There is no architectural review in Oxnard, except in the Central Business District (CBD). And even the architectural review in the CBD has no teeth. As of the pandemic, this limited review of downtown architecture has been suspended.
Oxnard Architectural Review Board
Not having a formal architectural review process forces the Oxnard Planning Commission and the Oxnard City Council to perform, among other things, architectural design evaluation. The Oxnard Planning Commission and the Oxnard City Council get projects that are not properly vetted from a design, and possibly other, perspective – projects that the PC and CC would never see if properly vetted by an architectural review process.
How does this happen?
It happens because architectural review is handled by the DAC, the in-house planning departments Development Advisory Committee. No architect has to claim, in public, that they approve or disapprove a project. The public does not know if an “architect” actually reviewed any specific project, or what the qualifications of the “architect” are. It is very rare that one individual has the skill set to properly vet different kinds of projects, and some projects are so complicated that it really takes a team, an architectural review board, to do a good job of architectural review.
Is this a good idea?
Well, not really, because there is no formal architectural review for any project. Only the DAC knows. No “architect” has to sign off on the project in public. Who knows what kind of direction or pressure the DAC “architect” works under, or if there is an actual architect on the specific DAC for a project?
And this impacts the Oxnard Planning Commission and the Oxnard City Council – How?
Because projects cannot be properly architecturally vetted by the DAC, an in-house body accountable to no one. All too often projects of questionable design integrity end up on the doorstep of the Oxnard Planning Commission and the Oxnard City Council – to do a job, to make an assessment of a particular project, that they have no experience doing.
Establish an Architectural Review process for Oxnard, that has teeth. Oxnard continues to approve poor projects because we do not have an architectural review process. Most cities the size of Oxnard have strong architectural review systems in place, for all of the following project types: Multi-family residential, Planned Developments, AAHOP sites, Towers of any kind, commercial and industrial buildings, new homes, and residential remodels that increase the existing floor area by more than 50%. In other words for all projects except residential with less than a 50% increase in floor area there must be a strong architectural review process.
In the CBD Oxnard has a very limited Downtown Design Review Committee – where a senior member recently stated, and we paraphrase, “It is more important to keep shop owners happy than uphold design standards” – and because the design review board in Ventura upholds design standards in Ventura – that “they have it all wrong”. This is hard to believe – a SoCal coastal city – and developers can do whatever they want in terms of architectural design.
Create special districts, perhaps like a “harbor district”, with appropriate overlays and architectural review requirements for all buildings in the district. The DDRC for the CBD is an example of one such district.
Give the DDRC teeth – make its decisions final. Do not allow Planning to override DDRC decisions.
Examples from SoCal coastal cities:
As Santa Barbara grew from a presidio to a city, little thought was given to architectural continuity. During the rapid growth of the 1880’s, most of the new buildings were brick or wood “main street” type structures. In 1922, the Community Arts Association formed a group called the Plans and Planting Committee, which campaigned to increase public awareness of and appreciation for architectural quality and integrity.
In 1925, a major earthquake badly damaged a majority of Santa Barbara’s original brick and wooden commercial buildings. This catastrophe provided the Plans and Planting Committee with an opportunity to guide the necessary rebuilding according to its own uniform architectural and stylistic program.
The original Architectural Board of Review (ABR), formed in 1925, operated for only nine months. Discontinued for over two decades, the ABR was re-established in 1947 by ordinance, and in 1967 as a Charter Board.
SB ABR Functions:
- Insures that high standards of design are maintained in development and construction in the City of Santa Barbara.
- Protects and preserves, as nearly as practicable, the natural charm and beauty of Santa Barbara, including the historical style, qualities, characteristics of the buildings, structures and architectural features associated with and established by its long, illustrious and distinguished past.
- Reviews, approves, conditionally approves or disapproves all applications for commercial, industrial, multi-family except in El Pueblo Viejo Landmark District or other landmark districts or a designated Landmark for:
- Building permits for the erection or exterior alteration of any building (except single family or one-story duplexes);
- Grading permits and any structures requiring permits;
- Changes of the exterior color of any building;
- The use of existing buildings for office use in the R-O and C-O zones;
- Appeals of decisions of the Sign Committee; and
- All buildings or structures erected upon any public land or allowed to extend over or on any street or other public property.