General Plans

General Plan Land Use vs Zoning?

“What is the zoning?” seems to be one of the first questions heard when someone is investigating a property’s potential.  But maybe the more important question to ask is the land use designation within the City’s General Plan.  In many cases, the zoning has never been brought current to be consistent with the General Plan and is not reflective of the City’s envisioned use for the property.

Once on a property in Los Angeles, the current zoning was an agriculture-based use that went back decades, and essentially allowed one home for every five acres.  But upon looking at the General Plan land use designation for the specific parcel, multiple zoning classifications were designated that allowed residential uses between 5 to 10 units per acre.  During the entitlement process, a zone change application was filed that brought the zoning current and consistent with the General Plan.  This is typical and not very controversial.

What tends to be more controversial is the application for a General Plan Amendment, where you request a land use designation and zoning classification that is currently not within the General Plan for your property.  Particularly if the General Plan was updated in the past couple of years, and unless you have a strong case for the amendment, the City can be resistant to altering their current vision.  If the General Plan has not been updated in the past 20 years, then maybe you can build a case.  Just keep in mind that politics can play a key role.

I think most seasoned entitlement pros will usually go first to the General Plan and seek out the land use designation.  Most of the cities’ General Plans can be found online, with a color-coded map that shows land use designations for the entire city.  And the General Plan should also describe the zoning classifications that fall within that land use, although you might need to look elsewhere to find the zoning standards.  Know that navigating these online systems can vary, but you should be able find this info online.  And if you are getting serious about a property, I would think it is worth a trip to City Hall and the Planning counter, to make sure you have it right.

We welcome all your comments and questions 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.

    1 Comment

  1. Jay Petrek
    May 9, 2019

    Nice article. My only suggestion, as a former City Planning Director and current Assistant City Manager, is that if you are getting serious about a property the FIRST stop should be to City Hall and the Planning Department Counter to get the General Plan and zoning information!

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