Memo to Accompany Report to Board of Supervisors on "Viewshed and Greenbelt Areas," Work Program Item #10-19 of Planning Office Work Program

BOS Agenda Date :April 19,2005

bounty of Santa Clara
Environmental Resources Agency
Planning and Development

PLNO104 1905

Prepared by: Bill Shoe
Principal Planner

April 19,2005


Board of Supervisors


Michael Lopez
Interim Planning Director

Report to Board of Supervisors on Viewshed and Greenbelt Areas," Work

Program Item #10-19 of Planning Office Work Program


1 . Accept the attached "Santa Clara County Viewshed Analysis and Report, April 5, 2005

(Viewshed Report) and consider preliminary recommendations.
2. Provide direction regarding preferred options for implementing recommendations,
including development of policy, ordinances, guidelines, and related matters.


No impact to County General Fund as a result of accepting this report. Future costs of
implementing Board directions could include suggested additional staffing, costs associated
Board of Supervisors: Donald F, Gage, Blanca Alvarado, Pete McHugh, Jlrn Beall, Liz Kniss
County- E:«:ecutive: Peter Kutras Jr.


BOS Agenda Date :April 19, 2009

with public outreach, noticing, mailings, and changes to future application review processes.

Not applicable.

1. The Viewshed Report was produced by the County Planning Office in response to the
direction of the Board of Supervisors, pursuant to Work Plan item #10-19, Viewshed and
Greenbelt Study.

2. The Viewshed Report and its preliminary recommendations were requested by the Board ol

Supervisors in a referral ol February 15, 2005, to be presented lor the Apiil 19, 2005 Boaid ol
Supervisors meeting. Per the Board's request, the report contains information regarding other
jurisdictions’ approaches and ordinances, a review of existing County regulatory processes
and tools, and information regarding a process for developing and enacting additional
viewshed protection measures, including possible new ordinances, standards, and guidelines,
following consideration of this report.

3. The Viewshed Report contains an overview of County General Plan goals, strategies and
policies pertaining to open space preservation generally, and viewshed preservation

specifically. The Open Space "Action Program" of the County General Plan serves as the
framework for the preliminary recommendations of this study related to viewshed protection
4. The Viewshed Report contains recommendations related to the aforementioned strategies ol
the Action Program, with particular focus on single-site development issues. A summary ol

the report recommendations is contained within the Background portion of this transmittal,
which serves as an executive summary of the Viewshed Report.

5. Following the Board's consideration of the Viewshed Report and related inlormation, with

further direction to staff regarding preliminary recommendations, staff will continue to
conduct research and develop implementing mechanisms related to each strategy ol the Open

Space Action Program, including draft ordinances, procedures, and guidelines.

Board of Supervisors: Donald F. Gage, Bianca .Alvarado, Pete McHugh,.Jim Beall, Liz Kniss
County’ Executive: Peter Kutras Jr.


BOS Agenda Date :April 19, 2005


A. Overview of Work Plan Item for Viewshed Issues

'I'his Viewshed Report and related attachments summarizes the work of the Planning Ollice m

to the Work Plan Item #10-19,"Viewsheds and Greenbelt Areas.” It presents

preliminary recommendations and options for the Board's consideration lor lurthering the
goals of the General Plan regarding viewshed protection. It also responds to the referral of

10, 2005, considered at the Board's March 1, 2005 meeting, which required that a

l eporl be prepared and presented by the Board's April 19, 2005 meeting date,

■fhe work done to date over several years represents the most comprehensive review of

General Plan implementation on the subject of viewshed and open space preservation in
rcccnl years, The County's most comprehensive planning study of open space preservation
and planning techniques was the 1987 report of the Open Space Preservation 2020 Task
borcc. 7'hat study resulted in the formation of the Santa Clara County Open Space Authoiity,
amona other recommendations.

Viewshed is a term used to describe the hillsides generally visible from a populated area. In

Santa Clara County, the term applies to the scenic mountainous lands generally visible from
)sl pt)rlions of the urbanized areas of the County. A major component ol this work plan item
the viewshed mapping analysis described in Part 3 ol the attached report. The mapping


analysis identifies viewshed lands according to relative visibility from the valley floor, and
will serve as the basis for future mapping analyses and decision-making.

