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General FAQ's

  1. What is an Assessorís Parcel Number?
  2. How do I find out if my parcel is the city or in the County?
  3. What is a zoning classification?
  4. What development does zoning allow?
  5. What is a land use designation?
  6. What is a combining zone?
  7. What are building setbacks?
  8. What is the minimum parcel size?
  9. What permits are required to build a house?
  10. Whatís the difference between building in the coastal zone and the inland areas?
  11. How do I research if a property is in the Coastal Zone?
  12. Can I place a manufactured home on my property?
  13. Can a second dwelling unit be developed my the property?
  14. How tall can I build a fence on my property?
  15. Can I keep horses/chickens/goats/or other domesticated animals on my property?
  16. Can I remove trees from a property?
  17. Can I live in a travel trailer on my property?
  18. How do I know whether my lot is a legally created lot?
  19. How do I find out if there are any easements on my property?
  20. Is my property subject to flooding?
  21. What is a nonconforming structure or use?
  22. If an old structure burns down, can it be rebuilt?
  23. Can a house be remodeled if it does not meet the required setbacks?
  24. Can a parcel be subdivided?
  25. What is the basic process for getting a building permit?
  26. What is the basic process for getting a planning permit?
  27. What are typical fees for planning permit?
  28. How do I get help applying for a planning permit?
  29. Iím thinking about buying a property, how can I research more about it?
  30. How do I research which zones allow a particular use?
  31. What is the difference between a principally permitted use and a conditionally permitted use?
  32. What is the process for annexing a parcel into a City?
  33. Does the County enforce covenants, conditions, or restrictions in subdivisions?

1. What is an assessorís parcel number?

Assessorís parcel numbers are 12-digit numbers assigned by the County of Humboldt assessor for property tax purposes. Assessorís parcel numbers are used by many county departments to track records and projects. A parcel number may be obtained from a property tax bill or from the Assessorís Office at (707) 445-7663.

2. How do I find out if my parcel is the city or in the county?

The countyís Geographic Information System (GIS) displays parcel and city boundaries. This system can be used to determine if your property is located in a city or in the unincorporated areas of the County.

3. What is a zoning classification?

All properties within the County are assigned a zoning classification. For example, many properties are assigned an R-1 or Residential One-Family zoning classification. Like land use designations described below, zoning establishes the distribution, location, and extent of the uses of property. Zoning classifications are more specific than land use designations. For example, zoning designations specify building height and setback requirements.

Zoning classifications are described in the Coastal Zoning Regulations and Inland Zoning Regulations. These documents are available from the Planning Library page of this website.

4. What development does zoning allow?

Individual zoning classifications, commonly known as districts or designations, are described in the Coastal Zoning Regulations and Inland Zoning Regulations. These regulations affect all residential structures such as dwellings, home additions, fences, swimming pools, and garages, as well as all commercial and other structures like offices, barns and lumber mills.

Zoning regulations also control what is allowed in specific areas of the county. For example, a property owner typically can conduct a business in a commercial area but not in a residential area except under limited conditions. Similarly, industrial uses are allowed in industrial areas and limited in agricultural areas. In Humboldt County, zoning designations increasingly allow a mixture of compatible uses, such as apartments above shops and offices.

Zoning regulations also contain combining zones and other standards may also apply to a property. A more detailed explanation of combining zones can be found below.

The purpose of the Zoning Regulations is to implement the countyís general plan in part by regulating development in accordance with this plan. At the same time, they also help to minimize conflicts resulting from incompatible uses.

Zoning classifications are described in the Coastal Zoning Regulations and Inland Zoning Regulations. These documents are available from the Planning Library page of this website.

5. What is a land use designation?

Similar to zoning designations described above, all properties within the county are also assigned a land use designation. For example, many properties are assigned an RL or Residential-Low Density designation. Land use designations are derived from the land use goals, policies, and standards of the Humboldt County general plan. Land use designations establish the distribution, location, and extent of the uses of property. Residential land use designations also establish a residential density expressed in terms of residential units per acre. Land use designations are more general than zoning classifications. Typically, land use designations focus on allowed uses whereas zoning classifications provide specific standards related to building height and setbacks. Both are used by decision-makers to determine whether a proposed use, development, or subdivision is appropriate.

