San Carlos, CA

Objective Design Standards (ODS)

Project Introduction

The City of San Carlos invites the community to join in preparing Objective Design Standards (ODS) for all future residential development.
The City is creating Objective Design Standards for:

If you are considering submitting a planning application for a single-family project, make sure to refer to the revised San Carlos Municipal Code for the latest single-family development requirements. Additionally, watch the informative video below for a detailed understanding of the new Compliance Review process for single-family development.

  • Phase 2: Underway - Multi-Family & Mixed-Use Developments. The City is in the early phases of drafting these standards. Currently, staff is receiving comments on the draft recommendations for mixed-use and multi-family development types presented to the Planning and Transportation Commission Study Session on November 20, 2023.
How can I get involved in Phase 2?

We have several ways for you to share your input. We encourage you to get involved and share your thoughts! Here's how:

1. Share your Input using a feedback form on Mixed-use/Multi-Family ODS: We want your input to create attractive, engaging designs for new mixed-use and multi-family development in San Carlos. We especially want your input on questions about massing and articulation, site design, street-facing building design, and landscaping.

2. Share your Input by Attending the Upcoming Meetings: Check this project page regularly to learn about all upcoming meetings and public engagement opportunities.

3. Sign up for E-news to get regular updates on the ODS project:
Project Background

What are Objective Design Standards?

State law defines objective standards as those that “involve no personal or subjective judgment by a public official and are uniformly verifiable by reference to an external and uniform benchmark or criterion available and knowable by both the development applicant and public official before submittal.”

In contrast, subjective standards require interpretation by City staff or discretionary boards. For example, a requirement for a 40-square-foot front entryway is an objective standard, while a “welcoming front entry” requirement is subject to interpretation.  An objective standard like “building exteriors shall utilize at least two different colors” could replace a current subjective requirement such as “every building shall have complementary colors which demonstrate a harmonious relationship.”

Why should we create Objective Design Standards?

State Legislation
The State of California has adopted legislation requiring cities to approve certain housing proposals through ministerial, or "over-the-counter," processes based on objective standards. The result of these laws is to encourage cities to create quicker, more accessible pathways for housing to be built.

Clear Expectations
For residents, property owners, and developers, objective standards provide clear expectations of the types of design, articulation, and massing to be expected in San Carlos neighborhoods. The Objective Design Standards will build off of existing guidelines and community input, and will also provide clear language and graphic illustrations for developments to follow.

Quicker Processing Times
The standards would communicate expectations to applicants, and if an eligible project applicant complies with the standards (as well as all other related requirements), approval could be through a staff-level administrative process with no public review or hearing. This eliminates barriers to residential permitting by reducing application timelines and clarifies what will be required from the beginning of the design phase.

Past Meetings and Community Input

This section provides an overview of the City's past engagement and outreach on Objective Design Standards for Single-Family Development and Mixed-Use / Multi-Family Development. Thank you to everyone who has participated in this process and provided us with your input.

November 20, 2023, Planning and Transportation Commission Study Session

Staff and the MIG consultant team presented the draft Objective Design Standards recommendations for mixed-use and multi-family residential development types during a Study Session with the Planning and Transportation Commission on Monday, November 20, 2023. The staff report and attachments are below:

November 13, 2023, City Council Meeting - Second reading of the Ordinance

At the Monday, November 13, 2023, City Council meeting, by the second reading, the City Council adopted the Ordinance to create Objective Design Standards for Single-family development projects. These standards will be effective December 13, 2023.

As a next step, City staff will proactively share information about these new regulations through multiple city-wide communication channels. 

For Staff Report and Attachments visit:

October 23, 2023, City Council Meeting - First Reading of the Ordinance

On Monday, October 23, the Council introduced an Ordinance to adopt new Objective Design Standards for single-family development projects, which include primary residences, accessory dwelling units, and urban infill units (SB-9 units). Simultaneously, the Council approved a more streamlined staff-level Compliance Review process for all single-family projects. This new Compliance Review process is anticipated to simplify procedures, reduce expenses for applicants, and expedite the processing of single-family applications. The Council also formally introduced the permanent Urban Infill Unit regulations, replacing the existing SB-9 Urgency Ordinance. During this meeting, the Council requested amendments to the proposed Ordinance.

For Staff Report and Attachments visit:

June 19, 2023, Planning & Transportation Commission Recommendation to City Council

On Monday, June 19, 2023, at 7:00 PM the City Hall - Planning and Transportation Commission Meeting reviewed the final draft ODS for Single-Family development. During this meeting, the Commission recommended the City Council adopt Objective Design Standards for single-family development and directed staff to study zero lot line standards for small lot subdivisions and Urban Infill Units. Additionally, the PTC also recommended the City Council direct staff to study flag lots for Urban Infill Units.

Click here for the Presentation/Meeting Video and Staff Report

May 3, 2023, Planning & Transportation Commission Study Session #2 on Single-Family ODS

Click here for the Staff Report, and Meeting Video

April 26, 2023, Community Workshop on Mixed Use / Multi-Family ODS

Topics for discussion included: Exploring opportunities to create effective transitions between multifamily/mixed-use buildings and single-family zoning districts, the importance of green space and landscaping to improve street presence, and the massing and articulation of these development types.

Click here for the Presentation & Recording

March 20, 2023, Planning and Transportation Commission Study Session #1 for Single-Family ODS

Topic: Draft standards for single-family ODS. Click below for:

Preliminary Draft Single-Family Development Standards
Study Session Summary
Staff Report & Meeting Recording

Community Survey (open January - March 2023)

The community was invited to participate in a survey to share input on the Objective Design Standards. The City received responses from over 420 participants. Click here to view the Community Survey results.

638053095247170000 - CopyOctober 19, 2022, Community Workshop on Mixed Use / Multi-Family ODS

Topic: Design standards for mixed-use and multifamily housing developments. Discussions by participants addressed landscaping and tree-lined streets, pocket parks and common open spaces, balconies, and rooftop decks, building materials and articulation, step-backs for upper stories, and much more.

Click here for Presentation Slides, Workshop Recording, and Workshop Summary

June 6, 2022, Joint Residential Design Review Committee & Planning and Transportation Commission Study Session on Single-Family ODS

Topic: Presentation of project updates and Virtual Community Workshop data, gathering input, and receiving public comments on the Objective Design Standards being developed for future residential projects in San Carlos.

Click here for the Joint Study Session Meeting Recording and Agenda Packet

May 4, 2022, Community Workshop on Single-Family ODS

Topic: Single-family design in San Carlos neighborhoods. A variety of residents volunteered their time that evening to help staff and the project consultant (MIG) understand what design elements are most important to the community.

Click here for Presentation Slides, Workshop Recording, and Workshop Summary

City Contact Information

For ODS-specific questions or comments contact:
Rucha Dande, AICP
Project Manager

For general planning inquiries contact:

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