Local Jurisdictions

Does City Or County Approve Your Project?

One of the first steps in an entitlement project is to make the determination as to which local jurisdiction will review and hopefully approve your project – City or County?  In some cases, you may have no choice because the property location dictates one or the other.  But in other cases, the location may give you a choice between the City or County, of which you will need to consider the benefits of each local jurisdiction.

One of first steps to take is to get a copy of the City boundary map, which can often be found online.  If your property is within the city boundaries, you will likely have no choice but to process the entitlements through that local city government.  Even if the online map seems to clearly indicate your property is within city boundaries, it is probably not a bad idea to make a trip to City Hall and confirm what you are seeing online.  You would generally go to the Planning Department counter and they can give you the information quickly.

But what if you are in an unincorporated County location?  You may have the choice of City or County based on a couple of factors.  Your property may be in a county area that is designated to be in the “sphere of influence” of a specific city.  In that case, you would probably want to analyze whether the City or County has more economically favorable zoning, the difficulty of the process in each, and where the likelihood of approval is strongest.  A similar case would be where your property abuts the city boundary but is still in unincorporated County jurisdiction.  In either of these cases, a choice to process your entitlements through the City would require a post-approval annexation process.  In essence, the City is approving your project “subject” to annexation approval.  If your property is not within a sphere of influence nor does it abut the city boundary, you are most likely looking at a process through the County government.

In most cases, I have seen developers prefer the City because the process can be a bit more streamlined and the zoning standards are more favorable.  But if a particular city is anti-development, then the County might be the local jurisdiction of choice.  Expert consultants can be very helpful in assessing the choice – if you should have one.

We welcome you to share your comments, experiences, and questions with us below.

John Kaye has over 30 years experience within the land development and homebuilding industries, having held senior management positions with The Irvine Company, Koll Real Estate Group, and Brookfield Homes. As a developer, John has overseen the land acquisition, entitlements, and development of master planned communities, residential tracts, urban infill sites, and land assemblages. His experience and skill sets include land acquisition, land brokerage, project management, market analysis, finance, and strategic planning.

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