Land use designations are described in the Framework Plan, Community Plans, and Coastal Plans. These documents are available from the Planning Library page of this website.

6. What is a combining zone?

Combining zones, commonly known as overlay zones, apply additional development requirements in specific areas throughout the county. Combining zones are typically used to protect natural and visual resources, but are also used to regulate minimum parcel sizes and special uses. Sometimes combining zones add requirements and other times they modify existing requirements.

For example the R-Streams and Riparian Corridors combining zone protects creeks and streams by requiring setbacks between development and waterways.

Another example is the B-Special Building Site combining zone which increases minimum parcel size requirements. The R-1 or Residential One-Family zoning district on its own specifies a minimum parcel size of 5,000 square feet. But when combined with a B-4 Special Building Site Combining Zone, the required minimum parcel size is increased to one acre.

7. What are building setbacks?

Setbacks are required distances between the vertical walls of buildings and property boundaries. Generally, they are described as front, rear and side yard setbacks. Setbacks vary from zero to fifty feet depending on the zoning classification for the property. Typically the front yard faces the road. However, irregularly shaped parcels or parcels that abut more than one road can have unique setback requirements.

The countyís web Geographic Information System (GIS) displays parcel and zoning boundaries. This system can be used to determine the zoning for a property.

Setbacks and zoning classifications are described in the Coastal Zoning Regulations and Inland Zoning Regulations. These documents are available from the Planning Library page of this website.

8. What is the minimum parcel size?

The minimum size of a parcel is the smallest lot you can create on a property. It is an important consideration for subdivisions and lot line adjustments. The zone classification determines minimum parcel sizes.

Generally, the zoning ordinance allows development to occur on parcels that donít meet the minimum parcel size as if they met the minimum parcel size. However, health and safety requirements other than the zone classification still apply. For example, onsite sewage disposal requires minimum parcel sizes that may differ from the zoning ordinance.

The countyís web Geographic Information System application show parcels and zoning boundaries, which can be used to determine the zoning for your property.

Minimum parcel size and zoning classifications are described in the Coastal Zoning Regulations and Inland Zoning Regulations. These documents are available from the Planning Library page of this website.

9. What permits are required to build, rebuild or remodel a house?

Construction or alteration of any residence requires a building permit from the Building Inspection division. Other permit requirements may also apply. For example, if the property is located in the coastal zone, the construction of a residence may also need a coastal development permit from the Planning division. In areas without public sewer, sewage disposal system permits are required from the Environmental Health Division. For properties along county roads, an encroachment permit may be required from Public Works. Other local, state or federal permit requirements may also apply.

Special requirements may apply to rebuilding or altering structures which do not conform to the development standards or allowed uses of the zone classification. More information on nonconforming structures can be found elsewhere on this page.

For more information about which permits may apply, please contact Community Development Services at (707) 445-7541 or visit our office at 3015 H Street in Eureka.

10. Whatís the difference between building in the coastal zone and the inland areas?

Typically there are more permit requirements in the coastal zone. The additional requirements protect coastal resources such as beaches, public access, dunes and recreational opportunities.

11. How do I research if a property is in the Coastal Zone?

The countyís web Geographic Information System (GIS) displays parcel and coastal zoning boundaries. This system can be used to determine if a property is in the coastal zone.

12. Can I place a manufactured home on my property?

With a building permit, new manufactured homes are allowed by the zoning ordinance the same as other homes. Older manufactured homes are permitted in areas with a T-Manufactured Home or M-Manufactured Home combining zone. Other permits may be required. For example, if the property is located in the coastal zone, the placement of a manufactured home may need a coastal development permit.

More information on combining zones and permits to build a home can be found on this page.

