Viewshed Protection Study Recommendations

County of Santa Clara
Department of Planning and Development
Planning Office

county Government center, East wing, 7th Floor
70 West Hedding Street
San Jose, California 95110-1705

(408)299-5770 FAX (408)288-9198


Planning Commission
July 6, 2006

Item #1
File: 8630-00-00-03GP-03Z

Viewshed Protection Study Recommendations
1) General Plan amendment to Growth & Development Chapter, Rural Areas,

regarding policies for Design Review, Grading,Steep Slopes, Ridgeline
development issues;

2) Zoning Ordinance text amendments to Ch. 5.50, Design Review, Ch. 3.20,
Design Review Combining Districts, and Ch. 1.30 Definitions;
3) Zone change to apply -dl. Design Review zoning to lands in primary
viewshed areas(approximately 1-2 miles from valley floor).

Staff Recommendation: Favorable recommendation to Board of Supervisors.

Gen.Plan Designation:
Zoning District:

County of Santa Clara
See master list for Zoning Map amendment
Hillside, Ranchlands, Rural Residential, Agriculture-Medium Scale
HS, AR, RR, A-20ac.(base districts)

Parcel Area:

Approximately 4,000 acres for Zoning Map amendment

Supervisorial Districts:

#1, 2, 3, and 5


Staff report prepared:fj June
Prepared by:
Approved by:


BiifSnoe,Principal Planner; Jim Reilly, Kavitha Kumar,Planners
Michael hO^pez,Interim Planning Manager

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


The project includes a set of specific recommendations based on work done to date regarding
the County's Viewshed Protection Study. This study, a major part of the Planning Office's work
plan, has included:

• a pilot study with the City of Morgan Hill,
• a countywide viewshed mapping analysis,

• a major report to the Board of Supervisors(Board)in April of 2005 outlining preliminary

• an August 2005 all-day land use workshop with the Board of Supervisors,
• a series of six stakeholder committee meetings during January and February of 2006,
including the public,

• three major community meetings in March 2006, attended by 250-300 each meeting;
• and periodic status reports and updates to the Board, and to the Housing,Land Use,
Environment, and Transportation(HLUET)Committee; and,

• a status report and discussion for the Planning Commission at a workshop meeting in April
of 2006.

The components of staff's recommendations to complete this study include the following:
a General Plan amendment(GPA)to the Growth & Development Chapter, Rural Areas, to


include background context and policies for the use of design review,for grading; and
policies concerning development on steep slopes and ridgeline areas;
2) Zoning Ordinance text amendments to Ch. 5.50, Design Review, Ch. 3.20, Design Review
Combining Districts, and Ch.1.30 Definitions;

Zone change to apply -dl.Design Review zoning to lands within the primary viewshed


areas, those most immediately visible from the valley floor, including the first ridge or
areas approximately 1-2 miles distant from the edge of the valley floor.

Additional revisions and clarifications to the Coimty Desi^ Review Guidelines are also

ticipated, but due to the need to expedite completion within the summer or early fall of this


calendar year, those revisions will follow.

Actions Concerning Environmental Determinations and Findings
Environmental review and documentation will be prepared for public hearings before

the Board of Supervisors. No California Environmental Quality Act(CEQA)

determination is necessary to forward a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors.


Actions Concerning the Project Proposal


Recommend that the Board of Supervisors adopt the proposed General Plan
amendment(GPA),Zoning Ordinance text amendments, and zoning map

amendments to apply the "-dl" Design Review combining zoning district.

Planning Commission Meeting
July 6. 2006
Item # 1


Recommend that the Count7 evaluate the viewshed-related Zoning Ordinance
and Design Guidelines within 18-24 months following approval, to


consider any changes that may be appropriate to enhance effectiveness, provide

necessary flexibility, or improve clarity.

A. Reasons for Recommended Actions Concerning Environmental Determination

1. The project builds upon and reinforces existing policies and regulations intended to
conserve resources,improve environmental protection, reduce impacts
development, and enhance the visual quahty of the environment,
existing goals, policies, and implementation recommendations
2. Staff anticipates recommending that CEQA review requirements can be satisfied
the Environmental Impact
through reliance on the use of a prior CEQA document,
Report prepared and certified for the 1994 General


Reasons for Recommended Actions Concerning Proposals

Proposed General Plan Text Amendment

The proposed General Plan text amendment follows the preliminary
recommendations to augment existing policy on various hillside development
The proposed content, background, and policy statements are based on and


generally reflect existing policies and regulations.


