Background on City Planning

Development projects are often of concern to the community. New developments can change the character of a neighborhood by removing existing buildings and replacing them with new uses, different architectural styles, larger buildings, and a greater intensity of activity. Impact on traffic congestion, air quality, water consumption, shadows, housing affordability and neighborhood businesses can also be of concern. Construction period impacts, including noise, dust generation, vibration, and construction period parking can also be problematic for neighbors.

Development can also result in positive changes for the community by replacing deteriorated, outmoded, or unsafe buildings, by provided needed housing, by creating new services and jobs, and by augmenting the vitality and diversity of the local economy. With the substantial restrictions on municipal taxing powers imposed by the California voters, new development can also contribute revenues to provide basic city services, including Police, Fire, water, wastewater, and roads.

The history of land use regulation in Sebastopol has been marked by a continued progression and refinement of policies and regulations. The City’s decision makers have responded to changing concerns by enacting a variety of laws which have affected both the process by which development is considered, and the substance of that development.

The General Plan

State planning law requires that each city and county in California have a General Plan consisting of seven "elements" which include the Land Use, Circulation, Housing, Conservation, Noise, Open Space and Safety elements.

The general plan is intended to serve as a "constitution" for all future development within the city. The general plan sets broad policies; city ordinances and administrative procedures are the vehicles for the implementation of the general plan. In terms of city planning requirements, the primary implementation mechanism of general plan policies is the Zoning Ordinance, which translates the generalized nature of the Land Use, Housing, Circulation, and other elements’ policies into highly specific development standards.


In Sebastopol, the key instrument of development regulation are the zoning regulations. Zoning is used by cities and counties to regulate where residential, commercial, industrial, and other uses may be located, and controls the size and types of such uses. In Sebastopol, two linked elements establish zoning regulations for property in the City: the zoning map, and the zoning ordinance.

Sebastopol’s zoning map establishes the zoning of every lot in the city including single family residential zones, several multi-family zones, and commercial and industrial areas of the City.

The City zoning ordinance describes allowable uses, the height and density of development, and establishes the process by which development applications are processed.

To find out what can be built on a lot, both the zoning map and the zoning ordinance must be reviewed. Copies of both can be reviewed or purchased at the Planning counter, or you may review the on-line copy of the zoning ordinance on our Web site. The zoning map, available at our offices, will show the zoning of the property, but it will not be indicated what can be built there. The zoning ordinance provides this information.


The zoning ordinance was developed after adoption of a new General Plan in 1994, after many public hearings and workshops before the Planning Commission and the City Council. Under the ordinance, certain types of projects can be approved administratively while others require hearings before the Design Review Board, Planning Commission, Tree Board, or City Council.

The zoning ordinance is intended to provide predictability for property owners, developers and citizens, while protecting the character, environment, and vitality of the city. Certain classes of development are prohibited by the ordinance, and others require discretionary review, with the opportunity for public comment, and special conditions of approval.

The rules established by the zoning ordinance can only be changed by the City Council after hearings by the Planning Commission and City Council.

For more information about planning regulations, or to find out about a specific development project, please contact the Planning Department.