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Development Review

Permit Processing

One of the chief responsibilities of the Planning Division is the processing of land development applications. Its central focus is to implement the General Plan and other adopted City Council policies through the review of the various development applications. Each year, staff processes approximately 1,000 permit applications. The purpose of the major categories of permits is described below.


While the General Plan sets the broad parameters for growth and establishes future land use patterns, zoning is the way in which we establish the use and development standards of property. Since zoning property is a legislative act, it is under the authority of the City Council.

The role of the Division is to advise the San José Planning Commission and the City Council on zoning matters. Frequently, proposals for rezoning involve projects that are complex or require certain, specific land use controls to ensure compatible development. In these cases a Planned Development (PD) zoning is required. Each PD zoning district is separate and unique. This allows the zoning to be fine-tuned to the particular characteristics of each neighborhood.

Property is normally rezoned upon petition to the department by private property owners. Occasionally, the City Council or Planning Director will initiate a rezoning of property, especially where there is local opposition due to a zoning district that is out of context with the neighborhood land use pattern and the General Plan.

Planned Development Permits

Before a Planned Development zoning can be utilized and before a building permit can be issued, a Planned Development Permit must be issued. The Planned Development Permit covers the site planning, building design, landscaping, circulation, signs, and other development aspects. These permits are issued by the Director of Planning, Building, and Code Enforcement.

Tentative Maps

Applications for Tentative Maps and related subdivision requests are filed with the Planning Division. Tentative Map applications are often processed in conjunction with other Development Permits. These permits are issued by the Director of Planning, Building, and Code Enforcement. Final Maps and Parcel Maps are processed by the Department of Public Works.

Site Development Permits

Site Development Permits are the land development permits that are issued for all zoning districts other than Planned Development. The various design policies set forth for commercial, industrial, and residential development are used in the development review process to assure the highest quality of architecture, site design, and landscaping to which San José residents have become accustomed. These permits are issued by the Director of Planning, Building, and Code Enforcement.

Conditional Use Permits

Conditional Use Permits are required for uses that the City Council has determined may cause significant impacts on the community. Examples of conditional uses include emergency shelters, drive-up businesses, churches, wrecking yards, and nightclubs. The design and operation of these uses are subject to conditions that ensure their compatibility with neighboring development. Parking, building size, appearance, and hours of operation are typical conditions. Conditional Use Permits are approved by the Planning Commission and may be appealed to the City Council.


Annexation is the process by which unincorporated land is made a part of the City. Land may be annexed to the City if it is inside the Urban Service Area and within 300 feet of existing City boundaries as measured along a public right-of-way. The Urban Service Area, as designated in the General Plan, is an area where services and facilities provided by the City and other public agencies are generally available. Most annexations to San José occurred during the 1960s and 1970s, whereas today, annexation generally involves infill properties where new development or redevelopment is proposed.

Environmental Review

All zoning and land use permit approvals in the city require environmental clearance under the City's environmental review ordinance which implements the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Public projects undertaken by the City must also have environmental clearance prior to construction. The majority of land use approvals are granted Negative Declarations, which indicate there is no significant adverse environmental impact from a particular project. Small-scale projects such as construction of a new single family house are often exempt from further review. Large scale projects, or projects proposed in sensitive habitats may need the more extensive review process through preparation of an Environmental Impact Report (EIR).

Preliminary Review

Preliminary Review is a low cost service provided by planning staff to respond to a project concept or proposal prior to a formal application. Preliminary Review is intended to be a time saving process to benefit both the applicant and the City. While the review of a project on a preliminary basis is not required before a formal application is submitted, it is strongly recommended for all major zoning and permit applications.