Creek Setbacks

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If you have a creek-side property, and you are contemplating work, you will need a creek setback determination.  (For a printable copy of the complete Creek Setback Determination Guide, excerpted below, click here.)

Article 5 of the Lafayette Municipal Code Ordinance No. 512 prohibits construction of structures within the creek setback area. Following is a brief explanation of what the setback area is, how to determine the setback line on your property, and the process for requesting an exception. There are other related regulations dealing with flood zones that you should also investigate at the same time by contacting the Planning Services Division at (925) 284-1976.

What is the setback area and how is it determined for my property?

Section 6-1841 of the ordinance contains the formula used to determine the setback line. Examples of creek setback determinations can be viewed here. We recommend that you obtain the services of a land surveyor to gather topographic information in the relevant area of your property. Based on the creek depth, the steepness of the bank, and the topography of the top of bank, the land surveyor can determine where the setback line is relative to the toe of the creek bank slope. All of the land between the creek and the setback line is defined as the creek setback area, and no structures are allowed within it.

In order to receive a building permit for your project, you need to submit evidence that your proposed work is outside the setback area. For the City’s review, please submit a topographic plan of the project area, including the creek and its features (i.e., top of bank, toe of bank, bank slopes, flow channel, grade breaks, etc.). You should plot on the plan the setback line in accordance to the ordinance. Lastly, provide a cross-sectional view of the creek, creek bank, the setback line, and your proposed structure. The section should reflect a point where your proposed structure is the closest to the setback line.

We strongly recommend that you use a licensed surveyor to perform this work. You may make the determination yourself. If the City disagrees with your measurements, you may have to submit calculations prepared by a licensed surveyor to prove your case.

If my proposed work is within the setback area, can I apply for an exception to proceed with the work?

Yes, the requirements for an exception are explained in Section 6-1842 of the ordinance. You will need to supply three items outlined in paragraph (c) of that section. Please note that the certification by the soils engineer must state: “In the professional opinion of the engineer, there is no likelihood of a hazard to persons or property resulting from the proposed construction.”

The City Engineer will review the exception application and make a recommendation for approval or denial to the City Council. As part of an approval, the City Engineer may impose certain conditions on your project to perform additional work in the vicinity of the project. The conditions will be based on the site conditions and the reports that you provide. If the City Council approves the exception, you will need to enter into a creek setback agreement with the City. After the agreement is executed, the City will issue your building permit. If you choose to appeal the City Engineer’s recommendation, you may do so at the City Council meeting when the City Engineer presents the recommendation with your application.

Is there a fee for the review?

Yes, the fee for the setback determination review is $125, and the fee for processing an exception is $500. Lengthy applications and appeals requiring more than 1 hour of staff time for the initial review and 4 hours for the exception review will be charged an additional $125 per hour. You may mail your submittal or deliver it to the City Offices -- attention of the City Engineer. The Engineering Dept. will usually contact you within one week for the initial review and two weeks for the exception review. Please make checks payable to the City of Lafayette.

If you still have questions, please call the Engineering Technician at (925) 284-1951.