The General Plan states that preserving the scenic resources and beauty of the natural
envir onment of the County contributes greatly to the quality of life of a growing metropolitan

region and preserving its sense of place. The purpose of County strategies and policies loi
preserving open space and protecting viewsheds is to maintain the natural appearance ol the

hillside lands outside cities, as much as possible. The General Plan recognizes that much

development has occurred in some portions of the viewshed in the past, and that there are
sizes of the General Plan and Zoning
many existing lots smaller than the current minimum lot
Ordinance. Furthermore, it must be understood that no protection program will prevent all

I'uturc development that may occur in accordance with the General Plan, Zoning Ordinance,
and other development regulations. However, particularly where new single—site development
is concerned, the Board has expressed a strong desire to improve existing regulations,
establish clearer standards for public awareness, and reduce visual and environmental impacts

(#' new development.

Board of Supatvisors; Donald F. Gage, Blanca .Alvarado, Pete McHugh, .Jirn Beall, Liz Kniss

County' Executive: Peter Kutras Jr.


BOS Agenda Date :April 1 9, 200':.

The overall purpose of Ihe Viewshed Report and work plan item is to address how the County
might improve policies and procedures to protect scenic resources, particularly the viewshed,

in Tight of recent trends and an evaluation of current development procedures. The study also
provides a survey of other jurisdictions' models and approaches to similar issues. The
preliminary recommendations of the report are listed below, organized by the Open Space

element "Action Program" strategies.

B. Summary of Preliminary Recommendations

The Viewshed Report utilizes the framework of the Open Space Action Program to organize
recommendations by each of the five hierarchical strategies of the Action Program.
Strategy #l • Continue Conntvwide Growth Management Policies and ".loint Urban
Development Policies"

1.1. Maintain the County's commitment to the county wide urban development policies that

require urban densities of development and urban land uses to locate within cities and USAs,
not in rural unincorporated lands outside city UvSAs.

1.2.Explore additional means ofjointly retaining and reinforcing these policies with the cities

and LAFCO, through legal agreements or other means.

Strategy #2- Regulate Allowable Uses and Densities of Development [rural areas]
The bulk of the issues and recommendations ol the Viewshed Report fall within the scope ol
this second strategy of the Action Program.

2.1. Allowable Use Regulations: Staff recommends no additional studies or changes to the
allowable uses of the A, AR, HS, or RR rural base zoning districts as part of the viewshed


2.2. Allowable Densities and Minimum Lot Sizes (Subdivision): Maintain current allowable

densities of development and minimum lot sizes of the Hillside, Ranchlands, Rural
Residential, and Agriculture Land Use designations and accompanying HS, AR, RR, and A

zoning districts.

2.3. Subdivision Application Review for Viewshed Impacts: Require and implement visual
impact analysis through use of the County Planning Office CIS of any application for
subdivision at the pre-application stage, to evaluate and inform prospective applicants ol

viewshed issues that may affect the location of development and approval of a subdivision.
For formal subdivision applications within areas identified as viewshed lands, the County may

require such additional studies, visual simulations, or other submittals necessary to fully
Board of Supervisors: Donald F. Gage, Blanca Alvarado, Pete McHugh,Jim Beall, Liz Kniss
Count/ Executive: Peter Kutras Jr.

BOS Agenda Date :April 19, 2005

evaluate visual impacts of a tentative map and resulting development, ineluding possible
alternatives to reduce visual impaet, or as a basis for potentially reduced density to avoid or
mitigate significant visual impacts.

2.4 Revise Scenic Resources policies of the General Plan to include policy statements
rellectina the intent of recommendation 2.3, above.

Single-Site Residential Development

Under Strategy 2, the General Plan eontains an implementation recommendation to identify

areas of sensitivity to visual impacts of development and apply design review requiiements to

development within those areas, i.e., rezone to apply the "-d” eombining district (not intended
to apply to Ranchlands areas east of Hwy. 101 not subjeet to single building site approval).
This implementation recommendation from 1994 relleeted the prevailing use ol Design
Review to regulate hillside development for visual impacts.

ITeliminary recommendations are based on the following criteria;
a. Relative effectiveness and feasibility,

o. Consistency with General Plan goals, policies, and strategies,

c. I'he need for simplicity over complexity, wherever possible, avoiding the potential

proliferation of differing standards, procedures, or combining zoning districts for sub-areas of

the County and/or city Spheres of Influence,

d. 'fhe cost versus benefit of enactment and implementation,

e. Need for some degree of flexibility to address parcel-specific circumstances and allow
development that is reasonably consistent with County requirements,
f. Use of process incentives as well as regulation to achieve desired outcomes.

2.5. Augment the County's General Plan policies for scenic resources protection specifically
with regard to mitigating visual and environmental impacts of single—site development.

