Land Use Decisions – How are they made

Reposted from October of 2009

Oakley’s General Plan is not happenstance. Nor is it something that takes place overnight. Projected to the year 2020 the Plan has many requirements, one of which is the Land Use Element covering many issues. This element’s basic function is to lay out the general pattern of development within the City. It is the foundation for the remaining elements. It details a vision for all buildings (residential, commercial and industrial), roads and public facilities that are currently in place and those to be built in the future. Although all general plan elements are considered equal the land use element is the most visible and most often used. The Circulation and Housing Elements are especially dependent on the Land Use Element.

The Land Use Element is required by California state law, citing California Government Code Section 65302(a): “… a land use element which designates the proposed general distribution and general location and extent of the uses of the land for housing, business, industry, open space, including agriculture, natural resources, recreation, and enjoyment of scenic beauty, education, public buildings and grounds, solid and liquid waste disposal facilities, and other categories of public and private uses of land”.

Further, the State Code stipulates that Land Use Element shall include: “A statement of the standards of population density and building intensity recommended for the various districts and other territory covered by the Plan. The Land Use Element shall also identify areas covered by the Plan, which are subject to flooding and shall be reviewed annually with respect to such areas.

Using text and maps the City is divided into many areas. Each area is assigned a land use designation which includes a use such as:

  • SINGLE FAMILY RESIDENTIAL LOW (SL) – This designation allows for a minimum of 0.8 dwelling units and a maximum of 2.3 dwelling units per gross acre (a net acre includes all land area used exclusively for residential purposes, and excludes streets, highways and all public right-of-way). Sites generally range from approximately 14,000 square feet to 1 acre in size. Population density in this land use designation generally ranges from 3 to 8 persons per acre.
  • COMMERCIAL (CO) and a building intensity range. For example: .1.0 floor area ratio (floor area ratio is calculated by dividing building square footage by the lot size. If you have a 500 square foot building on a 1000 square foot lot you have a floor area ratio of .5. If you add a second story the building square footage is increased to a 1000 and the floor area ration is now 1.) .
  • SINGLE FAMILY RESIDENTIAL HIGH (SH) – This designation allows a minimum of 3.8 and a maximum of 5.5 units per gross acre. Parcel sizes range from approximately 6,000 to 8,600 square feet. Population density would normally range between 12 to 18 persons per acre.
  • MULTI-FAMILY RESIDENTIAL HIGH (MH) – This designation allows a minimum of 9.6 dwelling units and a maximum of 16.7 dwelling units per gross acre. Expected population density would normally range between 20 to 36 persons per acre.
  • BUSINESS PARK (BP) – Maximum Site Coverage: 50 percent , Maximum Building Height: 50 feet , Maximum Floor Area Ratio (FAR): 2.0, Average Employees per Gross Acre: 87

The major intent of the Land Use Element is to take these disparate designations and create an appropriate mix of uses. Local commercial or shopping centers may be compatible with residential uses. Light industrial areas may act as a buffer to heavy industrial areas. Transitioning from one land use to another, i.e. Single Family High to Single Family Low, is a critical function of the element.

Perhaps the most used part of the Land Use Element is the map. The map is a pictorial representation of the land use designations described in the Land Use Element. It provides a general view of the types of development that will be permitted or encouraged in a particular area. City residents can easily identify places of interest on the map and can determine which types of land uses apply to surrounding areas. It will not show what will be built on a specific parcel.

The land use map will identify general areas where future development may occur and should not be confused with a zoning map. Zoning maps apply precise boundaries, detailed regulations, legal effects and must comply with the land use designation.

Land Use Map

Oakley’s original General Plan was adopted by the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors in 1973. Land use designations were determined by the existing property owners and the county at this time. Although the General Plan can be amended, changing the land use designation against the will of the property owner will generally initiate litigation.

Any changes to the General Plan must be carefully considered. If the City were to initiate a change that would affect the value of the property, such as “down zoning” a piece of property by amending the General Plan designation to provide a lower density of development or reverting to lower-intensity uses, it would more than likely result in a “taking”.

A “taking” can occur as a physical taking, such as the use of eminent domain to build roads, or as a “regulatory taking” which is considered to be an uncompensated taking of private property occurring through government regulation.

Everyone who buys property, whether it’s our primary home or for future development, has an expectation of a return on our investment. If we, as a City, were to pass a regulation or ordinance that would substantially reduce the value of that investment the City could be required to pay damages, which could include the value of the property and the lost profit when the developer did not meet his investment expectations.

About Kevin

Councilmember - City of Oakley, Manager of Mainframe Operations and Optimization – USS-POSCO INDUSTRIES, Co-Founder and Board Member - Friends of Oakley A Community Foundation, Commissioner - Contra Costa Transportation Authority, Board Member - Tri Delta Transit, Transplan, San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority and RD 2137, Advisory Board – Opportunity Junction
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1 Response to Land Use Decisions – How are they made

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