What Are Entitlements?

PDB stands for plan, design, and build. If planning wasn’t such an important aspect in our business model, we wouldn’t put it first. Ways that we focus on planning is with due diligence research, site plan development, and of course, entitlements processing. For most projects that we work on, entitlements are necessary. Depending on the scope, entitlements make up at least half of the project timeline. Why? Because it requires understanding the land you’re working with, what you need to do with that land, and the process it takes to build something on that land. Most of all, it requires understanding the jurisdiction you are working with. There is a lot of steps that needs to get done before you can start actually building your project.


So what are entitlements? Entitlements are the “legal rights conveyed by approvals from government entities to develop a property for a certain use, intensity, building type or building placement.” Ultimately, the end goal is getting a building permit, and it’s up to us to figure out what the process is to get there. The first step in mastering entitlements is understanding what the Code says.

Understanding the Code

General Plan

In California, every City or County has a General Plan which discusses the city’s goals, policies, and actions regarding future development. Typical items found in a general plan are: land use, circulation, housing, conservation, open space, noise, and safety.

Zoning Information

After looking at the General Plan, the next step is to dive into what is called “Zoning Information.” This requires you to identify what zone your property is and if your project use is permitted in this zone. Typically you pull up a zoning map and identify your project location. Typical zones include Residential, Commercial, Industrial, and Mixed Use Zones.

Municipal Ordinance

Every jurisdiction has a Municipal Ordinance. Essentially these are laws passed by the local municipality (a city or county that has corporate status and government) that deal with maintaining public safety, health, morals and general welfare. The majority of the information that you need in understanding your property and how you can get it from A to Z is through this.

Specific Plan

Sometimes your project may be identified in a Specific Plan. This is an area that the local jurisdiction wants to embelish or provide specific guidelines in addition to the General Plan. Make sure to check the City or County’s Specific Plan map to see if your project falls in this area.

Types of Entitlements

Use Permits:

Your project might require a use permit. According to the Municipal Code, some uses are permitted by right, and some require a Use Permit. This will require completing an application, providing plans, and typically a public hearing. An example of a use permit would be to get alcohol approved for on- or off-site purposes.

Subdivision Map/Lot Line Adjustment/Parcel Merger:

All of these focus on the parcel itself, if you want to divide it into multiple parcels, adjust the size of various parcels, or just merge them all into one.


If the area is not zoned for your intended use, you may need to go through the rezoning process. This can be complicated and lengthy. Sometimes, rezoning is not possible.

Zoning Variances:

Maybe your current parking lot does not meet your required per SF, or building height exceeds the requirements, you would need to apply for a zoning variance.

Site Plan Review:

When you have a vacant lot, the local jurisdiction wants to know what you plan to do with it. They want to see that you meet the zoning requirements such as parking count, building heights, design guidelines, etc. They typically have all of the site plan requirements listed on the application, so make sure you are reading all of the information provided to avoid unnecessary resubmittals.


The local jurisdiction typically requires you to provide conceptual landscape plans to identify that your site meets the requirements on the amount of landscaping as well as types of plants.

Off-Site Improvements:

It is possible that you will be required to do offsite improvements such as street widening, adding a turning lane, or simply adding a sidewalk.

The Submittal Process: to be continued…

Now that we understand What Entitlements Are, the next step is diving into understanding The Entitlements Submittal Process. Stay tuned, as we will be sharing our simple guide later this week!

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