County approves subdivision changes considered more developer-friendly
By Joe Naiman
An amendment to the County of San Diego’s Subdivision Ordinance that coordinates building permits with road construction is now in effect.
The amendments, approved by county supervisors, include requiring subdividers to develop a construction phasing plan that would be linked to rough grade approval and building permit issuance. That would allow developers to structure their developments through phasing, which would enable lot sales to pay for subsequent phases.
“What we’re trying to do is make sure that the roads are built at the time of the impact,” said Derek Gade, the county’s Land Use and Environmental Group project manager who oversees private development for the county Department of Public Works. “The roads are in place as homeowners are starting to take ownership of the lots.”
For smaller projects not requiring a construction phasing plan, off-site improvements generally will be completed before 75 percent of the rough grade releases or building permits are issued, a threshold intended to ensure that a subdivision is not significantly populated before off-site improvements are completed. The director of DPW has the authority to make exceptions if the improvements are needed earlier either for public safety or to meet environmental regulations.
The changes also include a right of entry or temporary easement that allows the county access during the construction and a one-year warranty period. According to the county, that will preserve the county’s right to complete required improvements that will be made on or accessed from private property.
The county often conditions the approval of major subdivisions on the completion of road and other infrastructure improvements needed to serve the development. A final map creates legal lots that still require grading and building permits but which allow the lots to be sold to individual customers. Under state law and county code, developers can defer the completion of those required improvements until after the final map is approved if they enter into a secured agreement to guarantee completion of the improvements.
“We want to make sure that we’re looking at the status of the construction of the roads,” Gade said.
The construction phasing plan will also allow a building permit application to be pursued if all on-site and off-site improvements other than the driveway, sidewalk and final pavement cap are completed unless deferral would not be sensible under the circumstances. The intent is to minimize potential damage to the pavement cap, driveway, and sidewalk during the construction of the lots. Completion of those improvements along the property frontage will still be required for a final grade release on a lot being considered for final occupancy.
“I would say they’re done in tandem,” Gade said of roads and houses.
Security bonds need to be renewed, and the changes also address a reduction in original security based on work completed. If less than half of the value of the work is completed, full security will still be required.
The percent of construction value remaining to be completed will be deducted from the original security amount when between 50 and 75 percent of the value has been completed. Twenty-five percent of the original security requirement will be necessary if between 75 and 87 percent of the value has been completed, while security worth twice the amount of the remaining improvements will be required if between 88 and 97 percent of the value is completed, and 5 percent of the original amount will be required from the completion of 98 percent of the value to the end of the warranty period.
“We want to make sure there’s enough security in place,” Gade said. “We want to make sure that the agreements and securities are in place.”
The ordinance was also changed to allow the DPW director to approve a time extension to complete improvements in the case of a change of ownership or if an adjustment to the required security needs to be made and to allow minor changes to improvement plans. Previously Board of Supervisors approval — and the associated processing cost — was needed for such changes.
“This is a real benefit to the development industry,” Gade said. “We’ve certainly had a significant outreach with industry throughout the process. We wanted to make sure they had input.”
The initial term to complete the secured agreements is usually two years after the approval of the final map. The changes give the DPW director the authority to approve an additional two years, although the Board of Supervisors would still need to approve subsequent time extensions. Board approval will also still be required if significant changes are made to construction phasing plans.
The new ordinance also eliminates the Board of Supervisors process when the only change to a security agreement is the ownership party.
“We felt like we’ve done some due diligence in working with industry,” Gade said.
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