Chapter" for rural
The proposed amendment to the "Growth & Development
information, and
unincorporated areas would add valuable and necessary
policy guidance on regarding the use of design review, grading policy, development


steep slopes, and ridgeline development.

Proposed ridgeline development policies are based on those previously contained
within the Scenic Resources section of the Resource Conservation chapter, with
necessary elaboration. They address both subdivision and development of existing
legal lots. As discussed in tiie preliminary recommendations and reports, the
Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors are presented with two options for
ridgeline policy for new development.

The first, drafted along the lines of existing policy, would encourage

alternatives to ridgeline locations for existing lots, emphasizing the limitations
that already are in force through existing grading requirements and findings.
For subdivisions, the policy would remain that land should be divided, if at all
possible, to avoid ridgeline development, but taking into account other factors,
such as habitat, geology, slope, and similar matters.


The second option is more explicit and restrictive, in that it would generally
prohibit new ridgeline or hilltop development, unless it would preclude all

reasonable use and development of a an existing lot.

is ultimately required to
Whatever ridgeline policy choice is selected, some flexibility
is no other feasible
accommodate the use and development of a residence,
location, and a ridge location satisfies all applicable development standards, and
grading and access standards are better met.

Planning Commission Meeting
July 6, 2006
Item # 1


Proposed Zoning Ordinance Text Amendments

The proposed text amendments to Chapter 3.20, the Design Review Combining
Districts, follows the preliminary recommendations of the previous reports, reflects
the input received from the stakeholder committee, previous direction from the
Board of Supervisors, and community meetings.


The primary recommendation is to adapt and improve the existing "-dl" Zoning
District to serve as the primary viewshed protection Design Review district. This
approach provides a more universal, comprehensive approach to viewshed areas
countywide, without proliferating the number of additional, distinctive Design
Review districts. Staff recommends against the proliferation of a si^ficant ntimber
of additional districts enxamerated "-d3,""-d4," "-d5," each with their own varying

standards for height, color, and other limitations.


Significant changes include the proposed use of tiered review to ease review and
permitting of small to moderate sized homes and structures(up to 5,000 sq. ft.),
while using a more rigorous "Tier 3" review for the largest new homes(12,500+ sq.
ft.) having the potential for greatest impacts. Revisions also include a more effective
45 Light Reflectivity Value(LRV)or brightness standard for exterior surfaces,
reinstating the standard 35 foot height limit to enable more diverse architectural
styles, variety, and flexibility depending on the site, and new emphasis on standards
for retaining walls. During public review,some have argued that a tiered review
process is not necessary, but most believed the overall benefits are of value, for the
following reasons:

The viewshed hillsides are dotted in places with varying sizes and densities of
homes. Most are older and in the size range of 3-6,000 square feet. The
incremental addition of a few more homes each year over time, with

appropriate minimum standards, will not make an appreciable difference in the
visual landscape,

b. Public, officials, property owners and staff all continuously emphasize a desire
to utilize incentives and reduce regulatory burdens. A Tier 1 level review such
as that which staff proposes eliminates the additional costs and time involved
with a public hearing process for Design Review approval. It does not
eliminate the need for building site approval or grading permits, where those
would be a necessary prerequisite.


The proposed Tier 3level of review places the greater emphasis on visual
impacts of very large development proposals. It does not place a fixed limit on

house size, which retains flexibility for property owners and designers. Instead

it emphasizes careful siting choices, articulation of design, house orientation,
landscaping, and other means of addressing visual impacts that can be as
effective or more so than a mandatory house size limit.


An explicit exemption for sites not visible from the valley floor is proposed,
consistent with the goals of the Viewshed Protection study and stakeholder
recommendations. Rebuilding provisions are carried forward from the original
dl" regulations, with clarifications.


There are no changes proposed to the "-d2, Milpitas Hillsides" zoning district, other

than to standardize the 45 LRV requirements. All other provisions remain, but may
be reconsidered in the future if the Board so directs. No other significant revisions to

the "-d2" district provisions are recommended at this time.

