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Single-Family Dwelling Design Review

What is Subject to Review?
Any second story addition greater than 50 square feet or "substantial removal" of an existing single family residence in any residential (R) zoning district requires a Single Family Dwelling Design Review approval.

Early Consultation with City Staff (before starting plans)
The San Mateo City Council, Planning Commission and Planning staff encourage property owners to visit the Planning Division prior to developing plans for modifying an existing single family residence. Staff is available to assist property owners by providing information about City regulations and procedures for making such modifications. Early review of the City of San Mateo’s Single Family Dwelling Design Guidelines and Zoning Code requirements can help property owners and their designers develop plans consistent with the City’s requirements and guidelines.

Required meeting with Planning Division Staff
Once schematic plans have been developed, the applicant should meet with the City’s Planning Division staff in order to receive all submittal information, requirements and materials about the Single Family Dwelling Design Review process and to provide staff with information about the proposed project. This provides an opportunity for staff to conduct a preliminary review of the project design. Staff may provide verbal comments, which should be addressed prior to submittal of the application. Please note that these comments will be general and additional issues may arise upon application submittal when staff conducts a thorough review of the application. Additionally, at this initial meeting staff will determine what level of review is required for your project (see Design Review Matrix at the end of this document).

Pre-Application Neighborhood Meeting and Notification Process
A pre-application neighborhood meeting is required prior to submittal of a Single Family Dwelling Design Review Application with the City. This process is intended to allow neighbors to be informed of a pending project in their neighborhood and be given an opportunity to comment directly to the applicant. The applicant then has the opportunity to resolve issues prior to submittal of a formal planning application, thereby reducing the potential for public controversy and the possibility of an appeal. Please refer to the Single Family Dwelling Pre-Application Neighborhood Meeting handout for requirements.

Submittal of Single Family Dwelling Design Review Applications
The next step in the Single Family Dwelling design review process involves submittal of a Single Family Design Review Application, which can occur no sooner than 5 calendar days and no later than 45 calendar days after the Pre-Application Neighborhood Meeting. The application shall include the information required in the Application Guide for Single Family Dwelling Design Review available from the Planning Division.

Single Family Dwelling Design Review Process

1. Planning Application. Applicant submits a complete Single Family Design Review Application, subject to the required information in the Planning Application Guide for Single Family Dwelling Design Review.

NOTE: Applicants are encouraged to use the services of licensed design professionals when preparing and processing Single Family Dwelling Design Review applications.

2. Project Planner. The City assigns a "project planner" to the application. The project planner:

  • Reviews the application for completeness;
  • Verifies that the Pre-Application Neighborhood Notice was done correctly;
  • Visits the site;
  • Determines if an environmental assessment is necessary.  This is unlikely unless demolition of the exiswting house is involved or is a historically significant structure.
  • Reviews the plans to ensure conformance with the Single Family Dwelling Design Guidelines and Zoning Code;
  • Coordinates the review of the application with other City departments including the Building Division, Fire Department and Public Works Department;
  • Meets with the applicant, as needed
  • Coordinates all public noticing; and
  • Prepares the written decision, with Findings and Conditions of Approval, and any subsequent staff reports if needed.

3. Environmental Document. The Project Planner prepares any required environmental document (as noted above, the requirement for such a document is unlikely unless demolition of the existing house is involved). Most Single Family Dwelling Design Review projects are categorically exempt from CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act).

4. Public Notice. Prior to the formal decision on the Single Family Dwelling Design Review application, the project planner sends a notice to all property owners within a minimum of 500 feet from the property, the neighborhood association(s) and the United Homeowners Association (same list as the pre-application neighborhood notification list). This notice informs neighbors that the Planning Division is preparing to approve the planning application. Staff or the Zoning Administrator will make a decision on the application no sooner than 10 days after the public notice. This is normally done without the need for a public hearing. However, the Zoning Administrator may refer the project to the Planning Commission if there is public controversy or a finding is made that the project is not consistent with the Single Family Dwelling Design Guidelines or other City requirements.

5. Staff or Zoning Administrator Approval and Conditions. If the application is approved, a copy of the decision, findings and any conditions of approval shall be sent to the applicant. The applicant should call the project planner within 10 days if there are any questions or comments about the approval or conditions.  Any staff or Zoning Administrator’s decision may be appealed within 10 calendar days. The requirements for an appeal may vary depending on the level of review required for the proposed project (see Single Family Dwelling Design Review Matrix for the appropriate appeal body). Any person wishing to appeal a project is required to contact the Planning Division at City Hall to submit the appropriate forms and fees. Please note that Tier II Single Family Dwelling Design Review projects are evaluated by staff for conformance with the Single Family Dwelling Design Guidelines and then cleared for Building Division submittal.

6. Planning Commission. The project may be considered by the Planning Commission as a result of a Zoning Administrator referral, an appeal of the Zoning Administrator’s decision, Planning Commission decision to review the Zoning Administrator’s action, or if a Special Use Permit is required. Any time a Single Family Dwelling Design Review application is to be reviewed by the Planning Commission, the applicant’s project plans shall first be reviewed by a design consultant hired by the City and paid for by the applicant (see next section). After the design consultant’s review, a Planning Commission public hearing date is set. Ten days prior to the hearing, a meeting notice is sent to all property owners within a minimum of 500 feet from the property, neighborhood association(s), and the United Homeowners Association (same list as the pre-application neighborhood notification list). In addition, the applicant will be required to place a placard at the project site at the same time the notice is sent. Planning Staff will prepare the placard.

The Planning Commission will make a decision on the application at a public hearing. The applicant, applicant’s architect or other representative, and any interested parties should attend. The Planning Commission decision may be appealed to the City Council within ten (10) calendar days of the Planning Commission decision. An appeal of a Planning Commission decision is filed through the City Clerks office by filling out the appropriate form and paying the associated fee.

7. Design Consultant. Prior to any Planning Commission review of a Single Family Dwelling Design Review application, a design consultant selected by the City and paid for by the applicant shall review the proposed plans. The consultant shall meet with the applicant, evaluate the proposed plans for consistency with the Single Family Dwelling Design Guidelines, and recommend necessary changes for consistency with the Single Family Dwelling Design Guidelines. After the applicant has completed any changes, the consultant shall prepare a short written report for the Planning Commission regarding the proposed plans consistency with the Single Family Dwelling Guidelines and any additional modifications needed to achieve such consistency.

8. City Council. The City Council’s review and public hearing process is the same as the Planning Commission’s process described above. The City Council will review the Planning Commission decision and reason for appeal. The City Council’s decision is final.

9. Building Permit. After the project is approved, the applicant’s next step will be to apply for a building permit. The Building Division staff (650) 522-7172 should be contacted for information about the plans and forms needed for the building permit application. Prior to issuance of the building permit, final drawings are checked by City staff to make sure that the plans are substantially the same as those approved as part of the Planning Application. In addition, all Conditions of Approval must be fulfilled and noted on the building permit plans.

An applicant or successor-in-interest must apply for a building permit within two years of the Single Family Dwelling Design Review approval, and a building permit must be issued no later than six months after that two-year date.


San Mateo City Hall – 330 West 20th Avenue, San Mateo, CA 94403

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