff will mail a Notice of Decision, which starts a 14-day appeal period.  If appealed, City Council consideration is generally scheduled within two or three months.  The City Council has the following options:

  • Affirm ZAB action, or

  • Remand to ZAB for reconsideration, or

  • Set for public hearing at City Council.

The City Council will receive the entire record for the project.  Additional written information may be submitted and will be provided to the Council, however, public testimony is not taken at the meeting when the City Council decides between these options.  A Use Permit is distributed after final Council action.

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