Planning Commission Meeting
July 6. 2006
Item # 1


Various other Zoning Ordinance text amendnaents would simplify floor area
definitions, exempt basement space that doesn't qualify as an above-ground story,
and update the standard and discretionary exemptions from Design Review
wherever Design Review is required. These and the Tier 1 level review provisions,

flexibility for both
among other proposed policies and standards, provide additional
costs and time delays for


the County and property owners. They should also reduce
owners, without compromising overall effectiveness. Many applications for
discretionary exemptions have historically been reviewed and granted for house
additions that are not visible from off-site, much less the valley floor. Additions
should also be designed to match the existing style of a structure, as much as
possible. The revised exemptions allow minor projects with typically little or no
significant visual impact to be expedited, while better enabling the County to review
and focus on larger development projects with the most real impact potential.
Proposed Zoning Map Amendments to apply "-dl" Viewshed Protection Zoning
District to Primary Viewshed areas.


A modified "-dl" combining zoning district for viewshed protection is proposed for
those areas defined as the primary viewshed,lands closest to and most immediately
visible from the valley floor,including the first ridge and/or lands approximately 1-

2 miles from the edge of the valley floor.

The primary viewshed has been the traditional area of focus where Design Review
zoning has been applied historically by the County. The current proposal is
consistent with and builds on that approach.


For many of the lands beyond the primary viewshed, typically 3-4 miles distant
from the valley floor, it is often the case that only the more steep or highest portions
of a parcel are visible. Development potential on these portions of a mountainous
lot are already limited to a significant extent by existing site approval and/or
In many cases, only a very
grading requirements, particularly access requirements.
distances of well over five
small percentage of the property is visible, and then
miles. Many members of the public questioned the need additional Design
Review regulations for these more remote parcels, in light of the existing high
standards that apply through the Building Site Approval/Grading Permit process
typically involved.


Applying Design Review zoning initially just to the primary viewshed, consistent
with the County's historical approach,rather than including all parcels with any
degree of visibility, would be the most cost-effective approach for private property

owners and the County.

As with the initial enactment of the "-dl" district, the County should evaluate any

and clarifications.
new regulations or standards for effectiveness, appropriateness,
months. If the
These recommendations include a review in approximately
Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors wish to make any changes,
including the extent of the use of Design Review for viewshed protection,such
direction can be provided at that time.


Planning Commission Meeting
July 6. 2006
Item # 1


Project History

Much of the project history has been documented in previous reports too lengthy and detailed

to be included as attachments to this report. A synopsis is as follows;

Board of Supervisors adopts Design Review Zoning in the late 1980s to provide for
similar type of discretionary review of hillside development and visual impact mitigation
as that which a number of cities employed.

Board updates and adopts the General Plan in 1994,including implementation
recommendations to further evaluate the need for Design Review zoning and/or other
means of addressing visual and environmental impacts of development for scenic
resource areas.

Work Plan for Coimty Planning Office drafted and adopted in 2002 to commence work
on a number of new legislative priorities, and facilitate completion of many in-process
projects. Viewshed Protection Study assigned high priority.
Work on the study began with a pilot project with City of Morgan Hill on a greenbelt
study that included Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping of viewshed lands,
and preliminary recommendations from staff and a citizen committee. Periodic reports
were provided to the HLUET Committee.

Gountywide mapping analyses followed, and a major report and presentation to the
Board in April 2005. A Board land use workshop in August 2005 followed, with the Board
unanimously accepting the preliminary recommendations of those reports regarding the
viewshed study.

Subsequent to the August workshop, a schedule for completing the study in summer or

Staff conducted a public outreach and information process in the Spring of 2006, as
directed by the Board (see next background section for more information).
Staff began work on draft work products in fall of 2005, and resumed work on those
products following the public outreach meetings. A status report was requested and

early fall of 2006 was approved in October of 2005.

provided to the Board May 23, 2006.

Initial public hearings before the Planning Commission were scheduled for July 6, 2006.

