County of Marin - News Releases - Multifamily Housing Design Standards

For Immediate Release
February 14, 2020

Insuring Good Design of Multifamily Housing

County seeks resident input on design options at upcoming workshops

San Rafael, CA – The County of Marin wants to assure that design guidelines for multifamily housing developments, especially for mixed-use projects and larger housing sites, maintain a high quality and will be context sensitive.

Building upon existing guidelines, staff from the Marin County Community Development Agency is implementing recent state housing legislation and studying the use of Objective Design and Development Standards, known as ODDS, not only for unincorporated Marin but as a potential choice for the county’s towns and cities. The Board of Supervisors adopted the ODDS program at its February 11 meeting.

Today, less than 30% of parcels in unincorporated Marin are zoned for multifamily housing. When a housing project is proposed, the County wants to make sure new buildings are compatible with the sizes, scales, and architectural qualities of nearby buildings.

Staff from CDA recently gave two presentations before the Board of Supervisors about a streamlined review process for the approval of multifamily housing proposals. The first presentation outlined state housing legislation that defines objective design standards, and the second presentation outlined the workplan for creating ODDS.

The first phases of the ODDS project require public participation so staff and consultants can receive feedback on a visual inventory of designs that are favorable to community members and consider the opinions in later phases of the project. CDA staff has scheduled free community workshops to introduce the ODDS project and offer opportunities for resident feedback. The schedule:

  • March 11: San Anselmo, 105 Seminary Road (Montgomery Hall)
  • March 17: Novato City Hall, 901 Sherman Avenue
  • March 18: San Rafael Community Center, 618 B Street
  • March 19: Corte Madera Community Center, 498 Tamalpais Drive

A countywide survey will be available online after the community workshops are complete.

For almost a decade, the Supervisors have responded to resident concerns about the lack of affordable housing choices in Marin, one of the most expensive counties in the United States in which to live. The Board has prioritized programs that encourage the inclusion of affordable units whenever a developer brings forth new construction plans.

CDA utilizes the existing Multifamily Design Guidelines, which include some standards that are subjective in nature and would not be effective for multifamily housing projects in the future if a project is included in new State legislation intended to simplify the approval process.  A new ODDS toolkit, available to all 11 towns and cities in Marin, would encourage well-designed multifamily housing while addressing state mandates on housing legislation.

“The existing palette of multifamily housing in Marin County was developed in the 1960s and ‘70s and it’s not necessarily the aesthetic we would choose today,” Board President Katie Rice said February 11. “…. (This project) provides an opportunity to be much more proactive and intentional about what design looks like going forward.”

CDA staff presented on February 4 about how state legislation is affecting counties like Marin. Senate Bills 35 and 330, along with the Housing Accountability Act, have set rules for streamlining the review process for multifamily projects which are consistent with zoning and land use plans. Municipalities may no longer apply subjective discretionary policies as they contemplate approvals and must instead just evaluate physical and aesthetic characteristics, height, setback, lot coverage, and proposed building materials.

On February 11, the Board heard more about the toolkit and approved budget adjustments to enter into a contract with Opticos, a Berkeley-based firm that focuses on walkable, sustainability community planning.

Not all developments proposed in unincorporated Marin will qualify for streamlined ODDS reviews. For instance, the new standards would not apply to projects that would have to undergo California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), are located in very high fire severity zones, or would result in significant public health and safety impacts.

Costs of the ODDS program will be fully offset by state grant money provided through Senate Bill 2.


Jillian Nameth Zeiger
Housing and Federal Grants Planner
Community Development Agency

3501 Civic Center Drive
Suite 308
San Rafael, CA 94903
(415) 473-7549
Email: Jillian Nameth Zeiger
Federal Grants webpage