Develop policies to correlate with the direction of the Board for single-site procedures and


2.6 Develop an augmented form of design review for designated viewshed areas to address the
key aspects of development that have potential for significant visual impacts;

Board of Supervisors: Donald F. Gage, Blanca Alvarado, Pete McHugh,Jirn Beall, LizKniss
County' Executive: Peter Kutras Jr.


BOy Agenda Date :Apnl 1 9, i’Ciij':,

a. Silins/location: evaluation of feasible alternatives to minimize visibility and avoid
unnecessary grading/terrain alteration,

b. Size, height, mass, and number of stories facing valley noor; used in conjunction with
siting review, or to particularly mitigate impacts of development on sites lacking alternative
building sites,

c. Color or LRV of fapade and roofing: require use of colors and LRV that more closely
approximate natural landscape hues/intensity.

d. Landscaping and tree preservation: require where feasible, to lessen contrast with hillsides,
and provide partial screening. Develop better guidelines and ordinance requirements based on
other jurisdictions' models.


Access road placement, the height/ landscaping of retaining walls, and related subject


2.7 For designated viewshed areas subject to design review, create procedural and othcr

incentives to achieve conformity with policies, standards, and guidelines for reducing visual
and environmental impact. Specifically, create a tiered review process, similar to othcr

jurisdictions, with different levels of review, depending on the characteristics of proposed


a. Tier 1 Review would apply to development projects for which the placement, size, and

overall design would have minimal levels of visual impact based on pre-established criteria or

thresholds. It would entail the least review time, lowest fees, and administrative level review.

Exemptions might be available for certain projects, such as additions, or proposed siting not
visible from the valley floor,

b. Tier 2 Review would apply to development projects not eligible for Tier 1 review. It would

apply to projects for which a defined characteristic, such as the size of the structure, grading
amounts, degree of visibility or prominence, severity of slopes, or other criteria, exceeds
pre-established criteria. Similar to Building Site Approval on slopes of 30% or more, it would
would entail:

i. additional submittal requirements,
ii. an environmental assessment under CEQA, depending on criteria,
111. a minimum.

not a fixed application fee, and

iv. administrative level review or higher,

c. Tier 3 Review would be an optional third level of review. It could apply to development

projects which are determined to have such major, significant unavoidable visual impacts, that
Board of Supervisors: Donald F. Gage, Blanca .Alvarado, Pete McHugh, Jirn Beall, Liz Kniss
County’ Executive: Peter Kutras Jr.


BOy Agenda Date :Apt1l 1 9, 2005

pre-established standards cannot mitigate (extreme size and/or placement in the most visually
prominent location, or other similar factors). Planning Commission review would be required.
Alternatively, the Board could consider setting a universal maximum house size or other

standards to address such projects and reduce the number of levels of review.

2.8. Develop the criteria or thresholds for house size, grading and terrain alteration, slope
factors, height and LRV, and any other relevant aspect of development, to be adopted as part
of an ordinance, to use for each Tier level of review.

2.9 Make greater use of the pre-application process to evaluate prospective development

applications, advise applicants of conformity with ordinances, standards, or guidelines, and to
verify on a site-specific basis the relative visibility of the parcel and development site

(probably most appropriate for Tier 2 level review).

2.10 In non-viewshed areas, review and augment the existing single Building Site Approval
criteria and
review process for development on slopes of 30% or more. Establish necessary

findings for approval and as a basis for conditions or consideration of denial. For lots already
granted approved building site status, augment the Grading Ordinance with ciiteiia, bettei

miidelines, and findings to provide improved understanding of County expectations, review
materials to
criteria, and minimize subjectivity. For example, consider better use of natural
blend cuts and fills, design examples to encourage minimal grading, better use of landscaping
and plantings for retaining walls, and similar measures.

2.1 1 Ridgeline/Creslline development issues. Develop optional means of avoiding or
minimizimz impacts of development on ridgelines, consistent with existing County policy
R-RC 102. The intent of this existing policy is not to absolutely prohibit a ridgeline

development location where there are no feasible alternatives to development. Options could

a. Require placement of structures in relation to the perceived ridgeline or defined elevations

such that no portion of a structure protrudes above the designated ridgeline or elevation
(assumes alternative feasible locations for development other than the ridge). Similar to

County "-d2" zoning district provisions and those of many other jurisdictions studied,
b. Require placement of structures in relation to ridgeline or elevation such that no more than
a certain height of the structure is visible, combined with mitigations such as LRV controls.

Board of Supervisors: Donald F. Gage, Blanca .Alvarado, Pete McHugh, Jirn Beall, Liz Kniss
Count:/ Executive: Peter Kutras Jr.