Public Outreach

Public outreach has been conducted in three main ways, a formal stakeholder meeting group,

three large community meetings with notice to all potentially affected property owners within

identified viewshed areas, and extensive publication of information and reports of the
Planning Office website,

The schedule originally included a series of informal meetings with various stakeholders,
including property owners. Interest was great, resulting in a more prolonged and formalized
series of stakeholder meetings beginning in late January through the end of February. The
Board of Supervisors each appointed a member of this ad-hoc committee, and staff invited
property owner representatives, as well as designers, engineers, and architects with
experience in hillside development to participate in these preliminary discussions and provide
special technical advice and insightfrom practitioners.

Planning Commission Meeting
July 6. 2006
Item # 1

The intent was to employ the stakeholder committee much in the way business employs focus

groups or small task forces to help develop possible proposals and direction. The committee
made no formal report or recommendations. Staff documented the discussions and published
these to the website. The committee provided a very useful and effective way of hearing a
variety of issues, concerns, and developing possible recommendations. However, it extended
the public review process by an additional month and a half.

In public dialogue since the committee meetings concluded,some hillside property owners

have criticized the committee make-up and process as having only had one property owner as

a formal representative. The Board intended the stakeholder committee, once it began to
evolve into a more formal group, to represent as many viewpoints as possible. The meetings
were open to the public, and as meetings progressed, more and more property owners
attended, and all participated in the discussions. Attendance averaged approximately 25-30,
with the majority being private property owners. No one was denied tire opportunity to

comment or address issues of concern. Staff believes the Stakeholder Committee was as open

and inclusive as it could be while fulfilling the purposes of the Board to have many viewpoints

represented, and to provide a manageable forum for discussion preliminary to the larger
community outreach meetings.

Three major community outreach meetings were held, with notice provided to each
potentially affected property owner. The Santa Clara County Hillside Association, a group of
private property owners, also disseminated notice of these meetings to all owners throughout
the rural hillsides of Santa Clara County. Each meeting was attended by 250-300 people/

included a staff presentation, and extensive comment opportunity. Staff published detailed

summaries of aU public comments received at each meeting, and provided recordings of two
of the three meetings to the Board of Supervisors (at one meeting, the recording device failed

to record the meeting). The summaries of these meetings were published to the County
Planning Office website, and summarized in the May 23, 2006 status report to the Board.
Notice Provided for Planning Commission Hearing

For public notice of the Planning Commission meeting staff provided the following forms of
notice. These actions meet or exceed required noticing requirements.

individual property owner notification mailed to the owners of each property proposed

advertisement placed in the San Jose Mercury News of at least one-eighth of a page;
Planning Commission agenda publication in San Jose Post Record (customary means of

publication of reports and agenda to the Planning Office website; and,

to be included in "-dl" zoning districts for viewshed preservation;
agenda publication) and other required postings;

email notification to those who have provided email for this purpose.

Next Steps

The Planning Commission must hold at least one public hearing regarding the proposed
General Plan amendments and Zoning text and map amendments. The purpose is to consider
staff recommendations, public comment, discuss and form a recommendation to the Board of
Supervisors. If a second meeting is required, the July 6, 2006 meeting would be continued to
the August 3, 2006 Planning Commission agenda. No additional noticing of the continued
hearing is required. Board of Supervisors hearings will be scheduled as soon after the
Planning Commission completes its deliberations. The Board has expressed a keen desire to

Planning Commission Meeting
July 6, 2006
Item # 1

complete the public review and hearing process without further delays, given the length of the
project to date.


Proposed General Plan Amendment to the Growth & Development Chapter, Rural
Unincorporated Area Issues and Policies,"Strategy #3; Ensure Environmentally-Safe and

Aesthetic Hillside Development.


3.20, 5.50, and 1.30 of the
Proposed Zoning Ordinance text amendments to Chapters
related to viewshed
Zoning Ordinance,implementing proposed regulations


May 23, 2006 Status Report to the Board of Supervisors


Stakeholder Committee Meetings Summary


Proposed map of primary viewshed lands for which the "-dl" Design Review Zoning
District is proposed.

File; 8630-00-00-03CP-06GP-06Z


Planning Commission Meeting
July 6, 2006
Item # 1

Staff report on viewshed protection study recommendations.


James T. Beall, Jr.

Content Type


Resource Type





District 4


Bill Shoe, Planner




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