In accordance with recent changes to State housing laws, the City is proactively developing objective standards for the design and development of new housing projects that are eligible for a streamlined approval process. To formalize these standards, the City is proposing a Zoning Code Amendment (ZCA 23-02), which introduces an Objective Development and Design Standards Manual (“the Manual”). This Manual will govern the design of multifamily and mixed-use projects that are eligible for expedited review under State law. Designed to benefit developers, design professionals, and the general public, the Manual provides clear, objective criteria for various aspects of residential development, including site planning, building design, landscaping, and architectural features. By doing so, the Manual aims to maintain the integrity of Laguna Niguel’s community character, while promoting high-quality design in eligible affordable housing projects.
December 5, 2023 - City Council Public Hearing
November 7, 2023 – City Council Public Hearing
October 24, 2023 – Special City Council Meeting
October 10, 2023 – Planning Commission Public Hearing
- What are objective development and design standards?
Objective development and design standards are intended to make the requirements that apply to certain eligible residential projects more predictable and easier to interpret for all stakeholders, including decision-makers, staff, applicants, and members of the public. The purpose of objective standards is for applicants to know beforehand what requirements apply to a proposed development and for the applicant to be able to design a project that meets those requirements before submittal. Objective development and design standards are defined in Government Code Sections 65913.4 and 66300(a)(7) as standards that “involve no personal or subjective judgment by a public official and are uniformly verifiable by reference to an external and uniform benchmark or criterion available and knowable by both the development applicant or proponent and the public official before submittal.”
Objective standards may include portions of the General Plan, Zoning Ordinance, applicable Specific Plan or Overlay Zone, Building Code, subdivision and landscaping requirements, and other land development and safety regulations.
- Which projects are eligible for streamlined ministerial review?
In the City of Laguna Niguel, projects eligible for streamlined ministerial review are primarily new multifamily and mixed-use residential developments with an affordability component. These projects must meet specific criteria as outlined by applicable State laws, such as Senate Bill 35, which may include location requirements, specified affordability levels, and/or prevailing wage. If a project is not mandated by State law to be exclusively reviewed against objective standards, it will be subject to the City’s discretionary design review process. We advise applicants to consult the California Government Code and applicable State laws to confirm eligibility for streamlined review. Failure to meet any of the criteria will require the project to undergo the standard discretionary process.
- How do I submit a project that qualifies for streamlined ministerial review?
Applicants are advised to first consult with the Planning Division to ensure they are aware of all relevant objective standards. Applicants should also cite which State housing law applies to the project to allow staff to confirm eligibility requirements that are applicable to qualifying housing projects under streamlined ministerial review. Following the initial consultation, applicants should submit their construction drawings to the Building Division. During the plan check process, a Planner will be assigned to review the plans for compliance with the City of Laguna Niguel’s objective standards, including the Objective Development and Design Standards Manual and Zoning Code. This process is designed to expedite the approval of projects that meet the city’s objective criteria.
- How does the Manual affect existing objective standards?
The Objective Development and Design Standards (ODDS) Manual only applies to qualifying residential projects that can only be reviewed for compliance with objective standards. The Manual adds to our existing standards within the Laguna Niguel Zoning Code – they do not remove or modify existing objective standards. Development standards, such as density requirements (number of dwelling units per acre), building height restrictions, site/lot coverage, and Floor Area Ratio (amount of building square footage in proportion to site/lot square footage) still apply as required by the City’s General Plan, Zoning Code, Building Code, or Specific Plan (if applicable).
- What if a project does not comply with the Manual?
If a qualifying project is reviewed under objective standards, it must comply with ALL objective standards, including the Objective Design Standards, unless the project is eligible to request a waiver of certain standards*. If a project applicant does not wish to comply with the Objective Design Standards, they may apply for Site Plan and Architectural Review, which is a discretionary review process.
*Note: Housing projects that qualify for State Density Bonus are eligible for incentives, concessions, and waivers to/of applicable development standards if they can demonstrate that the proposed housing project could not be developed at the allowed density (units per acre) due to the cost of complying with applicable development standards. Requests for incentives, concessions, and waivers are reviewed by City staff during the required project review process.
- Are developers required to follow a set design style as per the Manual?
No, the Manual serves as a framework rather than a set of strict rules. It offers a range of architectural styles that are already present in Laguna Niguel, giving developers the flexibility to align their projects with the existing local character. The Manual also features a selection of decorative elements and details that can be mixed and matched, depending on the chosen architectural style. Additionally, it includes a curated list of acceptable materials and design features, enabling developers to tailor their projects to the unique context and environment of the site.