Planning Applications

This section describes the processes involved in obtaining land use and development approval for discretionary planning applications.

Discretionary Projects

Decisions on "discretionary" projects are based on qualitative standards and require judgment or deliberation. Discretionary projects involve an opportunity for public input and may be approved subject to specific conditions. Decisions on discretionary project applications are made by the Zoning Administrator (if they involve less than 1,500 adjusted square feet of new floor area), by the Planning Commission (if they are 1,500 square feet or greater), or by the City Council on appeal.

Will my project require a discretionary application? Review the Discretionary Application Triggers handout below to determine if your residential project will require a discretionary application. 

What is the review process for a discretionary application? The process for a discretionary project varies depending on whether the project requires Zoning Administrator review or Planning Commission review. Once you have determined if your project will be a Zoning Administrator project or Planning Commission project, click on the applicable flowchart below for more detail.

Discretionary Applications are subject to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and the Permit Streamlining Act and may require a public hearing. Discretionary application types are listed below. Review the application form(s) for more detail on application submittal requirements, application fees, findings required for approval, and more.


Application fees are listed within each application form. Fees are either flat fees or deposit-based fees. Application fees that are deposit-based will clearly be identified as "deposit" under the applicable fee(s). When you pay a deposit, an account will be set up for the project that will be charged at the hourly rate for staff time. A deposit is not a maximum amount, but instead reflects the average amount of time spent to process an application. In some instances, complex projects may exceed the deposit amount, which would require the deposit to be replenished. Any deposit amount remaining at the end of the project will be refunded to the applicant.

Submittal Instructions

Step 1Submit a completed application form and required submittal documents here. Please carefully review all submittal requirements to ensure you submit a complete application. Incomplete applications will result in a delay in processing. Only electronic submittal is accepted.
Note: All submitted documents must be in PDF format. Plans sets shall be drawn to scale.
Step 2Staff will email an invoice with payment instructions. Payment is accepted by check (mailed or dropped-off) or credit card (online payment). Applications will not be processed until payment is received.
Step 3Once payment is received, your project will be assigned to a staff planner. The assigned project planner will begin reviewing your project for conformance with the quantitative and qualitative requirements of the Orinda Municipal Code.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

  • How long does it take for a planning application to be approved? Processing times vary project-by-project. There are multiple factors that influence how long it takes to process your application. On average, a Zoning Administrator project can take 1-3 months from submittal to approval. For Planning Commission projects, the average processing time can take 2-4 months. Factors that influence the length of time it takes to process an application include the type of application, complexity of the project, how complete the application submittal is, and any neighborhood feedback received.
  • Will my neighbors be notified of my project? Yes, all discretionary applications require that all properties in a 300-foot radius of the property be notified of the project. Staff strongly recommends you inform your neighbors of the proposed project if they will be potentially affected by the project. Once the application is deemed complete, the project planner will prepare a 10-day public notice that is mailed to all properties in a 300-foot radius. 
  • Will my planning application require a public hearing? Zoning Administrator projects do not require a public hearing, but any member of the public may request a public hearing during the 10-day public notice period. If a hearing is requested, then staff will schedule a Zoning Administrator public hearing. All Planning Commission projects require a public hearing with the Planning Commission.
  • What happens after my project is approved? Once a discretionary application is approved, there is a 10-day appeal period where any member of the public may appeal the approval. If no appeal is received, then the approval is final. Once the approval is final, a building permit application may be submitted if a building permit is required for the project. See the Building Permits page for more detail on how to submit a building permit.
  • What's the difference between a Zoning Administrator and Planning Commission project? Zoning Administrator projects are generally more small-scale minor projects and do not require a public hearing unless one is requested during the public notice period. Planning Commission projects are generally more large-scale projects (such as 1,500sf+ addition projects) that require approval of the Planning Commission at a public hearing. Zoning Administrator applications are typically processed more quickly since they are more small-scale projects and application fees are not as costly compared to Planning Commission projects. 
  • Does my project approval expire? Yes, discretionary application approvals expire one year from the effective date. The project applicant must apply for a building permit prior to the expiration date in order for the approval to remain valid. An extension request can be submitted up to two months prior to the expiration date. Extensions are typically granted for one year. The first extension request will be processed by the Zoning Administrator. The second and thereafter extension request will require approval from the Planning Commission at a public hearing. To request an extension, email a written request to the Planning Department. An extension fee will be due. If an approval has lapsed and an extension request was not submitted, the applicant must reapply for the project as a new discretionary application.