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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.

How will the new standards improve the permitting process?

For decades, housing project design has been directed by design guidelines for specific types of projects and areas of the City. These design guidelines often require interpretation and a judgement call to determine whether they’ve been met.

The new 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.

Where will the new standards apply?

They will apply to all or some of 19 neighborhoods and 11 zone districts that currently allow three or more residential units (not including accessory dwelling units).

Project Area Map

How will the new standards be developed?

The City hired Opticos Design to work with staff on the new standards. Opticos Design is 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.

The neighborhood analysis was released in January 2022 and is available here. It includes an evaluation the existing physical character of the project area, a study of current zoning standards on five lots, and a list of existing architectural styles by neighborhood and building size.

The project is guided by a Work Group consisting of 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. Work Group meetings are open to the public. For more information, click here.

There will also be community outreach and 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 and duplex 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 purely 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. 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 existing conditions report has been released. For more information, click here.

A third Work Group meeting was held on February 11, 2022. 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: Jan 28, 2022
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