February 18, 2019

Special Development Standards


The Kern County Zoning Ordinance regulates the use of land. It lists certain allowed uses according to particular zoning districts. Zoning districts that allow construction of multifamily dwelling units, commercial uses, or industrial uses are subject to Special Development Standards. More specifically, projects within the following zoning districts are subject to Special Development Standards: R-2, R-3, CO, C-1, C-2, CH, M-1, M-2, and M-3. In certain limited circumstances projects within the A District and NR Districts may also be subject to the special development standards.

  • Special development standards are requirements that are imposed upon a development project. These requirements include:
  • Dedication of land for road widening;
  • Pavement of street frontage, including curb, gutter, and sidewalk;
  • Pavement of parking lots and driveways;
  • Placement of utility services underground;
  • Retention of drainage water;
  • Adequate water supply and sewage disposal method;
  • Adequate fire protection facilities;
  • Separation of incompatible land uses;
  • Glare reduction from exterior lighting;
  • Screening of trash receptacles;
  • Screening of outside industrial storage areas;
  • Landscaping;
  • Adequate parking;
  • Proper signage;
  • Dust control during grading and operation; and
  • Mitigation measures of previous cases involving the site.

These items are required to ensure that “commercial” projects within Kern County meet at least minimum acceptable standards. These standards are specified in more detail in Chapter 19.80 of the Kern County Zoning Ordinance.


The special development standards are an integral part of the building permit process. In some other jurisdictions, this process is called the “site plan review.” Kern County does not have a formal procedure, or process, that requires a builder to submit an application or fee. This is not a process for which a builder must gain approval or obtain an actual permit. Quite simply, these development standards are required for projects in the listed zoning districts and are checked by the county during the grading or building permit approval process.

It is important to note that not all of the development standards are required for every project. During the “plan check” process of the building permit or grading permit, a planner will review the plans for compliance with the Zoning Ordinance. The planner attaches a list of development standards to each set of plans. Only those requirements authorized by the Zoning Ordinance and appropriate to the proposed project are imposed. Compliance with each of these standards is required before the building inspector provides approval of the final inspection.

Occasionally, projects will not involve the issuance of a building or grading permit. For example, the establishment of an equipment storage yard in an M-2 District may not require the issuance of a permit. However, all zoning regulations still apply. This kind of project is still subject to the special development standards. The owner is required to obtain approval of the site plan before the use is established. In such instances, the county will issue a “no fee tracking permit.” The project receives a building permit number so that the project can be “tracked” for compliance with the standards. Upon completion of the improvements, the owner requests a final inspection. A building inspector will visit the site and verify compliance.


  • The special development standards are only required in the previously listed zoning districts. However, not every project within these zoning districts are subject to the standards. There are a number of “exceptions” or “exemptions” from the standards, as follows:
  • Street improvements (including curb, gutter, and sidewalk) are not required if the cumulative additions to an existing facility are less than fifty percent (50%) of what existed on the site prior to March 10, 1986;
  • Special development standards are not imposed if the project is a building addition that constitutes less than fifty percent (50%) of the existing gross building area (unless the addition results in an increase in the number of dwelling units);
  • Special development standards are not imposed for changing one (1) permitted use to another permitted use where no building permit is required;
  • Special development standards are not required for the construction of a single-family residence where it is the only use of the property; and
  • The Planning Director may waive certain requirements if “unusual circumstances” exist that prevent compliance (the expense of improvements does not constitute “unusual circumstances”).

Special development standards are aimed at gaining limited improvements for projects that involve major expansions or new development of vacant lots. Additionally, special development standards are not required where the project has gained approval of a conditional use permit or precise development plan. The conditions of approval imposed upon those projects will ensure appropriate improvement of the site.


The special development standards review is conducted automatically by Planning Department staff whenever an application for a grading or building permit is made. In the event staff has any questions or concerns about your project, you will be contacted by phone or mail. Grading and building permits cannot be issued until this review has been completed. For a proposed use that may not require a formal permit from the county, the applicant should contact the Planning Department directly to ensure this review is completed before the use is established.


The site plan (or plot plan) is an essential part of the permit process. It is required for special development standards and is required in almost all instances in conjunction with grading or building permit applications. A detailed and accurate site plan reduces the chance for errors in the field and will reduce the chance of costly delays. A site plan must contain the following information:

  • Topographic information (when deemed necessary by the Planning Department);
  • Location of all existing structures;
  • Location of all proposed structures;
  • Location of driveways and parking areas;
  • Distance between property line and centerline of the adjacent streets;
  • Required road improvements;
  • Proposed and existing landscaped areas;
  • North arrow and scale; and
  • Phasing plan.

Projects for multifamily dwelling units must submit an elevation drawing of each building. Statistical notes must appear on the plan to address the source of water supply, sewage disposal method, underground utilities, type of fencing, the method of trash receptacle screening, and details on the implementation of mitigation measures.

Staff is available to answer any questions you may have regarding these standards. Please telephone (661) 862-8600 if we can be of assistance.

FORM 712 (1/2013)

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