Building Height Standards

Planning Commission Public Hearing
Building Height Standards

On Wednesday, December 8, 2010, the City Council voted to leave the residential building height and parking standards of the 1986 Zoning Ordinance unchanged. Staff’s PowerPoint presentation to the City Council can be accessed here  (4.07 MB).


On Monday, September 13, 2010, the Planning Commission by resolution directed staff to forward to the City Council recommended text amendments to the 1986 Zoning Ordinance that would change current building height and parking standards for residential properties in those portions of the Coastal Zone outside of the Downtown Redevelopment Area (Study Area  (864 KB)). The recommended zoning text amendments would essentially align the residential building height standards of the 1986 Zoning Ordinance with those of the previously-applicable 1992 Zoning Ordinance, while adding new standards for façade articulation and augmented parking requirements for single-family homes containing more than five bedrooms. The proposed amendments would reduce the allowable building height for residential development within the Study Area from 35 to 27 feet, while also changing the basis from which building height is measured from average finished grade to existing grade at all points beneath the building footprint. The full text of the proposed amendments can be accessed here  (76.8 KB).

Any changes to development standards within the Coastal Zone require certification by the California Coastal Commission (CCC). Thus, should the City Council take action on this issue on December 8th, the Planning Division will then submit the City Council action for CCC review. Once CCC staff has deemed the City’s submittal complete, the Commission must conduct a public hearing on the submittal within 90 days.

With respect to discretionary review during the interim period (virtually all residential development within the Study Area is subject to a Regular Coastal Permit), the Planning Commission further directed staff to continue evaluating development proposals under the standards that are now in place – i.e. those that establish the maximum allowable building height for residential development at 35 feet as measured from average finished grade. Following Planning Commission direction and taking further guidance from relevant policies in the City’s General Plan and Local Coastal Program, staff is assessing current applications for residential development not only on the basis of their conformance to current standards but also in terms of their contribution to the visual quality of the urban environment, compatibility with surrounding development, respect for existing topographic features and preservation and enhancement of public view corridors.

Should you have questions or concerns about the proposed zoning text amendments, please contact Senior Planner Russ Cunningham at 760-435-3525 or via email at


Formal efforts to address concerns about residential building height began on Monday, May 10, 2010, when the Planning Commission conducted a public workshop intended to gather and respond to community input on current building height limits and building height measurement standards for residential properties in those portions of the Coastal Zone located outside of the Downtown Redevelopment Area. The workshop series was motivated by changes to maximum allowable building height occasioned by the reinstatement last year of the 1986 Zoning Ordinance, following the California Coastal Commission’s (CCC) determination that the previously applicable 1992 Zoning Ordinance has never been certified by that state agency. Maps depicting those areas within the Coastal Zone where residential building height limits and building height measurement standards are being reevaluated can be accessed here.

At the May 10 workshop, Planning Division staff outline the existing regulatory framework for the Coastal Zone properties under study, highlighted issues pertinent to residential building height (e.g., public view corridors, neighborhood character), illustrated existing conditions in the built environment and compared Oceanside’s standards and procedures with those established in neighboring coastal jurisdictions. Members of the community had an opportunity to ask questions, share concerns and offer suggestions for zoning text amendments and/or other policy or protocol changes that address the issue of building height and its measurement.

Approximately 20 community members provided input on the subject of building height in the study area. While opinions varied regarding the appropriate height limit(s) for the study area, nearly all speakers encouraged the City to clarify building height standards and provide for an intelligible, consistent and transparent development review process. The recommendations outlined in the memo and exhibits below (under ARCHIVE) seek to respond to this call for clarity, consistency and transparency.

The last time the community was fully engaged on the question of residential building height limits in the Study Area was prior to the adoption of the 1992 Zoning Ordinance, when public outreach resulted in a provision in the 1992 Code which restricts residential building height to 27 feet and two stories “on lots within the Townsite area southerly of the Downtown District boundaries and the South Oceanside Neighborhood Planning Areas.” In other residential areas of the Coastal Zone not within the Downtown District – i.e., portions of the Eastside Capistrano neighborhood – the 1992 Zoning Ordinance establishes a maximum allowable residential building height of 35 feet. The table below illustrates how building height limits and building measurement standards have changed for certain Coastal Zone property as a result of the reinstatement of the 1986 Zoning Ordinance.

Differences in Residential Building Height
Between the 1986 and 1992 Zoning Ordinances

1986 Zoning Ordinance
(Applicable as of May 11, 2009)
1992 Zoning Ordinance
(Superseded as of May 11, 2009)
Max. Residential Bldg. Height
(Townsite and South Oceanside)
35 feet 27 feet
Max. Residential Bldg. Height
(Eastside Capistrano)
35 feet 36 feet
Basis for Height Measurement Average Finished Grade Existing Grade
Method of Height Measurement Not Specified Code Section 3017  (180 KB)

The Coast Highway Vision and Strategic Plan (CHVSP), adopted by the City Council in April 2009, takes into account the height standards of the CCC-certified 1986 Zoning Ordinance. Coastal Zone properties within the CHVSP study area include both commercially zoned lots with frontage on Coast Highway and high-density residential (R-3) properties situated between Coast Highway and the railroad right-of-way (including the Arts, Technology and Environment District that extends from Wisconsin Avenue to the Oceanside Blvd. Sprinter Station). While the residential properties within the CHVSP boundaries have been included in this study of residential building height standards, the current 35-foot height allowance for these properties conforms to the land use plan, design guidelines and other components of the CHVSP. Thus, the study of alternative building height standards will focus on those Coastal Zone residential properties that lie outside of the CHVSP boundaries – i.e., those situated on the coastal side of the railroad right-of-way.

Subsequent to the May 10th public workshop, as part of the effort to bring clarity and consistency to the evaluation of building height Citywide, the scope of this planning effort was expanded to include proposed amendments to building height standards in the 1992 Zoning Ordinance, which governs land use and development in all areas of the City outside of the Coastal Zone and the Downtown Redevelopment Area. In tandem with recommended amendments to the 1986 Zoning Ordinance, proposed changes to the 1992 Zoning Ordinance are intended to address existing ambiguities and increase consistency between these two regulatory documents.

On July 26, 2010, the Planning Commission considered staff recommendations for zoning text amendments that would revise certain residential building height standards now in place under both the 1986 and the 1992 Zoning Ordinances. Presented along with the alternatives of maintaining the status quo and reconciling the residential building height standards of the 1986 Code with those of the 1992 Code, staff’s recommendations sought to address the following questions: What is the appropriate building height maximum for residential development within the study area? How should building height be measured? How should “basements” be distinguished from “stories”? What, if any, improvements should be allowed to project above established height limits? (The recommended zoning text amendments, as well as staff’s PowerPoint presentation, have been posted below under the RESOURCES sub-heading.) Discussion of this item was formally continued to the Planning Commission public hearing scheduled for August 23, 2010. Having since determined that additional time is necessary to adequately respond to comments expressed at and subsequent to the July 26th public hearing, the Planning Division continued further discussion of this item to a special session of the Planning Commission to be held on Monday, August 30th at 7PM in the City Council Chambers. At the Planning Commission public hearing held on Monday, August 23rd, this special session was cancelled and the item was further continued to the regularly-scheduled Planning Commission public hearing on Monday, September 13, 2010 at 7PM in the City Council Chambers.

Please direct questions and comments to Russ Cunningham, Senior Planner, at (760) 435-3525 or Written comments provided to Planning Division staff on or before Friday, May 7 will be forwarded to the Planning Commission in advance of the workshop.