The Entitlement Process

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Why Does It Take So Long?

Entitlements are essentially the government approvals for proposed projects, with these approvals being voted on by the political bodies in government – typically the planning commission or city council.  Detailed construction drawings and building permits are issued later, with the process administered by the city staff departments.  Typically, the documents being presented for entitlements are referred to as the preliminary engineering, with the idea that the more expensive detailed engineering will commence only after you know that these political bodies have approved your project.

In some regions and specific local jurisdictions, the entitlement process can go very quickly.  It is not completely unheard of that you could be getting your approvals six months after commencing the project design.  Here in California, most developers will estimate a 12 to 18-month schedule for entitlements, assuming that the local jurisdiction is fairly pro-development and the project does not come with a lot of controversy and opposition.  And then in some cases, the entitlement schedule might span 3 to 4 years – or longer.

So why does the entitlement process take more than 12 months?  To begin with, the consultants may take 2 – 3 months to prepare the project design and necessary documents that accompany the application to the city.  The city planning department (Planning), which is usually the point of contact for entitlements, may take the first 30 days just to review your application and documents.  Very often Planning will deem your application incomplete and request additional information.  Another 2 weeks go by as you gather the information and provide it to Planning to complete the application.

Next, Planning distributes your project for review to various other city departments, such as Engineering, Traffic, Fire, Police, Utilities, and so forth.  Comments are provided through Planning back to the developer, which is usually in the form of requested revisions or need for more information.  This process can go on for 3 to 4 months quite easily, and now you are 8 to 9 months into the project from the day you started project design.

The review by Planning and these other departments is also known as “staff review”.  Depending on the jurisdiction and project complexity, this staff review can tend to be the longest part of the process.  Once the staff review is complete, Planning will write a staff report that summarizes their review, findings, and recommendations – with this report being presented to the planning commission and city council.  It may take 6 to 8 weeks to complete this staff report and put on the next planning commission agenda.  And then city council may vote on the project 2 to 4 weeks later.  Now you have another 3 months just to get through this political process.

Add another month for an appeals period, and the schedule has now reached 12 months plus.  If more hiccups along the way, the schedule can get to 18 months before you know it.

As always, please share your comments 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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