BOo Agenda Date April 1 9, 2005

landscaping, massing, length of building facing valley. This is a valuable approach d ridgchnc
placement is the only siting option or would have the least overall impact.
Allow placement of lots or building envelopes created by subdivision on or■ near ridgelines
only if alternatives reviewed during subdivision I'eview pi'ocess ai'C deemed inappropriate.
Such resulting lots should be subject to more resti-iclive limits on height, such as one story,
maximum length or expanse of a building facing the valley floor, or other criteria,
d. For secondai-y or more remote lidgelines, take into account the mitigating elTect ol their


ereater distance IVom the valley lloor in determining I'idgeline regulations.

2.12 If maximum floor ai'ea limits for new dwellings ai'e considered, include appropriate

limits on accessory structures to ensure that such uses are subordinate and ancillary in nature.

2.13 Review projects eligible for Statutory and Discretionary Exemption from Design
Review, Section 5.50.060 of the Zoning Ordinance, to simplify regulations.

In conclusion, staff believes there are no quick fixes or panaceas tor improved regulation ol

'sLial impacts of hillside development and viewshed preservation, generally. The use of


Design Review currently, as it is defined in the existing Zoning Ordinance, provides a certain
measure of discretionary review, but it does not necessarily assure that the Board's
new criteria,
expectations or the General Plan's objectives are fully met. Establishing
standards, and illustrated guidelines for impact reduction or avoidance would represent a

significant step in the evolution of land use controls for viewshed protection. Some flexibility
must also be maintained to account for individual property differences.

Strategy #3: Provide economic incentives to private landownersx

3.1 Staff proposes no new recommendations in regard to this subject matter, other than to
continue progress on the existing Williamson Act-related work plan item (#10-18).
Strategy #4: Acquire open space for parks, wildlife refuges, other open space uses
4.1 Continue Santa Clara County Parks Charter Fundin

including funds for acquisition ol

strategically important portions of the Regional Parks element of the General Plan.

4.2 Improve coordination among open space preservation agencies, and ensure that there is

Board of Supervisors: Donald F. Gage, Blanca Alvarado, Pete McHugh, Jim Beall, Liz Kniss
County Executive: Peter Kutras Jr.


<gerida Date ;April 1 9, 2005

;idcc]ualc dala-sharing and mapping of public land, easements, and dedication of development
rights resulting from land use approvals or mitigation requirements.

Siraiegv #5: Conduct special studies, area plans, and project review under CEQA
5. 1 Staff recommends no additional special studies or area plans be considered in furtherance
of this work plan item for viewshed protection.

Following initial consideration of these recommendations, and additional information

provided in the report, staff will continue work towards fulfilling the direction of the Board ol

Supervisors, including:

a. developing detailed standards, ordinance provisions, and guidelines, as appropriate,
including further research with other Jurisdictions;
b, public review and outreach;

c. reports to Board of Supervisors;
d. public hearing processes and ordinance enactment;
e. coordination with other jurisdictions and agencies, as appropriate.

Staff estimates the work necessary to conduct the remaining part of the process, depending on
Board direction, could be completed in mid-2006. Staff resource impacts could require

additional planning staff, to augment current staff expertise in this area. Specifically, Planning
Office suggests an additional Planner position and additional GIS Technician position to
augment staff capabilities in developing and implementing new viewshed protection


If the Board of Supervisors does not accept the Viewshed Report or provide further direction,

staff will undertake no additional work related to Work Plan item 10-19, Viewshed and
Greenbelt areas.


Following acceptance of the report and further direction from the Board, stall will continue
work towards fulfillment of the work plan and the Board's specific direction.

Board of.supervisor: Donald F. Gage, Blanca Alvarado, Pete McHugh, Jirn Beall, Liz Kniss
Count;,' Executive: Peter Kutras Jr.


BOS Agenda Date ;April 19



• 1. Santa Clara County Viewshed Analysis & Report, April 5, 2005
• 2. Viewshed Model Ordinances Survey

• 3. Open Space Action Program of County General Plan
• 4. Santa Clara County Viewshed Analysis Mapping
• 5. February 15, 2005 Board Relerral
•6. Morgan Hill ULL Rees

Board of Supervisors: Donald F. Gage, Blanca Alvarado, Pete McHugh,Jim Beall, Liz Kniss
County Executive: Peter Kutras Jr.


Memo that accompanies report on "Viewshed and Greenbelt Areas".


James T. Beall, Jr.

Content Type


Resource Type





District 4


Michael Lopez, Interim Planning Director




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