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FASTER PLANNING & BUILDING APPROVALS

The City offers many streamlined processes beginning with planning entitlements leading to the issuance of building permits. After reviewing this section do not forget to review the help me reduce the cost of housing development page to find out how to save costs for your project.
See the list below to understand what each incentive offers.

GETTING YOUR PROJECT APPROVED FASTER

The City of Sacramento typically reviews and approves projects at a lower level of review than many jurisdictions, primarily at an administrative (ministerial), staff, or director level with minimal review and approval times. Multi-unit dwelling housing development projects (three or more dwelling units) are permitted by-right in most commercial zoning districts throughout the city. The fastest approval time is typically through a staff or a ministerial approval process.

Types of Review

A housing development project applicant in some cases may choose to have a project reviewed under a discretionary review process or under a ministerial review process.

A discretionary review process means that project approval requires the decision maker to exercise judgment or deliberation in the approval or disapproval of the project. The review may be by staff, a director, the Planning and Design Commission, or the City Council, depending on the required planning entitlements.

A ministerial review process only requires staff to determine whether there is conformity with applicable design standards, development standards, land use regulations, and other statutes, ordinances, and regulations. See "Ministerial Approval of Infill Housing" below for details.

Ministerial Approval of Infill Housing

Ministerial permits eliminate the uncertainty of the planning entitlement process by using a checklist instead of a discretionary review process, which saves time and money. The two permits are only available for infill sites for projects that meet existing objective development and design review standards. A density bonus request can be combined with a ministerial permit to allow deviations from development and design review standards and/or to add more housing units than is currently allowed beyond maximum density requirements and/or beyond the 200-unit limit for the City of Sacramento ministerial permit. See the help me build more housing units or tailor my project to my site page for details.

“Infill” means development on, or reuse of, a site that has been previously developed, or development on a vacant site, where at least 75% of the perimeter of the site adjoins, or is separated only by an improved public right-of-way from, parcels that are developed with existing uses. If your project is an infill project that meets objective development and design standards, then it will be approved and cannot be appealed.

The City of Sacramento offers two types of ministerial permits for housing development projects:

State of California SB 35 (2017): Senate Bill 35 requires a ministerial approval process option for projects with two or more units. Per state law, projects with 2 to 10 units do not have an affordability requirement or additional prevailing wage requirements. Projects with 11 or more units are required to include at least 10% of all units as regulated affordable units and prevailing wages are also required. 2 to 150-unit projects are required to be approved within 60 days. Projects with more than 150-unit projects are required to be approved within 90 days. Note that SB 35 requires a preliminary application and consultation with Native American Tribes prior to applying. See the SB 35 Ministerial Housing Application CDD-0427.

City of Sacramento Ministerial Permit: Unlike SB 35, the City of Sacramento’s ministerial application process does not have affordability or additional prevailing wage requirements. Projects with 2 to 200 units are eligible for this application process. Unlike SB 35, the City ministerial permit is not eligible for use in historic districts or Planned Unit Developments (PUDs). The City’s goal is to approve projects in 60 days (2 to 150 units) or 90 days (151-200 units), but unlike SB 35, projects are not deemed approved by these deadlines. See the City of Sacramento Ministerial Housing Application CDD-0428.

Summary Table Of Review Types

Discretionary versus Ministerial Review
The table below provides a high-level summary of the different options for housing development projects.

Ministerial (City)

  • Review Type: Administrative
  • Approval Time: 2-3 months
  • Affordability Requirement: No
  • Public Hearing: No
  • Additional CEQA: No
  • Housing Units: 2-200
  • Appealable: No

Ministerial (State)

  • Review Type: Administrative
  • Approval Time: 2-3 months
  • Affordability Requirement: Yes
  • Public Hearing: No
  • Additional CEQA: No
  • Housing Units: 2+
  • Appealable: No

Staff

  • Review Type: Discretionary
  • Approval Time: 4-6 weeks (if no routing)
  • Affordability Requirement: No
  • Public Hearing: No
  • Additional CEQA: Yes
  • Housing Units: Any
  • Appealable: No

Director

  • Review Type: Discretionary
  • Approval Time: 3-4 months
  • Affordability Requirement: No
  • Public Hearing: Yes
  • Additional CEQA: Yes
  • Housing Units: Any
  • Appealable: Yes

Planning and Design Commission

  • Review Type: Discretionary
  • Approval Time: 4-6 months
  • Affordability Requirement: No
  • Public Hearing: Yes
  • Additional CEQA: Yes
  • Housing Units: Any
  • Appealable: Yes

The City of Sacramento offers an application for discretionary projects. See the Planning Entitlement Application CDD-0063.

How do I know if my discretionary project will be reviewed at the staff, director, commission, or city council level?

Permitted uses (also referred to as “by-right” uses) listed in the City’s zoning code will always be reviewed at an administrative or staff level unless an applicant is eligible for and chooses to apply under a ministerial review process. Uses listed as conditional uses in the zoning code will require approval by either the Director, the Planning and Design Commission, or City Council.

Any proposed legislative changes must be approved by the City Council and are listed below.

Request

  • General plan or specific plan land use designation amendment
  • Creating a Planned Unit Development (PUD), schematic plan, or guidelines
  • Amending a PUD schematic plan designation
  • Amending the text of a PUD guideline
  • Rezone
  • Pre-zone of a parcel not currently within the city limits

Requests not required to be heard by the City Council or are not ministerial projects are subject to site plan and design review, which means a review process that ensures that the physical aspects of a development project are consistent with the general plan and applicable specific plan or transit village plan and with all applicable neighborhood specific and city-wide design guidelines and development standards. Site plan and design review is a discretionary permit and is not the automatic right of an applicant. The level of review (staff, director, or commission level) is determined by the director.

Additional Streamlined Processes

  • Building permit and planning entitlement applications are submitted electronically so that applicants do not need to visit the public counter.
  • 25+ housing-unit project: staff reduces review time by 25%
  • Two or more identical buildings: plan review fees are reduced by 50%
  • $1 million+ valuation: project receives an assigned project manager during building permitting process

Fee-Free Pre-Application Meetings

Approximately 95% of applicants choose to meet with the City for a pre-application meeting before submitting a planning application.

Fee-Free Pre-Application Meetings Incentive
The City of Sacramento offers and encourages applicants to request a pre-application meeting for their project before they submit a planning application. The City does not charge a fee for this service. Pre-application meetings provide the opportunity for applicants to meet with multiple City departments at once to discuss a proposed project before the applicant applies. The City is happy to assist applicants to help determine the appropriate planning review process (discretionary versus ministerial) as well as to identify potential critical items that could delay or render a project infeasible. Pre-application meetings help applicants know beforehand how to put together the best planning application, and the meeting saves both the applicant and City staff time in processing an application.