CARLSBAD — The city of Carlsbad held its first public workshop last week to discuss the creation of objective architectural design standards for multi-family housing and mixed-use projects in the Village and Barrio neighborhoods.
About 20 residents attended the workshop on June 29 at the Senior Center, facilitated by consultants Howard Blackson, an urban design and planning director at AVRP Skyport Studios, and Neal Payton, a senior principal at Torti Gallas + Partners.
In 2019, the Carlsbad City Council approved the formation of a resident-led committee to help develop up to five new objective design standards for the Village and Barrio Master Plan — from architecture styles to building materials — to “streamline the approval process for certain kinds of housing projects”…” without involving personal or subjective judgment by public officials or decision-makers.”
Due to the state’s housing shortage, California requires cities “have less control over how many new apartments and condos can be built and when,” the city’s website reads. Also, residents can provide feedback on the standards through the city’s website.
Blackson and Payton stressed that objective design standards would not change existing development standards — building height, density or setback requirements — all entrenched in the city’s municipal code and Village and Barrio Master Plan.
“This work does not replace, or in any way change, existing zoning,” Payton said. “There is simply no change to the zoning itself. What this is intended to do, is to expedite the approval process for those projects that are conforming.”
Once the objective design standards are incorporated, a multi-family or mixed-project in the Village and Barrio Master Plan will not need approval from the city’s Planning Commission or City Council.
“The incentive, for a developer, is a more predictable outcome and shorter timeline,” Blackson said. “This area has an eclectic mix, so we want quality architecture over any particular style.”
Carlsbad Principal Planner Eric Lardy said any multi-family or mixed-use project that meets all requirements set by Senate Bill 35 would be approved “ministerially” by city staff.
It takes about 12 to 18 months for a project to be approved and, depending on the size, at least another year for construction.
Payton said that the objective design standards aim to reduce housing project timelines by up to six months by providing developers with predetermined criteria to follow.
Currently, developers can use any design or features without knowing if a project will be approved, which can be a costly risk, Blackson said.
Payton said the goal of the workshop was to answer questions and address concerns about the future of the city’s Village and Barrio neighborhood.
Residents, meanwhile, were still concerned with density, height limits, and how the “charm” and “feel” of the Village and Barrio may be disturbed. Also, residents shared thoughts on adding green spaces to the development, underground parking and architectural alignment with the area.
Mona Gocan, chairwoman of the city’s Design Review Committee, said some of the residents’ concerns, including adding green spaces, cannot be altered in this process.
Gocan also stressed how the state legislature had removed a significant amount of local control, making it difficult for residents to accept the current situation.
“We cannot stop the development in the Village and Barrio because of the state requirements,” Gocan said. “But at least as residents, we can give our input on what the Village will look like in 10 or 20 years. I think it’s hard for residents to accept we have no control over it.”
Gocan urged all residents to participate in future workshops, which are open to the public.
The city will hold several more workshops. The committee, which held its first meeting on April 25 and convenes again in August, has at least three more sessions before sending its recommendations to the Planning Commission for review.
According to the city’s timeline, the council is expected to adopt the objective design standards by next summer.