Project Description

Community Development Agency

PROJECT TIMELINE: Marin County Objective Design + Development Standards

Marin Objective Design Standards Project Timeline

Click on the image above to look at the timeline more closely



  • Currently, towns and cities in Marin County rely on both subjective and objective review processes to maintain their individual aesthetic standards for multi-unit residential development. This review is typically done by staff and the Planning Commission. On some occasions, it is done by the Design Review Board or City Council/Board of Supervisors.
  • Increasingly, State laws are aimed at reducing the extent of discretionary review to spur increased housing development. See “Definitions” below for full definition of discretionary review.
  • Per state law, only the objective standards in a community’s zoning code can be applied to qualifying multi-unit projects.  An objective standard involves no personal or subjective judgment.  See “Definitions” below for full definition of objective standard.
  • Marin County is undertaking this process to address current housing legislation and develop standards that encourage well designed multi-family housing.


  • In response to the increasing number of State laws requiring more streamlined approval processes, Marin County is starting a process to prepare Objective Design and Development Standards (ODDS).  This effort will result in a toolkit of standards that, when adopted, do not require interpretation and provide a clear review and approval process. This allows Marin County to specify the design and aesthetics of developments that address topics such as architectural style while accommodating current and future legislation requirements.
  • Marin County is collaborating with 9 other Marin County Cities and Towns and Marin County on tasks to develop a general toolkit.  The toolkit will address each community’s needs and will be developed by the Planning Directors and staff who are working together with a consultant team led by Opticos Design.
  • When the toolkit is completed in Fall 2020, each community will have the option to apply the toolkit to its local zoning ordinance and further tailor the toolkit, if so desired.  At that point, the toolkit will guide Marin County’s adaptation of existing multifamily and mixed-use zoning and design guidelines into objective design standards that address local architectural styles, building patterns, and historic areas.


This work is funded by the State through the Building Homes and Jobs Act of  2017 (known as SB 2).  SB 2 was passed to provide funding and technical assistance to help cities and counties respond to the new streamlined review process by preparing and implementing plans for multi-family housing projects.



Zoning Code Toolkit

The suite of tools will include design and development standards that range from amending zoning standards, supplemental standards, architectural style standards, and updated review procedures that can be added to existing residential and mixed-use zoning districts. The toolkit will provide standards in a way that enables each community to apply as few or as many elements of the standards as desired.

Toolkit Tailoring

The toolkit can be further tailored to Marin County’s needs before adding it to the zoning code.  The consultant team is available to advise each community on the approach to adding the content to their zoning code. Once the toolkit is applied to specific areas and parcels, its standards will be used by general contractors, developers, architects, planners, and related professions as the requirements for multi-unit development.


State Laws


Terms and Definitions

Design Guidelines.  A set of expectations, goals, values, and qualities by which projects are evaluated in the discretionary review process. Typically, design guidelines are phrased as non-objective standards. Guidelines typically address a wide variety of topics ranging from site design, building design, architectural style, and landscaping.  Under new State laws, many design guidelines will not meet the requirements for Objective Design and Development Standards.

Discretionary Review.  The process of using subjective factors to review a proposed development and/or use.  Design Guidelines are an example of subjective factors that are typically part of the discretionary review process.

Ministerial Review.  Sometimes referred to as “non-discretionary” review, this process involves little or no personal judgment by planning staff. The review involves only the use of fixed standards or objective measurements.

Non-Objective Standard.  A standard that cannot be measured or requires interpretation.

“Produce high quality design.”
“Use high quality, durable materials that age well.”
“Consistent with the character of neighborhood”

Objective Design and Development Standard (ODD).  Housing legislation defines an "objective" standard as one that involves no personal or subjective judgment by a public official and uniformly verifiable by reference to an external and uniform benchmark or criterion available and knowable by both the development applicant and the public official prior to submittal.

“Structured parking shall not be visible from the street. The public-facing elevations of parking structures shall be lined with residential or commercial uses on all levels.”
“For each personal outdoor space provided, a minimum dimension of 5 feet is required in any one direction.”
“Mirrored glass is prohibited.”

RHNA (Regional Housing Needs Assessment).  In 1969, the State mandated that all California cities, towns and counties plan for local housing needs. This State mandate is called the Housing Element and the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA). For all regions of the State, the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) determines the RHNA, which is the number of new homes that need to be built in order to meet the housing needs of people at all income levels.

Zoning.  Regulations for each parcel in a community or district  that identify the requirements for development, additions, and allowed uses.  Typical standards address the amount of building area allowed, the number of residential units allowed, building height, building setbacks, required parking, landscaping, allowed uses. Zoning types include Euclidean, negotiated, performance based, and form based.


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