Residential Design Guidelines*

*    Editor’s Note: See Section 17.32.090 for guidance on the use of these Design Guidelines.


The Residential Design Guidelines are intended to assist designers in understanding the city’s goals and objectives for high quality residential development. The guidelines complement the mandatory site development regulations contained in Chapter 17.32 by providing illustrated examples of desirable and undesirable development.


The design guidelines and illustrations are general and may be interpreted with some flexibility in their application to specific projects. The guidelines are to be used in conjunction with the city’s design review process (Sections 17.18.090 and 17.20.030) to encourage the highest quality of design while, at the same time, provide the flexibility necessary to encourage creativity by project designers. The guidelines also may be imposed as a condition of approval. In any instance of conflict between the provisions of these design guidelines and other provisions of the zoning ordinance, the other provisions of the zoning ordinance shall prevail.

The design guidelines are formatted into two general categories: single-family residential and multiple-family residential. Two-family duplex development falls under the guidelines applicable to single-family residential. Each category is further subdivided, where applicable, into neighborhood planning guidelines and architectural guidelines.

The guidelines apply to new construction, residential additions and remodeling that would significantly affect the exterior appearance of buildings, pursuant to Sections 17.18.090 and 17.20.030, design review.

Single-Family Neighborhood Planning

Objective. Site planning should emphasize development that fits into neighborhoods.

Problem Areas. Single-family, two-family and multi-family housing may be built on vacant lots or on combined lots in residential districts. Figure 1 shows three examples of residential layouts on a hypothetical group of six lots. The figure shows problems with each of the layouts, including paving over front yards for parking, developing accessory structures with no yard setbacks, jeopardizing the privacy of neighbors by orienting duplex units to the side yard, and orienting corner lot housing to the side street rather than the primary street—which weakens the continuity of front yards along the street. These problems should be addressed in applications for new residential development or additions, where applicable.

Second Story Side-Yard Setbacks. New single-family homes or duplexes, or additions to existing houses, may be constructed as one- or two-story buildings. To preserve open space on narrow lots, property owners may chose to develop two-story houses. However, second floors may loom over adjacent houses, and second floor side yard windows can intrude on the privacy of neighbors. Development, therefore, must be consistent with mandatory second story side yard setbacks and height limits (see Table 17.32-B and Table 17.32-C).

Figure 2, with four illustrations of two-floor, single-family houses on lots varying in width from fifty feet to twenty-five feet, shows the effects of the mandated wider second floor setbacks. These configurations help to protect the privacy of neighbors in their homes and back yards. The wider second story setbacks also help to let sunlight and air reach the ground level between the houses.

Figure 1—Infill Development in Single-Family Neighborhoods

Figure 2 — Desirable Single Family Houses on Lots of Varying Widths

A.    50-Foot Wide Parcel

B.    37-Foot Wide Parcel

C.    30-Foot Wide Parcel

D.    25-Foot Wide Parcel

Second Story Design. Because most single family housing in San Pablo is one-story in height, second story development or additions should not be so large as to overwhelm adjacent houses or be out of character with the neighborhood. Figures 3 through 13 show examples of new two-story houses and older homes with second floor additions. Some are acceptable and some are unacceptable. The acceptable examples are consistent with the height and setback standards in Table 17.32-B and Table 17.32-C.

Figure 3 — Acceptable Single-Family House on Wide Parcel

Figure 4 — Acceptable Single-Family House on Corner Parcel

Figure 5 — Unacceptable Single-Family House

Second Story Window Orientation. Second floor windows in R-1 and R-2 districts should be oriented to the front and rear, rather than to the side yard. This orientation helps protect the privacy of existing residents living adjacent to new two-story homes or second floor additions, particularly on twenty-five feet wide lots.

Figure 6 — Acceptable Single-Family House with Second Story Addition

Figure 7 — Acceptable Single-Family House with Second Story Addition

Figure 8 — Acceptable Second Story Addition on Single-Family Dwelling

Figure 9 — Acceptable Second Story Addition on Corner Parcel

Figure 10 — Preferable Second Story Addition on Corner Parcel

Garages. Garages should have varied setbacks and massing. Front yard setbacks are twenty feet for housing in the R-1 and R-2 districts, a distance intended to allow for driveway parking that does not intrude onto the sidewalk. A small increase in the garage setback in new houses is encouraged to visually diminish the importance of the garage to the front facade of the house. Recessing the garage will also help to emphasize windows and doorways facing the street (see Figure 11).

Figure 11 — Acceptable Two-Family (Duplex) Project

A garage at the front of a lot should have a single story mass, particularly in front of two-story massing (see Figure 12).

