California State Law requires that all cities and counties have comprehensive general plans that provide a policy statement and guide for the development and conservation of the community. All general plans are required to consist of the following elements: land use, circulation, housing, conservation, open space, noise, and safety. Walnut Creek's General Plan includes additional elements and sub-elements.
Although the City will periodically review and update its General Plan, there will occasionally arise a need or desire to change some specific portion of the Plan such as the land use designation for a particular area. In accordance with State Law, Walnut Creek can change each element of its General Plan only four times during the year. These four times do not have fixed dates, but often specific changes will be considered at one time as one amendment.
No portion of the General Plan should be amended without reviewing the entire General Plan. Ordinarily, piecemeal amendments to the General Plan should not occur unless related conditions have changed since the last adoption of the Comprehensive General Plan or circumstances unforeseen at the time of the adoption of the Comprehensive General Plan become known. Changes in the General Plan usually mean amended goals or objectives in development policies of the City. The General Plan represents one of the most important policy statements of the City. Proposed changes are reviewed very carefully by the Planning Commission and City Council. Applications for amendments should only be made when there are compelling reasons for a change in the Plan.
HOW DO GENERAL PLAN AMENDMENTS GET APPROVED?
1. Project Considerations
You should carefully review the present General Plan designation for the location or area affected. A proposed land use change should be compatible with the surrounding uses and provide a logical progression for the City's development. In addition, you are advised to meet in advance with area residents and property owners, and other parties who may be affected, to review proposed changes. Local utilities and other special agencies should also be contacted regarding requirements for future development in the area, if necessary.
2. Review by Staff
Prior to submitting an application, an appointment should be made with the Planning staff to discuss the feasibility of the request, the history of similar proposals, the intent of City policy, and possible environmental concerns. In addition, staff can review with you the required data and procedures to be followed throughout the process.
3. Filing the Application
You should submit the completed application, initial filing deposit and other required information to the Planning Division of the Community and Economic Development Department (CED). After you submit the project application, the Planning Manager assigns the project to a staff planner who will review the material to make sure all of the required information is provided. The staff planner assigned to your project will be your primary contact and staff liaison throughout the process. The application is then routed to outside agencies and City divisions that will provide input into the project. Within 30 calendar days after the application is submitted, the staff planner assigned to the project will provide a Notice of Application Status to you indicating whether the application is complete for processing or whether additional information is required. The fee for processing an application is determined by the number of hours spent by professional staff on the project at a rate established by the City Council. The actual fee may be more or less than the initial deposit.
4. Preliminary Review by the City Council
Following the initiation of an application for an amendment, the Planning Manager may refer the proposed amendment to the City Council for a preliminary review at a public hearing. Following the hearing, the City Council may either deny the proposed amendment or direct staff to continue to process the proposed amendment. If the City Council directs staff to continue processing the proposed amendment, this direction does not signify support for the proposed amendment.
5. Environmental Review
Nearly all General Plan amendment requests are required to go through environmental review to determine if there will be any environmental impacts as a result of the amendment. Information on timing and sequence of this process is contained in Environmental Review Procedures.
6. Staff Review
Following receipt of a completed application, the assigned planner will study your request by reviewing the General Plan's current policy or land use designation, conducting an investigation of the site, and assessing the need and impact of the proposed change. A written report will be prepared for the Planning Commission which will analyze the requested change and state the staff recommendations. A copy of this report will be sent to you during the week prior to the Planning Commission hearing on the application. If the application consists of proposed development, it will be sent to the Design Review Commission for review prior to Planning Commission Review. The Design Review Commission will submit comments and recommendations to the Planning Commission. Refer to Design Review Guidelines for further details.
7. Planning Commission Review
The Planning Commission is required to hold at least one public hearing on any proposed General Plan change. At least 10 days prior to the meeting, a notice of the public hearing will be advertised in the local newspaper. There are occasions when notice will be mailed to property owners within 300 feet of the project area or be posted in the project vicinity. At the hearing, staff will first present an oral report and recommendation, followed your testimony and then any other interested persons who may wish to comment on the application. A decision will be made by the Planning Commission after evaluating the public testimony, staff report, and environmental information. The recommendation of the Planning Commission will then be forwarded to the City Council.
8. City Council Review
Upon receipt of a Planning Commission recommendation for approval, a City Council public hearing will be scheduled. The same notification provided for the Planning Commission is required for the Council hearing. At its meeting, the Council takes into consideration the public testimony, staff report, and environmental information as well as the recommendation of the Planning Commission. Following receipt of public testimony, the City Council may do one of the following: close the public hearing and make its decision or postpone it to a later date; continue the public hearing to a specific time, date and place; or refer the matter back to the Planning Commission for further evaluation. The decision on approval or denial by the City Council is final.
RELATIONSHIP TO OTHER ACTIONS
Many changes in a General Plan land use designation will also require a change in the City's Zoning Ordinance, requiring a rezoning application. Procedures for a rezoning or planned development rezoning will be provided to you early in the process, if required. In most cases, the rezoning application and the development plan review can be processed concurrently with a General Plan change.
HOW LONG WILL THE PROCESS TAKE?
The estimated time for processing General Plan amendments will vary depending upon the complexity and magnitude of the proposal and staff workload at the time, but is generally estimated as follows:
From completed application to PC review:
- Negative Declarations: 16-20 weeks
- Environmental Impact Report/Analysis: 28-36 weeks
From PC review to City Council action: 8 weeks
Total Time: 24-44 weeks
NOTE: General Plan amendment applications with proposed projects will be sent to the Design Review Commission prior to Planning Commission Review. This can be done while the project is undergoing environmental review.
Complete and sign application forms. Provide an initial deposit according to the current fee and rate schedule. Please make checks payable to the City of Walnut Creek. Sign and submit a Statement of Understanding acknowledging the City's billing structure. For land use changes without a proposed project, provide a site plan, no larger than 24" x 36" (when appropriate, 15 copies folded to approximately 9" x 11") and include property dimensions and size. For land use changes with proposed development, submit the data required for applications sent to the Design Review Commission (see Design Review Procedures). Submit the required data for applications submitted to the Community Development Department consistent with Section 10-2.4.203 of the Walnut Creek Municipal Code. These requirements are available with the General Plan amendment application. Provide site photographs showing topography, vegetation and landscaping, and existing and adjacent structures.
REVIEW SITE HISTORY
A. Review Site History
Research the site history and obtain aerial photographs from the City. Information regarding past applications on any property which may provide valuable information is available either through the Planning Division or Building Division.
B. Comply with all Zoning Requirements
Review the Zoning Ordinance provisions that pertain to the site. Do not rely solely on oral information given at the counter. Ask for copies of the code provisions and clarification for those items you do not understand.
C. Review the General Plan
Obtain copies of General Plan provisions that pertain to the site. Examine the Floor Area Ratio Map, the Height Map, the Setback Map and the Land Use Descriptions.
D. Use Quality Design Professionals
Use the highest quality design professionals, as this will be the single most important aspect of your project. Architects, engineers and consultants are trained in the development field. The quality of the plans and project presentation reflect on the quality of the application.
E. Respect the Character of the Area
Give thoughtful consideration to the life of the project, the proposed use and its contributions to the community. Remember, a proposed development does not stop at the property lines.
F. Maintain Public Contact
Obtain a copy of the mailing list for your project's public hearing and prepare your own correspondence. You may wish to meet with neighboring property owners to discuss your proposal prior to filing the application.
G. Follow up with Outside Agencies
Initiate direct contact with key people from outside agencies where your project is referred. Many times you can answer questions or provide additional information that will reduce the time it takes to review your project.