13. Are second dwelling units allowed on a property?

Second units are permitted in many residential zoning districts. All new second units require a building permit from the Building Inspection division and may require other permits from the Planning Division, Environmental Health division, or Public Works. In general, second units are encouraged in the R-1 and RS-5 Residential Single Family zoning districts.

14. How tall can a fence be built?

Fences up to six feet high are exempt from zoning setback and building permit requirements. A fence over six feet high is subject to setback requirements from property lines and requires a building permit from the Building Inspection division. Fences along roads may have special restrictions in height and material according to the countyís Visibility Ordinance, which establishes standards to ensure adequate visibility corridors for pedestrian and vehicle safety. Contact the Department of Public Works, Land Use division at (707) 445-7205 for more information on the Visibility Ordinance.

15. Are horses, chickens, goats or other domesticated animals allowed in residential zones?

In residential zones, two large animals such as horses or cows may be kept on a property that is one acre in size. Two medium sized animals such as goats, pigs, or sheep may be kept on a property 10,000 square feet in size. Ten small animals such as rabbits and chickens may be kept on a property 5,000 square feet in size, although crowing roosters are not allowed in residential zones. Larger parcels can accommodate more animals.

16. Can I remove trees from a property?

Tree removal involves numerous considerations including fire safety, neighborhood character, and protection of sensitive resources such as habitat. Removal of trees greater than 12 inches in diameter may require a permit from the Planning Division. In general, it is easier to remove trees from a property in the inland areas than in the coastal zone. For example, in residential zones, trees may be removed within 30 feet of a building pad as long as the removal does not impact a sensitive resource. However, if the residence is in the coastal zone, permits are required from the Planning Division. Tree removal three acres or larger in size, or in Timber Production Zones, require timber harvest plans and are regulated by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection also known as Cal Fire.

Tree removal requirements depend on many factors. We recommended contacting the Community Development Services Department for more information. Please call (707) 445-7541 or visit our office at 3015 H Street in Eureka.

17. Can a person live in a travel trailer on a property?

Travel trailers within recreational vehicle parks may be used as a dwelling. Outside of recreational vehicle parks travel trailers may be used as a residence in one of two ways. With a special permit from the Planning Division a travel trailer may be used for up to six months of the year in zoning districts that allow recreational uses. Or, with a valid building permit, a travel trailer may be used temporarily while constructing a home.

18. How do I determine if a lot was legally created?

A lot is considered legal if it was created in accordance with the subdivision rules in effect at the time of creation, and subsequent transfers of the property did not affect its shape and size. Subdivision rules have changed over time. Determining how a property was created, and tracing the chain of transfer over time can be a challenge. When the legal status of a lot is in question, the Planning Division can conduct a determination of legal status. For more information, please call (707) 445-7541 or visit our office at 3015 H Street in Eureka.

19. Are there any easements that affect a property?

There are two types of easements. One is a recorded easement that is discovered through the title search process usually conducted by a title company at the time of property transfer. Another is a prescriptive easement which occurs when a property has been used historically for ingress and egress with or without permission. Prescriptive easements often become an issue in the review of coastal development projects where the development impacts the use of an existing trail which accesses the beach. Established and distinguishable trails, roads, or parking areas could indicate the presence of a prescriptive easement.

20. Is my property subject to flooding?

The best available mapped flood information is provided by Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRM) which are maintained by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The countyís web Geographic Information System (GIS) shows parcels and the flood hazard information from these maps. You may also review these maps at the Community Development Services office at 3015 H Street in Eureka.

FIRM maps have four flood hazard zones:

  • If a parcel is located in FIRM Flood Zone A, the property is within the mapped 100-year flood plain. This means the property is expected to flood once every 100 years on average.
  • If a parcel is located in FIRM Flood Zone B, the property is within the mapped 500-year flood plain. This mean the property is expected to flood once every 500 years on average,
  • If the parcel is located in FIRM Flood Zone C, the property is within the mapped area of minimal flooding.
  • If the parcel is located in FIRM Flood Zone D, the property is within an area of undetermined, but possible, flood hazards.

