Design Review Process Update

The Design Review process, as currently practiced and linked to adopted development standards and guidelines, is time consuming, costly and often adds risk and uncertainty to development projects. Currently the process spans three steps – Concept, Preliminary, and Final Design Review; it is not clear that the extended review time yields improvement in the quality of design of buildings in Santa Rosa.

In October 2016, the City Council accepted the Housing Action Plan (Plan), which includes a variety of programs aimed at addressing the City’s ongoing unmet housing needs. Program 4 of the Plan identifies the need to “improve development readiness of housing opportunity sites.” A specific initiative within the Plan focuses on the need for reforms to the Design Review process “which preserve the basic need for achieving quality development without impeding it.”

In November 2016, the City entered into a contract with Metropolitan Planning Group (M-Group) to assist with the Planning Process Improvements project, which includes the following three elements:

Outreach for the Design Review Streamlining portion of the project began in March 2017 with stakeholder meetings, which included the Developer Task Force, City staff, one-on-one meetings with developers, the City’s Community Advisory Board (CAB); and joint meetings of the Design Review Board, Cultural Heritage Board and Planning Commission. These meetings were an opportunity to gain an understanding of community, resident and applicant sentiment.

The Design Review Streamlining action plan will identify and prepare process and policy amendments that strengthen the intent of Design Review. Considerations will be given to creating efficiencies, clearer policy language, flexibility for innovative solutions, and better coordination between the City’s Zoning Administrator, Design Review Board, Cultural Heritage Board and Planning Commission for projects subject to Design Review. Clarification and better definition of roles of City Boards and Commissions in the broader context of land use decisions will help board members and the public to better understand board roles and purview in decision making. 

Specific areas of focus for this process improvement action plan will include, but not be limited to the following:

- Evaluate the benefit of Concept Design Review, conducted by PED staff as part of preliminary project application review, in terms of reducing time and increasing certainty in the development review process.

- Revise existing Design Guidelines to reflect current market conditions and industry trends and to reduce prescriptive interpretations. 

-Coordinate the sequence of land use, design and landmark alteration entitlements for maximum efficiency and effectiveness.

Click here to see the overall project schedule.


  1. Bill Rose

    Supervising Planner - Planning Development Review