Neighborhood Character and Design Review

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What's New

Based on recent community input, Planning Commission concerns, and the City Council comments at the July and November 2018 Study Sessions, staff have been working on policies related to neighborhood compatibility and the design review process for second-story additions and two-story single-family homes. The City is drafting an Interim Floor Area Ratio ordinance, which would require Planning Commission review and approval for two-story additions or new two-story homes that exceed a certain size. The draft proposal will be considered by the Planning Commission in late May and by the Council in late June. The City has also kick-started the Residential Design Guidelines study. Community outreach will take place during this summer with the goal of adopting guidelines by summer of 2020.

Here are new updates regarding short term and longer term efforts:

Interim Floor Area Ratio Ordinance - Floor area ratio is the size of the house in proportion to the size of the lot. For example, a 2,500 sq. ft. home on a 5,000 sq. ft. lot has a FAR of .50. Redwood City does not have a residential FAR limit, though many jurisdictions have FAR requirements for single family homes. Instead, Redwood City currently uses height, setbacks, and lot coverage (total area of the lot covered by building) as a regulation of the building form. Most cities that have FARs, also have height, setbacks, and lot coverage requirements that they use in conjunction with FAR. The 2010 General Plan discusses residential FAR as a potential implementing action to encourage compatible development. At City Council direction, staff is preparing an Interim FAR ordinance regulating home size. This ordinance would be on an interim basis while staff completes a longer community process on design guidelines and home size. The interim ordinance would establish the following:

  • Set FAR thresholds which trigger Planning Commission review and action. For example, if the City were to set a .45 FAR, that means that new two-story single-family homes or second-story additions with a floor area of 45% of the lot area (or more), would have to be reviewed and acted on by the Planning Commission with a public hearing. Single-family projects that are under this the established threshold could still be acted upon by the Zoning Administrator. Similar to other nearby cities, staff would also suggest that detached garages be excluded from FAR totals, as this will encourage the construction of detached garages (which generally leads to better designs).

  • Develop a set of findings that the Planning Commission would need to make to approve single family projects that exceed the established FAR threshold. These findings might relate to the way the home is designed so that it is consistent with the neighborhood character. 

  • Establish a short term time period (1-2 years) for the ordinance to be in effect. This would allow the City to address the community’s needs now while developing residential design guidelines.

Residential Design Guidelines for Single-Family Homes - Design guidelines are subjective standards that discuss good design with graphic examples to address height, massing, placement, and landscaping. With consultant assistance, staff will conduct public outreach to hear from the community about values for their neighborhoods and issues and concerns. Based on that information, staff will develop draft guidelines and identify other zoning amendments that work together to address community goals. Additional public input will allow staff to further refine the recommendations and a package of amendments. The final design guidelines and amendments would go to Planning Commission and City Council for adoption in 2020. Check back for updates and materials on this study.

Background

In Redwood City, hundreds of property owners improve their homes every year. Most of these  improvements  are  relatively  minor,  and  include  kitchen  remodels,  new  roofs, window replacements and other interior renovations. In addition, each year there are dozens of major additions to single-family homes, as well as complete tear downs and rebuilds of homes on existing single-family lots. Generally, during a good economy, the City issues more permits (both small and large), than during down economic years. Given that the region is going into its eighth year of a growing economy, the City has received continued requests for large additions or tear downs and rebuilds, throughout the City. These larger projects usually generate more neighborhood concerns than smaller projects. These concerns generally focus on compatibility issues, such as the size and architectural style of the home compared to neighboring homes. 

Based on recent community input, Planning Commission concerns, and the City Council comments at the July and November 2018 Study Sessions, staff have been working on policies related to neighborhood compatibility and the design review process for second-story additions and two-story single-family homes.

Planning Flowchart

The three-phase strategy to address these concerns is outlined below:

  1. Immediate: Guiding Principles on the Neighborhood Character Finding

    Status: Council adopted the Guiding Principles on December 3, 2018

  2. Short-Term: Floor Area Ratio (FAR) Threshold Interim Ordinance requiring Planning Commission review and action if a home size exceeds an established size threshold.
    Status: Staff is drafting an interim ordinance for Planning Commission and Council consideration in late May and June (tentatively
    May 21st and June 24th). 

    Short-Term: Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) Amendments creating additional height limitation for ADUs with privacy provisions for exterior balconies and windows.
    Status: Staff is drafting an ordinance amendment for Planning Commission and Council consideration in late May and June (tentatively May 21st and June 24th).

  3. Long-Term: Residential Design Guidelines and Additional Zoning Regulations for second-story additions and new two-story single-family homes.
    Status: The City has hired a consultant to assist staff in the community outreach and preparation of residential design guidelines and has initiated the yearlong study. Community outreach will begin this summer (2019).

Helpful Documents

For Neighborhood Character and Design Review blog, go here.

For a blog post about the July 2018 Council Study Session, go here.

July 23 City Council Staff Report

July 23 City Council Presentation

Tips for Success: Single-Family Home Architectural Permit

Example of Revisions Required During Architectural Permit Process

Example: 253 Iris Street