21. What is a nonconforming structure or use?

A nonconforming building or use is one which was established prior to the zoning regulations, and does not meet current development standards or the uses allowed by the zone classification. Nonconforming buildings or uses are commonly known as being "grandfathered in".

To be recognized as legal and non-conforming, the structure or use must be used continuously for the same purpose without interruption for more than two years.

Special requirements apply to nonconforming structures and uses. For more information please contact Community Development Services at (707) 445-7541 or visit our office at 3015 H Street in Eureka.

22. If an old structure burns down, can it be rebuilt?

Structures with allowed uses that conform to the standards of the zone classification may be rebuilt with a building permit from the Building Inspection Division. In the coastal zone, a coastal development permit from the Planning Division may also be required to rebuild. All state and local standards for sewage disposal must also be met when a structure is rebuilt. Structures destroyed by fire must be rebuilt within two years.

Nonconforming structures or uses may also be rebuilt in certain situations. For example, single family homes in commercial zones may be rebuilt with a building permit. However, rebuilding commercial structures in residential zones would only be allowed if the new structure is the same size as the old structure. Minor exceptions may be allowed with a special permit from the Planning Division.

23. Can a house be remodeled if it does not meet the required setbacks?

Legal, nonconforming residences may be altered or enlarged with a building permit from the Building Inspection Division if the alteration meets the required setbacks.

Alterations that do not change the footprint of a structure such as windows, siding or interior remodels are allowed with a building permit. However, when the alteration does not meet the required setbacks, a variance is required from the Planning Division. For more information please contact Community Development . Services at (707) 445-7541 or visit our office at 3015 H Street in Eureka.

24. Can a parcel be subdivided?

Subdivisions must be consistent with the minimum parcel size of the zoning classification and the maximum density of the land use designation. In cases where the zoning classification and land use designation allow for different parcel sizes or density, the most restrictive will apply. The countyís web Geographic Information System (GIS) displays zoning classifications and land use designations.

For example, a parcel with an RL, Residential Low Density land use designation typically has a maximum density of seven dwellings per acre so a one acre parcel could potentially be subdivided into seven parcels. And, if the minimum parcel size allowed by the zone classification was 5,000 square feet per parcel, a seven parcel subdivision would also be consistent with zone classification. However, if the minimum parcel size of the zone classification was 10,000 square feet per parcel, only a four parcel subdivision would be allowed.

For more information please contact Community Development Services at (707) 445-7541 or visit our office at 3015 H Street in Eureka.

25. What is the basic process for getting a building permit?

For small scale projects such as new roofs or new electrical service, building permits can be issued the same day. These are commonly known as over the counter permits and are issued within thirty minutes or less. For other larger scale projects, building permits usually take two to three months for a typical project, and follow seven basic steps.

  1. Application Submittal - At a minimum, a property owner submits a project description and plot plan to the Building Inspection Division for review. Complete construction plans are often submitted but not required at this step.
  2. Preliminary Investigation - Building Division staff review the submittal for site suitability and other permit requirements. Application fees are collected at this time.
  3. Presite Inspection - In coordination with the applicant, a Building Inspector visits the project site to confirm the features shown on the plot plan. The applicant is provided a copy of the presite inspection report from the Building Inspector.
  4. Referrals - Once the plot plan is complete and construction plan have been received, the application is sent to other reviewing agencies such as the Environmental Health Division and Public Works Department.
  5. Construction Plan Review - A Plan Checker reviews the construction plans for conformance with state building codes. This step often involves revisions to the construction plans.
  6. Permit Issuance - After the referrals are returned by the reviewing agencies and construction plans have been approved, the permit may be issued to the applicant. Any final plan check and permit issuance fees are collected at this time.
  7. Inspections - During construction, Building Inspectors regularly visit the project site to assure conformance with the approved construction plans.

For more information on the building permit process please call (707) 445-7245 or visit our office at 3015 H Street in Eureka.

26. What is the basic process for getting a planning permit?

Planning permits follow these basic steps.