Figure 12 — Unacceptable Two-Family (Duplex) Project

Figure 13 — Acceptable One Story Two-Family (Duplex) Project

Where feasible, a garage or carport located at the rear of a parcel or on the rear half of the parcel is encouraged (Figure 6).

Porches and Doors. Covered or uncovered porches with front door entries are encouraged. They should have sufficient width and depth to be usable for protection from the weather and for sitting outdoors (see Chapter 17.46). Porches may intrude into the front yard setback a distance of up to six feet, which may introduce better variety of front yards along a street. Front doors should face the street, rather than face the side yard. Porches should not be enclosed in any way that could create habitable interior living space. A porch, overhead lattice structure or archway covered path shall be counted as part of allowed parcel coverage.

Accessory Dwelling Units. Accessory dwelling units shall follow the standards in Section 17.60.070.

Single-Family Architecture

Approach. The city encourages California mission style design, although there is no single architectural style required for single family or two-family housing. The focus is on a high quality residential environment.

Neighborhood Compatibility. New development in existing neighborhoods should incorporate distinctive architectural characteristics of surrounding development, such as consistent scale, articulation, materials, color, roof angles and forms (Figure 14), finished-floor elevation, porches, bay windows, window and door detailing, etc. as appropriate to the predominant styles in different neighborhoods.

Figure 14 — Acceptable Orientation of Residential Buildings

Craftsman Bungalow Style. Many older houses in San Pablo have features common to the craftsman bungalow style, including gable-end roofs or hip roofs with shallow pitches and wide eaves. Often, gable end eaves are “nested” with roofs at the same angle (see examples of the four street elevation drawings in Figure 2). Typically, such homes have horizontal wood clapboard or stucco walls and composition shingle roofs.

Early California Mission Style. Houses in the early California mission style should employ recessed windows, broad eaves for sun protection, tile roofs and stucco finishes.

Mixed Style. Newer curvilinear street subdivisions have homes with varied post-war styles. Roof forms are more complex, including mixes of gable end, hip, and shed. Mixed roof forms are discouraged. Wall surfaces may be divided into panels, such as stucco framed by rough-sawn wood. This mixed style would generally only be appropriate in hillside and large lot subdivisions in San Pablo.

Monotonous Surfaces. Long, uninterrupted exterior walls and roofs should generally be avoided. Relief from monotonous, blank walls may be achieved by the articulation of the building mass, landscaping, shadow patterns, and the varied texture of materials. Large roof areas may be improved by varied slopes, gables, hips and dormers, although different roof forms and angles should not necessarily occur on the same structure.

Exterior Materials. Exterior materials should be consistently applied, and piecemeal embellishment and frequent changes in material should be avoided. Metal or aluminum siding and roofs, reflective materials and finishes, and unfinished concrete block are to be avoided.

Walls and Fences. Walls and fences are integral parts of house design and the streetscape. They should be designed in styles, materials and colors to complement the dwelling units that they surround and/or to which they are attached. Chapter 17.45 contains mandatory requirements for development of walls and fences for residential, commercial and industrial projects. Discretionary residential guidelines are as follows:

•    Fences and walls should be compatible with the design of buildings or structures that they surround.

•    Fences and walls should be compatible with the design of adjacent fences or walls, although walls and fence materials that are prohibited in Table 17.44-C should not be used.

•    For a multi-family project, a substantial opaque fence or wall may be developed to a height of six feet along a front property line, bordered by a public sidewalk, in order to screen private patio(s) from public view. It may be required to set such a wall back approximately three feet to accommodate an irrigated planting strip between sidewalk and wall or fence.

Multiple-Family Site Planning

Entrances. The primary vehicular and pedestrian entrance to a multiple-family housing project should evoke a positive image and provide a point of orientation. Special attention should be given to landscaping, landscaped decorative walls and paving patterns and treatments.

Parking and Drives. Chapter 17.54 defines parking requirements for typical land uses and dimensions of parking aisles and stalls. The following provides guidelines for the layout of multiple-family parking lots, garages and carports.

•    There are three ways of providing parking in multiple-family housing projects: (1) along parking drives, (2) in parking lots (or parking “courts”), and (3) in garages and carports in residential buildings. Projects are discouraged that include long, monotonous perimeter parking drives or large, undivided parking lots. Closed garages or carports are preferred, where feasible.

•    Parking drives along the perimeter of a project isolate the residential project from its surroundings, and is to be avoided.

•    Covered carports should not be combined with project perimeter walls adjacent to streets. Carport spaces in parking lots should follow the same layout principles as described for parking lots in Sections 17.54.080 and 17.34.080, commercial design guidelines.

Building Orientation. Small multiple-family projects occupying at least two adjacent lots are allowed in some zoning districts. Development may be oriented to a central parking court (see Figure 15). The rear and side portions of the units, however, should not intrude on the privacy of existing adjacent development. Dwelling units should also be oriented to the street to maintain a single-family character, where applicable.

