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A rendering of a mixed-use project from the city's Objective Design Standards Manual. Courtesy photo/City of Carlsbad
A rendering of a mixed-use project from the city's Objective Design Standards Manual. Courtesy photo/City of Carlsbad
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Carlsbad moves forward with new objective design standards

CARLSBAD — To transition away from subjective housing regulations while preserving community character, the City Council introduced new objective development design standards in accordance with state law during its Aug. 29 meeting.

Over the last several years, the California Legislature has passed several bills — Senate Bill 35, SB 167 and SB 330 — to address the housing crisis by removing local obstacles and streamlining the approval process for qualified affordable housing projects. 

One of the key elements of these laws is objective design standards, a pre-determined local blueprint to help expedite the construction of multi-family homes (duplexes, townhomes, condos and apartment complexes) and certain mixed-use residential projects. 

Under SB 35, affordable housing projects will receive “ministerial” approval (does not require approval from a governing body) if a project complies with objective design standards and general plans, reducing the ability of a planning commission or city council to deny affordable housing projects that meet these qualifications.

So far, the city has not received any SB 35 development applications.

Renderings from the city's Objective Design Standards Manual. Courtesy photos
Rendering from the city’s Objective Design Standards Manual. Courtesy photos

In 2021, the city of Carlsbad used $185,000 in state grant funding to pay RRM Design Group to create the  Objective Design Standards Manual for multifamily and mixed-use developments citywide, replacing the city’s existing subjective guidelines.

The city also received $160,000 in state grant funding to pay AVRP Studios to develop the Village and Barrio objective design standards.

The manual establishes objective citywide standards with an appendix for the Village and Barrio. These standards include site design, such as pedestrian and vehicle access, open space and landscaping; building design, including window treatment, roof structures, and exterior materials; mixed-use design, including window and door locations, awnings, and services areas, and utilitarian design, such as trash enclosures, outdoor light fixtures and bicycle parking.

“The (manual) will help strengthen local design regulations since the city currently cannot enforce subjective design guidelines with projects,” said Shelley Glennon, the city’s associate planner. “It will ensure project compatibility with existing community character. It will encourage residential construction for both affordable and market-rate units by creating standards that are appropriate in meeting the city’s affordable housing needs.”

For example, in the Village and Barrio, an appointed review committee approved seven architectural styles: Spanish revival, craftsman, American mercantile, Victorian, Colonial revival/Cape Cod, traditional modern and California contemporary (However, not all seven styles are allowed in each of the subdistricts regulated by the Village and Barrio Master Plan).

SB 330 limits municipal agencies’ ability to impose regulations that delay or impede eligible housing projects. While these projects don’t receive ministerial approval under this law, the city’s Planning Commission and City Council could not deny projects that adhere to objective design standards unless they pose a clear threat to health and safety.

According to City Planner Eric Lardy, the city currently has four projects under SB 330, including the 4K Apartments project, Hope Apartments (Carl’s Jr. in the Village), Carlsbad Village Drive Mixed Use (Smart and Final) and the FPC Residential project (Ponto).

Councilwoman Teresa Acosta asked how the city would enforce projects that alter their designs after approval, citing concerns from residents who told her projects don’t always align with pre-construction renderings.

“If it’s not consistent, we ask them to change it,” Lardy said. “One process has 10 findings that need to be made and compared to what has been applied. We think these objective design standards will help … so it will be clear.”

If the city does not make these certain changes, the California Department of Housing and Community Development could decertify the city’s housing element and limit the city’s ability to regulate new housing built in Carlsbad.

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