Missing Middle Housing Master Plans/Specific Plans Form-Based Coding

Northwest Neighborhood Study

Novato, California

Moving the discussion from density to form and neighborhood compatibility

Novato’s Northwest Quadrant, beloved by its longtime residents and located adjacent to the city’s vibrant main street, has wrestled with concerns over development compatibility for decades.

In the 1960s and 70s, numerous apartment buildings were constructed in the small-scale, single-family neighborhood. Their large footprints, paved front parking lots, and often blank, street-facing facades were out of scale and character with the neighborhood and, in 1977, the City reacted by limiting additional apartment construction that would require “the demolition of a sound dwelling.” However, this policy and related subsequent regulations had unintended consequences: very little new development has occurred in the neighborhood since these policies were implemented.

In preparation for an update of its General Plan, the City engaged Opticos to examine the area’s opportunity for walkable housing types. Opticos conducted a neighborhood code analysis to determine what was permitted under current layers of standards, and provided rich diagrams and illustrations to clarify, for both residents and the City, the reality of what was buildable today. The design team then presented alternative design solutions and zoning recommendations incorporating housing units in forms that were compatible with the existing neighborhood. The team focused on empowering residents and the City to create standards to describe housing options that fit their needs.