City of Redwood City
May 10 · 6 min read

Learn more about Floor Area Ratio Limits, Accessory Dwelling Units Rules, and Residential Design Guideline Efforts planned or underway and ways to provide input

This May and June, City staff will be seeking input from the City’s Planning Commission, City Council and community on regulations for house size and accessory dwelling units. These proposed regulations respond to past City Council discussions and concerns from the community about potential incompatibility of large homes with neighborhood character and privacy and the size of second-story accessory dwelling units.

Learn more about these proposed changes including proposed interim Floor Area Ratio (FAR) regulations, new zoning rules for Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), and upcoming community engagement opportunities to develop Residential Design Guidelines. This blog provides details on these short-term and long-term efforts and online resources for more details.

Update on Short-Term Priorities

Proposing An Interim Floor Area Ratio Ordinance

Floor area ratio (FAR) is the size of the house in proportion to the size of the lot. For example, a 2,500 sq. ft. home on a 5,000 sq. ft. lot has a FAR of .50. Redwood City does not have a residential FAR limit, though many jurisdictions have FAR requirements for single-family homes. Instead, Redwood City currently uses height, setbacks, and lot coverage (total area of the lot covered by building) as a regulation of the building form. The 2010 General Plan for Redwood City discusses residential FAR as a potential implementing action to encourage compatible development.

At City Council direction, staff is preparing an Interim FAR ordinance regulating home size. This ordinance would be implemented on a short-term basis while staff completes a longer community-driven process on design guidelines and home size. The interim ordinance would set an FAR threshold that triggers Planning Commission review and action. For example, if the City were to set a .45 FAR, that means that new two-story single-family homes or second-story additions with a floor area of 45% of the lot area (or more), must be reviewed by the Planning Commission at a public hearing. Single-family projects that fall under the threshold could still be approved by the Zoning Administrator.

Staff will also be recommending findings for larger homes and specific exceptions to established thresholds. Planning Commission review will require an additional set of findings to ensure consistency with the neighborhood character. Similar to other nearby cities, staff also suggests that detached garages and ADUs be excluded from FAR totals, as this will encourage the construction of detached garages (which generally leads to better designs). Finally, staff is recommending a limited time period for the interim ordinance to address immediate community concerns while developing a long-term process and adoption of residential design guidelines.

City staff will be presenting to the City’s Planning Commission in June and seeking City Council input in the summer. Links to both the Planning Commission and City Council provide meeting details and agendas. Both meetings are open to the public and community input is encouraged.

For more details about the City’s interim Floor Area Ratio Ordinance, go here.

Recommending Amendments to Accessory Dwelling Units Zoning Rules

In addition to the interim FAR ordinance, staff will also be proposing amendments to the Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU) ordinance. The community has expressed concerns around height and privacy of second-story accessory dwelling units. These concerns are in response to state law requiring cities to allow ADUs over the garage. Staff is proposing amendments to address height and privacy impacts while encouraging one-story ADUs including height restrictions and limitations on windows, balconies and exterior stairs. City staff is also proposing more flexible or reduced standards for one-story ADUs.

City staff will be presenting these recommended changes to the City’s Planning Commission in June and seeking City Council input this summer. Both meetings are open to the public and community input is encouraged.

For more details about the City’s ADU policies, go here.

Update on Longer Term Priorities

Developing Residential Design Guidelines

The City has initiated a yearlong study to develop residential design guidelines for single-family homes. Design guidelines are subjective standards that discuss good design with graphic examples to address height, massing, placement, and landscaping. The Council directed staff to develop residential design guidelines as a tool to help address neighborhood compatibility. With consultant assistance, staff will conduct public outreach to hear from the community about values for their neighborhoods and issues and concerns they are facing. Based on this community input, staff will develop draft guidelines and identify other zoning amendments that work together to address community goals. Additional public input will allow staff to refine the proposed recommendations.

Initial community engagement will begin this summer with a number of opportunities to provide input. Staff anticipates proposing design guidelines and amendments to the Planning Commission and City Council summer of 2020.

For more details about the City’s Neighborhood Character and Design Review, go here.

Neighborhood Characteristics Background

Based on recent community input, Planning Commission feedback and City Council comments in July and November 2018 Study Sessions, staff is working to address City Council direction on changes to existing policies and creating new policies related to neighborhood compatibility and the design review process for second-story additions and two-story single-family homes. The three-phase strategy adopted to address City Council feedback includes the following short-term and long-term approaches.

Immediate Term Priorities Completed: City Council adopted Guiding Principles on Neighborhood Character on December 3, 2018.

Other Short Term Priorities: Floor Area Ratio (FAR) Threshold Interim Ordinance requiring Planning Commission review and action if a home size exceeds an established size threshold. Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) Amendments creating additional height limitation for ADUs with privacy provisions for exterior balconies and windows.

Long-Term Priorities: Residential Design Guidelines and additional Zoning regulations for second-story additions and new two-story single-family homes.

For a past blog on these short-term and long term efforts, go here.

Online Resources

For more details on the City’s Accessory Dwelling Units Policies, go here.

For information about Planning Services go here.

For the City’s Neighborhood Character and Design Review website, go here.

For new mapping tools to learn about proposed developments, permits in your neighborhood and other helpful information, go here.

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City of Redwood City

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Redwood City VOICE

Information & Perspectives from the City

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