Single-Family and "Plex" Housing Objective Design Standards

Plex Housing 1

The City of Cotati has initiated a project to develop Objective Design Standards for single-family and “plex” housing. When adopted by the City Council, these standards will be incorporated into the City’s Land Use Ordinance, which is part of the City’s Municipal Code.

What are “Objective Design Standards”? This means specifications or requirements that relate to building and site design that do not require personal or subjective judgement or interpretation by the City staff, Planning Commission, or City Council. 

What is meant by “single-family” and “plex housing”Single-family homes are buildings that contain only a single residential unit. “Plex” housing refers to buildings or groups of buildings that contain a total of 2 to 9 residential units. This includes duplexes, triplexes, 4-plexes, 6-plexes, etc. It can also include townhouses, stacked flats, side-by-side units, live-work units, bungalow courts, small courtyard apartment buildings, and other layouts. 

Why is this important? Changes in State law intended to address California’s current housing affordability crisis have impacted the way that local governments are allowed to review and approve new housing development projects. Many new housing projects can no longer be subject to any kind of discretionary (subjective) approval process, meaning they cannot be reviewed or acted upon by the Planning Commission or City Council, nor can they be required to obtain community input. These residential projects can proceed straight to the building permit application process. This is also referred to as “ministerial approval” or “streamlining.” 

However, while discretionary review of residential design is not allowed in streamlined projects, objective design standards, which require all new projects to meet a specific, clearly stated set of standards, are allowed. Having objective design standards in the City’s Code will ensure that new housing projects are designed to fit in with Cotati’s existing residential character. 

Community Outreach and Decision-Making Process

Community input is very important to the process of developing the Objective Design Standards (ODS). There are a few ways to get involved:

  • Take the Visual Preference Survey. To obtain public feedback on physical design alternatives, the City has developed a visual preference survey. Participants’ input will be used to guide City staff, the Planning Commission, and the City Council in developing the Single-Family and Plex Housing ODS. The survey will be open until 10:00am March 14, 2024. You’ll have the option to provide your name and email address after completing the survey to be entered into a prize drawing for a $25 gift certificate from Cotati’s new Greek restaurant, Mezzeluna
  • Attend a workshop. Public workshops on the ODS with the Planning Commission and the City Council are tentatively planned for May 2024. Visit this page for updates or sign up for email bulletins below.
  • Attend a public hearing. The Planning Commission and City Council will hold public hearings on the proposed ODS, tentatively scheduled for June 2024. Visit this page for updates or sign up for email bulletins below. Written comments may also be submitted in addition to or in lieu of attending and commenting at the meetings. 
Village Walk COT Triplex Reduced size
Veronda home COT Reduced size

Decision Making Process and Schedule

  1. Visual Preference Survey -- Open until 10:00am, March 14, 2024
  2. Planning Commission Workshop – May 2024 (tentative): City staff will present the draft Single-Family and Plex Housing ODS, report out on visual preference survey results, and receive preliminary input from the Planning Commissioners.
  3. City Council Workshop – May 2024 (tentative): City staff will present the draft Single-Family and Plex Housing ODS, report out on visual preference survey results and Planning Commission comments, and receive preliminary input from Councilmembers.
  4. Planning Commission Public Hearing – June 2024 (tentative) Once the final draft of the Single-Family and Plex Housing ODS Ordinance has been completed by City staff, the draft Ordinance will go to the Planning Commission for discussion and recommendation to the City Council.
  5. City Council Public Hearing  – June 2024 (tentative): The draft ODS Ordinance will be presented to the City Council, along with the recommendation from the Planning Commission, for discussion and consideration of approval.

Notification regarding the Planning Commission and City Council workshops and public hearings will be distributed through the City’s website, email, and social media. Public Hearing Notices will be published in the Community Voice.

If you would like to be added to the email list for ODS project updates and information about meetings, or if you have any questions, please contact Autumn Buss, Associate Planner, abuss@cotaticity.org or 707-238-5276. 

More Information and Resources

Existing Cotati Standards 

  • The City adopted ODS for Multifamily Residential development in 2021. Some aspects of these ODS may be included in the Single-Family and Plex Housing ODS. 
  • The City’s existing Residential Design Criteria that currently apply to single-family housing were adopted in 1990. They lack sufficient detail and objectivity to be useful in evaluating new housing proposals. 
  • The Downtown Specific Plan, adopted in 2009, includes multiple standards for plex housing that may be useful in developing the Single-Family and Plex Housing ODS.
brookwood and tokay SR

When and where would ODS for Single-Family homes be applied? The ODS would apply both to new individual single-family homes, and to subdivision projects of multiple lots with new houses, in zoning districts where single-family homes are allowed. Property owners and developers would still be allowed to propose designs that are not consistent with the ODS, but this would require a discretionary approval process.

When and where would ODS for Plex Housing be applied? The ODS would apply to all new plex housing of 2 to 9 units, both rental and for sale (condominiums), in zoning districts where such housing is allowed. Property owners and developers would still be allowed to propose designs that are not consistent with the ODS, but this would require a discretionary approval process. Plex housing in Cotati is most likely to be built on “infill” sites. Infill sites are generally smaller-sized lots that are surrounded by existing development and centrally located, as opposed to larger lots that are surrounded by other vacant lots and/or located at the edges of a town or city. Since Cotati has relatively little undeveloped land, infill development is a key strategy to provide additional housing for our community. 

Plex housing is often referred to as “Missing Middle” housing because 1) It represents a mid-range housing type in terms of size and density, falling between single-family homes and mid-rise apartments; and 2) This type of housing tends to be more affordable to middle-income households, due to generally smaller unit sizes. However, plex housing types have not been built in significant numbers in the U.S. since the 1940s. Zoning laws and the housing construction market since World War II have favored single-family homes and higher-density multifamily housing, resulting in a Missing Middle.

Read more about Missing Middle housing:

https://missingmiddlehousing.com/

https://www.aarp.org/livable-communities/housing/info-2020/missing-middle-housing.html

Single-Family and "Plex" Housing Objective Design Standards Interest List

  1. Please provide your name and email address below if you would like to receive ODS project information and updates.

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