Form-Based Codes Institute at Smart Growth America

Objective Design and Development Standards

FBCI Award_2022_Opticos_Objective Design and Development Standards

This model code for Marin County, CA exemplifies the differentiating strengths of form-based codes: clear guidance for better design outcomes and predictable, fair, and timely review processes. While conventional codes coupled with onerous discretionary review procedures create barriers to delivering affordable housing in a timely manner, Marin County’s Objective Design and Development Standards provides an exemplary model for jurisdictions and communities to overcome complicated use and density rules through clear form and design standards.

A noteworthy contribution of this work is the transferability and adaptability of the methodology to not only Marin County jurisdictions but also large and small communities across California and beyond. The standards allow for creative freedom by focusing on basic objective design elements that address how buildings relate to the environment, to other buildings, and the public realm. This innovative and design-forward open-source toolkit provides a clear path for California communities to implement state mandates; confidently move away from time-consuming review processes; facilitate greater housing capacity and diversity; and achieve higher design quality outcomes. 

This work is also an exemplary model of multi-jurisdictional cooperation. By pooling their financial resources, these communities have created a shared form-based coding platform that aligns regulatory language across the county and provides more accessible, fair, and transparent ways for guiding development. The toolkit provides a menu of calibrated standards (especially helpful for communities with limited institutional capacity) with options for further customization through place-based approaches. For example, Chapter 8 of the code—Specific to Large Sites—masterfully describes how to create walkable neighborhoods through calibration of basic urban design elements such as blocks, streets, and buildings for various site scales and contexts. 

The Marin County model form-based code and its exemplary inter-jurisdictional approach provide promising new ways for regions across the U.S. to cut through restrictive regulations and complicated approval processes that limit housing supply and increase housing costs.

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Year: 2022

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