Design review checklists approved

Certain building projects subject to design review standards in eight communities – including Bonsall, Fallbrook, and the Interstate 15 Design Review Corridor – can now be approved by compliance with a design review checklist rather than through the discretionary site plan process.

A 5-0 San Diego County Board of Supervisors vote Oct. 23 approved the ordinance to allow project approval by checklist compliance rather than site plan while establishing design review checklists for each of the eight communities. The supervisors also established a $1,278 processing fee for the design review checklist procedure; the processing cost for a typical site plan permit is between $10,000 and $15,000. The processing time for a typical site plan permit is between one and two years; projects meeting checklist criteria would have an estimated processing time of one to three months.

The supervisors’ action also found that the changes were categorically exempt from California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review. The change from discretionary to ministerial also means that the architectural features are no longer subject to CEQA review should all other conditions of a ministerial permit be met.

“I am encouraged that we are continuing what was started with the Red Tape Reduction Task Force,” said Supervisor Bill Horn. “By moving more applications from the discretionary to the ministerial process, we are saving San Diegans months of planning and thousands of dollars.”

The county’s Red Tape Reduction Task Force was created in April 2011 with the purpose of examining the land development permitting process and identifying potential operational improvements. The task force issued 35 recommendations, and in February 2012 the county supervisors directed county staff to implement the recommendation to shift more project decisions from discretionary to ministerial actions.

Department of Planning and Development Services (PDS) was the Department of Planning and Land Use in 2011 when DPLU staff first held stakeholder meetings. Potential checklists were sent to each of the nine community advisory groups and were distributed for public review in October 2012. Revised drafts were distributed in April 2013. On Aug. 16, the county’s Planning Commission voted 6-0, with John Riess absent, to recommend the checklists. County staff did not receive any comments in opposition from any affected planning groups or design review boards.

The checklist is intended to simplify and streamline the design review process for properties with a “B” community design review designator and to reduce project processing costs as well as processing time. The checklist allows for an exemption to a discretionary site plan permit for applicants of commercial, industrial, and multi-family residential projects which meet the design criteria.

Nine planning areas in unincorporated San Diego County have community design guidelines: Alpine, Bonsall, Fallbrook, the I-15 Design Corridor, Lakeside, Ramona, Spring Valley, Sweetwater, and Valley Center. The guidelines ensure that projects meet community architecture, landscape design, signage, lighting, and other standards. The site plan process includes a recommendation from the appropriate community planning group, sponsor group, or design review board.

The new standards have a specific checklist for each community (the Ramona design review checklist is being processed concurrently with the Ramona Town Center project and was not included in the Board of Supervisors action) based on adopted design guidelines. Only allowed uses which would require only a building permit and “B” designator approval will be eligible for the checklist. If all checklist standards are met, the director of the county’s PDS will grant an exemption to the site plan permit requirement. The planning group, sponsor group, or design review board will continue to make recommendations.

Projects with biological constraints, code enforcement issues, a “D” design review area designation, or a historical designation will not be eligible for the checklist, nor will projects which require concurrent discretionary permits such as a tentative map or a use permit. Potential on-site constraints will be reviewed by PDS staff when the project is first submitted.

The checklists include both a compliance box and a “see comment sheet” box for each item along with a comment sheet and a signature page. The Bonsall design review checklist consists of 66 items, although not all are applicable to a specific type of use. Six site layout design standards cover building location, building orientation, and parking lot location, access, and connections. Nineteen architectural design standards address building form and massing, shade and shadow, multi-building projects, elevations, building facade materials, roof forms, fences, and walls. Eleven landscape design standards focus on plant selection guide and design, road edges, preservation of significant trees, and perimeter and parking lot landscaping. Ten signage design standards ensure compliance with general design criteria, permitted and prohibited sign types, and commercial and multi-family residential development. Four lighting design standards address shielding and height limits. Six building equipment and services standards focus on screening and compatibility of solar panels. Nine multi-family residential development standards include open space and parking criteria.

The Fallbrook design checklist has 96 items. Thirteen site layout design standards cover building location, building orientation, and parking lot location, access and connections. The 24 architectural design standards address building form and massing, multi-building projects, elevations and building materials, roof forms, fences, and walls. The 19 landscape design standards address plant selection guide and design, preservation of significant trees, and perimeter and parking lot landscaping. The 14 signage design standards provide compliance with general design criteria, permitted and prohibited sign types, commercial and industrial development, multi-family residential development, preventing glare and preserving dark skies, and size, color, and materials. Eight building equipment and services criteria focus on screening, delivery and service vehicle location, and compatibility of solar panels. Seven items address multi-family residential design standards and 11 criteria cover industrial design standards.

There are 36 items on the proposed I-15 corridor design review checklist. The 18 site layout design standards cover building location, building orientation, parking and circulation, public utilities, and steep slopes and natural features. The 11 architectural design standards include building configuration, shade and shadow, colors for primary building forms, signage, and visibility from Interstate 15. The nine landscape design standards address landscaping, pedestrian pathways, and screening of satellite dishes and parking or service areas.

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