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Santa Barbara Design Standards

To encourage more housing in Santa Barbara and respond to changes in State Law, new design standards for projects of three or more units are being created to make the permitting process more predictable and easier to understand.

How will the new standards improve the permitting process?

For decades, housing projects have been permitted using design guidelines that apply to specific types of projects and specific areas of the City. These design guidelines often require interpretation and a judgement call to determine whether they’ve been met, which can add time and uncertainty to the process of permitting a housing project.

The new housing design standards will be “objective,” which means they’ll be measurable and verifiable (i.e., no “gray area” for interpretation). This will make the design review process more streamlined, predictable, and easier to interpret.

How will the new standards be developed?

The City hired a consultant (Opticos Design) to develop new standards that will ensure new condos and apartments are designed to be sensitive and compatible with existing adjacent emblematic architecture, historic resources, streetscapes, and neighborhoods. Opticos Design will do this by researching the City’s existing design guidelines, permitting process, and regulations; interviewing staff, subject-matter experts, design board members, and developers; analyzing the City’s neighborhood fabric and rich architectural character; and applying industry-leading expertise.

A Work Group has been formed with members of the City’s Architectural Board of Review, Historic Landmarks Commission, Planning Commission, and local American Institute of Architects to provide input on work products and design ideas.

There will be two public workshops for community members and stakeholders to engage with and guide the project. There will also be numerous public hearings as part of the City’s review and adoption process. Sign up for the Santa Barbara Design Standards bulletin to stay informed of meeting dates and draft work products.

What types of projects will the design standards apply to?

The design standards will apply to condos and apartment buildings. Single unit housing, accessory dwelling units, and non-residential projects will not be covered by these new standards.

How will the design standards compare to the SB35 design standards?

In May, 2021, City Council adopted the City’s first objective design standards, which used the El Pueblo Viejo Design Guidelines as a reference and only apply to the few types of apartment projects that qualify for Senate Bill 35 (SB 35) streamlined approval process. The new design standards will build off the SB35 standards, include additional architectural styles, and apply to all apartment and condo projects (rather than just SB35 projects). For more information about the SB35 design standards and SB 35 eligibility, click here.

Who is funding this project?

This project is funded by a State Housing and Community Development Department Local Early Action Planning Grant. The City staff working on this project are funded through the City’s Planning Division budget.

Who should I contact about this project?

Rosie Dyste, Project Planner
(805) 564-5470 ext 4599

Latest News

The second workgroup was held on November 19, 2021. For more information, click here.

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To provide comments, questions, or concerns please email staff at

Project Contact

Rosie Dyste, Project Planner
(805) 564-5470 ext 4599

Last Updated: Sep 1, 2021
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