  1. Application Assistance - An applicant meets with planning staff to review the project proposal. Applicants receive an overview of the permit process and are provided with a list of application submittal requirements, estimates of permit fees and processing time.
  2. Application Submittal - An applicant submits a completed application form along with copies of project plans and supplemental documents. Fees are collected at this time.
  3. File Opening & Referral - Planning Division staff generate maps and other documents and send copies of the application to referral agencies for comment.
  4. Staff Report - After the referrals are returned by the reviewing agencies, Planning Division Staff compiles a staff report for the decision-maker. Projects that involve environmental review pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act have additional reports documenting environmental impacts.
  5. Public Notification - If required, notice of pending decisions are sent directly to surrounding property owners and published in the newspaper.
  6. Decision - Depending on project type, the decision-maker can be the Director, Zoning Administrator, Planning Commission or Board of Supervisors. Other than decisions made by the Director, public hearings are conducted where public testimony is received.
  7. Appeals - After a decision is made, affected parties may appeal the decision within a certain time period. Appeal periods vary depending on the project type. The permit becomes effective upon completion of the appeal period. Any unpaid fees are invoiced at this time.
  8. Post Approval Conditions - Most permits are approved with specific conditions. Conformance with permit conditions is coordinated between the applicant and Planning Division staff. The project is not complete until all required conditions are met.

For more information on the planning permit process please call (707) 445-7541 or visit our office at 3015 H Street in Eureka.

27. What are typical fees for planning permit?

Fees depend on project type and location. The Community Development Services Department also collects fees on behalf of other participating agencies. The most current fee schedule can be found here in our forms center

28. How do I get help applying for a planning permit?

The Community Development Services Department offers two services to assist with the planning permit application process. With Application Assistance, Planning Division staff provides direction to applicants regarding application submittal requirements, estimates of permit fees and processing time, and an overview of the permit process. Through Project Facilitation, a Senior Planner assists with filling out the application form, provides application documents such as plot plans and compiles other essential documents.

For more information about Application Assistance and Project Facilitation, please visit our online brochure area

29. Iím thinking about buying a property, how can I research more about it?

While the countyís web Geographic Information System (GIS) is not a substitute for a complete records check, it does display a significant amount of information on specific parcels. For example, this system can be used to research if a property is in the coastal zone and show which zone classification and land use designation apply.

There are many important considerations for buying a property. The legal status of the parcel, unpermitted structures, environmental and geological development constraints, and the existence of easements or life estates are a few examples of issues that can make property transactions complex. Rigorous due diligence is advised before purchasing any property.

Prospective purchases can use the Information Request service to learn what records the Planning Division has for a property. For more information, please call (707) 445-7541 or visit our office at 3015 H Street in Eureka.

30. How do I research which zones allow a particular use?

The countyís web Geographic Information System (GIS) can be a helpful tool for researching which zones apply to a property. For example, this system can be used to research if a property is in the coastal zone and show which zone classification and land use designation apply.

Zoning classifications are described in the Coastal Zoning Regulations and Inland Zoning Regulations. These documents are available from the Planning Library page of this website.

31. What is the difference between a principally permitted use and a conditionally permitted use?

Typically, if a use is principally permitted in the zoning code, the use does not require a permit from the Planning Division. Construction of structures still require a building permit. However, if the project is located in the coastal zone, a discretionary permit from the Planning Division is generally required, even if a use is principally permitted.

Uses that are conditionally permitted in the zoning code always require a discretionary permit from the Planning Division. Examples of discretionary permits include Costal Development Permits, Conditional Use Permits and Special Permits.

32. What is the process for annexing a parcel into a City?

The Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo) is responsible for review and approval of annexations. The city, county and LAFCo work together in reviewing proposed annexations. For more information contact LAFCo at (707) 445-7508 or visit 1125 16th Street, Suite 202 in Arcata

33. Does the County enforce covenants, conditions, or restrictions in subdivisions?

No. These deed restrictions are private agreements, and enforced by the property owner. Deed restrictions can be researched through a title company or the Humboldt County Recorderís Office.