Figure 15 — Acceptable Multiple-Family Parking Court for Four Units

Open Space. See Section 17.32.070, Open Space Requirements. Required private open space should consist of patios or decks at ground level and/or balconies at above ground floors. The design and orientation of these areas should take advantage of sunlight exposure and be sheltered from wind, noise and traffic from adjacent streets, or other incompatible uses.

•    Private open spaces should be adjacent to primary indoor living spaces.

•    Private open spaces should be screened from public view.

•    Private balconies, porches and patios within multiple-family housing should be integrated to break up large wall masses, offset floor setbacks and add human scale to structures (Figure 16).

•    Required common open space should be conveniently located for the majority of units.

Figure 16 — Acceptable Multiple-Family Housing Project

Landscaping. See Chapter 17.48, Landscaping. All areas not covered by structures, drives, parking or paving patterns and treatments should be appropriately landscaped.

•    A minimum of fifteen percent of a multi-family project shall be set aside in permanent, usable and landscaped open space.

•    Landscaping should be used to frame, soften and enhance the quality of the environment.

•    Landscaping should screen undesirable land uses and views, provide privacy and sun protection around buildings and in parking lots, and help to reduce noise.

•    Landscaping should help to break up large parking lots and separate private frontage roads in a project from public streets.

Security. Multiple-family projects should be designed to provide security for residents and visitors.

•    Parking areas should be well lighted.

•    Parking areas should be visible from residential units that use them.

•    Projects should have secure open spaces and children’s play areas that are visible from residential units.

•    Landscaping should be planted and maintained to discourage intruders from entering a project and to provide views into open space areas.

Multiple-Family Architecture

Approach. The city encourages California mission style design, although there is no particular architectural style required for multiple-family residential structures. Elements of the craftsman bungalow and early California mission style may be applicable. However, the primary focus is on creation of a high quality residential environment.

Similarity to Single-Family Architecture. Many of the same architectural principles and guidelines discussed under the single-family architecture section are also applicable to multiple-family projects, and should be considered in conjunction with the design of multiple-family projects.

Craftsman Bungalow Style. Key elements of the craftsman bungalow style, when used for multi-family residential development, should include painted, horizontal clapboard siding, gable end roofs facing the street, and roof forms that echo roof forms of adjacent or nearby bungalow style houses and multiple-family housing. This guideline does not apply to flat-roofed structures.

Early California Mission Style. Key elements of the early California mission style when used for multi-family residential development should include stucco walls, recessed windows, broad roof overhangs, and eaves supported by revealed heavy timbers. Simple building forms and roof shapes and well landscaped, walled courtyards are encouraged, while elements such as column capitals and window frames covered with stucco are discouraged.

Monotonous Facades. Long, monotonous facades exceeding approximately forty feet in length should be avoided. Building facades should be broken up to highlight individual dwelling units. This can be achieved with facade projections, recesses and staggered planes and balconies, garage doors and porch entries. Some projections from the face of a building should extend the full height of the structure. Two adjacent units should not have identical wall forms, colors and rooflines or patterns of windows and doors (see Figure 16).

Roof Treatment. Elements such as dormers and cross gables can mitigate the effects of roofs of excessive length. Secondary hipped or gabled roofs covering the entire mass of a building are much preferable to mansard roofs or segments of pitched roof applied at a structure’s edge.

Side-Yard Setbacks. Multiple-family housing is subject to the stepped side yard setbacks in Section 17.32.060. Structures greater than four stories may require additional setbacks so that they do not dominate the character of a neighborhood.

Entrances to Units. The use of long, monotonous access balconies and corridors that serve five or more units should be avoided. Instead, access points to units should be clustered in groups of four or fewer, such as through small courtyards (see Figure 17). To the extent possible, entrances to individual units should be plainly visible from nearby parking areas. Distinctive architectural elements and materials are encouraged to highlight entrances.

Stairs. Simple, bold projections of stairways should complement the architectural massing and form of multiple-family structures. Stairways should be of smooth stucco, plaster or wood, with accent trim of complementary colors. Thin looking, open treads and risers, and prefabricated stairs are strongly discouraged.

Garages and Carports. Detached garages, carports and accessory structures should be designed as integral parts of multiple-family projects. They should be similar in materials, color and detail to the principal structures of a development. Prefabricated metal carports should not be used.

Garage Doors. Garage doors should appear to be set into exterior walls rather than flush with them. The design of garage doors should be simple so as not to draw attention to them.

Figure 17 — Acceptable Transition from Public to Private Residential Spaces

(Ord. 2020-011 § 11, 2020)