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Introduction to the Downtown Precise Plan

You can scroll down to access hyperlinks to the Draft Plan. We recommend reading the brief introduction first.

WHAT IS THE DRAFT DOWNTOWN PRECISE PLAN? 

For decades, Downtown San Rafael has been the focus of planning studies and actions including Our Vision of Downtown San Rafael (1993); Downtown (SMART) Station Area Plan (2012); “Good Design Guidelines” (2017); and Downtown Parking & Wayfinding Study (2018).  All of these efforts share the common goal of maintaining Downtown as the City’s center.   

During the early phases of the Draft General Plan 2040 update process, the City of San Rafael pursued and secured grant funding to prepare a more detailed plan for our Downtown area.  This decision was based on many factors, including Downtown’s role as the commercial, employment, and transit center for San Rafael and Marin County, and the opportunity for community growth and much-needed housing. The Downtown Plan afforded the opportunity to incorporate all of the prior plans and studies above into one, comprehensive plan.   

Under the umbrella of the citywide Draft General Plan 2040, the Draft Downtown Precise Plan sets forth a vision for a 20-year period (2020-2040) for Downtown, but at a more granular level than General Plan 2040. The preparation of the Draft Plan was community-driven. As discussed in Chapter 1, the community engagement process in the Draft Plan preparation included a series of community workshops, a three-day charrette, and a vetting the Draft Plan components by the 24-member General Plan 2040 Steering Committee and a smaller working group of this Committee.      

WHAT YOU WILL FIND IN THE DRAFT DOWNTOWN PRECISE PLAN 

The Draft Downtown Precise Plan (Draft Plan) is comprehensive and lengthy. Much of the Draft Plan includes critical (and mandatory) background information that supports the vision and recommendations of the Draft Plan, including existing conditions, demographics, and housing policies.  Keep in mind that unlike the greater, overarching Draft General Plan 2040 which is solely a policy document, the Draft Precise Plan also includes regulations. 

 The Draft Downtown Precise Plan:  

  • serves as a policy document to guide a 20-year vision for Downtown.  
  • serves as a regulatory document for reviewing and permitting future development and changes to existing buildings. Essentially, it incorporates a zoning code that is unique to Downtown which replaces many regulations and provisions of the San Rafael Municipal Code Title 14 – Zoning (see text below on the “Form-Based Code”).  
  • incorporates design guidelines that are typically a separate document and an advisory guidance tool. 
  • incorporates specific recommendations for planning and improvements to public space.   
  • creates a predictable development review process to facilitate project streamlining.   
  • is supported by technical studies, which are included in the appendices.  The technical studies include: a transportation analysis; an updated historic resources survey and inventory; and affordable housing and anti-displacement strategy; and a financial feasibility analysis.  

A NEW APPROACH TO ZONING: THE “FORM-BASED CODE” 

The key regulatory component of the Draft Plan is the “form-based code” (Chapter 9). The code serves as the zoning regulations for Downtown and will replace many existing regulations and provisions. Unlike conventional zoning that describe regulations and requirements in text, a form-based code explains and describes regulations using graphics. It combines zoning regulations with desired design approaches that are typically found in advisory design guidelines.  The intent is to provide visual direction on what the City wants and expects in building form, size and design. This significantly reduces the potential for inconsistent interpretation of regulations, and reduces the uncertainty in the outcome of design through the development review process.      

 As the “form-based code” approach to zoning is new to San Rafael a series of informational videos were developed to explain how this type of code works and is implemented.  These informational videos can be accessed here.  An additional video will be posted in January 2021 to explain and walk through Downtown San Rafael’s proposed Code.  The City’s consultant will be testing the new Code on a number of projects and will present this information at the January 26, 2021 Planning Commission meeting. 

PUBLIC HEARINGS 

 The San Rafael Planning Commission will hold public hearings on the Downtown Precise Plan (via Zoom) at 7 PM on January 12,  January 26, and February 9, 2021.  Additional hearings will be held in March and April, 2021

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