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TOD Building Standards & Design Guidelines

Best Practice Category:

Street and Network Connectivity Transit Prioritization, Accessibility, and Area Design Parking Management Transportation Demand Management Pedestrian and Bicycle Circulation


TOD Building Standards and Design Guidelines are recommendations and/or regulations that guide private development to promote human-scale and pedestrian-oriented urban environments. TOD Building Standards and Design Guidelines focus primarily on the interface between the private and public realm. Well-designed buildings that are carefully integrated into the urban fabric of the city and oriented towards transit users are vital to creating attractive, fully functional TODs. The strategies that regulate building form and design need to be applied in combination with each other for there to be meaningful impact on transportation choices.

While standards are mandatory and typically phrased as “must” or “shall,” guidelines are more flexible, allowing for discretionary review and case-by-case application (usually written as “should” or “consider”).

Different sets of TOD Building Standards and Design Guidelines may share key core elements and objectives, but each is contextual and place-specific based on a district’s land use and building types, development patterns, and the existing or desired physical and aesthetic character of the district.

Guidelines typically focus on a number of general categories, some of which are listed below. Many of these categories may also stand on their own as individual documents (such as Landscape Design Guidelines, Signage Guidelines, or Historic Preservation / Adaptive Reuse Guidelines).

  • Building Placement, Orientation, and General Form: Building setbacks, location on the parcel, and orientation toward the public are all critical elements of TOD standards and guidelines. These categories often identify height maximums and minimums, floor heights, overall context sensitivity, scale, and massing.
  • Frontages / Street Wall: Frontage and street wall guidelines will typically emphasize incorporating a high level of permeability and transparency for important ground-floor facades. This is often achieved through ‘transparency minimums’ that dictate the amount of clear glass or windows required, the frequency of entries, storefront and building front orientation, and visible entry paths. Minimums are often presented as a percentage of façade transparency, and are typically highest in commercial retail areas. Consistency relating to commercial signage, fencing, walls, and gates are also often recommended in TOD building standards and design guidelines. Other elements include strategies for minimizing the negative visual impact of utilities and mechanical equipment, screening or wrapping of parking lots, and façade design.
  • Architectural Form and Design: These standards and guidelines may include elements relating to vertical and horizontal building articulation, character/depth, human scale fenestration and openings, surface modulations, building massing, detailing and finishes, floor heights, architectural style, accentuated pedestrian entryways, roof shapes, and sustainable practices. The design and character of ground floor facades are a key component.
  • Landscape and Open Space Design: Landscape guidelines regularize planted or vegetated elements occurring at the street front and internally relating to the building design. These standards/guidelines may also include tree and understory plant palettes, shade and tree spacing requirements, Low Impact Development (LID) standards, open space requirements, and guidance relating to the orientation of open space.
  • Parking: Orientation and placement of parking may also be defined in TOD Building Standards and Design Guidelines. For example, off-street vehicular parking, or parking sited behind structures, below grade, or within mixed-use buildings are often preferred because of the reduced disturbance to the building facade and streetscape (compared to surface parking). Additional guidelines may include language relating to bicycle parking requirements and architectural features such as decorative screening, building ‘skins’, or landscaping.
  • Signage Design: Signage Illumination, materials, color, scale, and design compatibility are often referred to and proscribed in TOD Building Standards and Design Guidelines to regulate and create street wall consistency, as referenced in Frontages / Street Wall above.


  • Encourages human-scale urban character and environment
  • Establishes, reinforces, and/or preserves the aesthetic and spatial character of a district
  • Orients buildings and entries to activate the public realm
  • Enhances and enlivens the experience of being in the public realm
  • Encourages sustainable design practices
  • Creates visual consistency and legibility


Willowbrook TOD Specific Plan Development and Design Guidelines

This component of the Willowbrook TOD Specific Plan presents sets of guidelines unique to specified land use types. Guidelines include: building siting and orientation (including the spatial relationships between buildings), the orientation of commercial uses toward the public realm, and the provision of spatial buffers for residential uses. Additionally, the TOD Specific Plan also includes specific plan subareas that relate to neighborhoods and locations that reflect different characteristics. See especially Table 3-5: Development Standards for Mixed Uses for details on the required setbacks, heights, and other building details.

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Duarte Station Specific Plan Design Guidelines

The Duarte/City of Hope Station is part of the Foothill Gold light rail line from Pasadena to Azusa, completed in 2015. The Duarte Station Specific Plan Design Guidelines presents both mandatory standards and non-binding guidelines to guide phased development around a new Metro Gold Line station. The design guidelines include site planning, general building design, design guidelines by building type, and landscape guidelines.

  • Site Planning: Site planning guidelines include minimum requirements that relate to block pattern, pedestrian connectivity, and parking areas. For example “there should be a distinct hierarchy of circulation including streets, pedestrian walks, and alleys.”
  • General Building Design: The general building design guidelines incorporate strategies that relate to the architectural character of the neighborhood, building orientation to the street, building massing that prohibits “blank” façade walls, fenestration, diversity of building materials, treatment of service areas, and signage. For instance “large expanses of “blank” façade walls are not permitted. Façades directly facing the street shall be broken into distinct modules or bays.”
  • Design Guidelines by Building Type: Specific guidelines are outlined in this section to shape the design of multi-family mixed use buildings, office, hotel, stand-alone retail, and parking structures, such as “in residential units with narrow side yards, side elevation windows should be placed offset from those of the adjacent unit or use obscure glass as appropriate.”
  • Landscape Guidelines: The landscape guidelines include specifications for landscaping placement, paving material requirements, bio-retention, and site furnishings.

Burbank Downtown Development Standards.

Implementing the Burbank Center Plan, the Downtown Burbank Development Standards are intended to ensure that new development in Downtown results in high-quality architecture, encourages pedestrian activity and provides appropriate transitions in scale and use between different parts of Downtown. The Development Standards also specify parking and open space requirements that reflect Downtown Burbank’s unique setting within the community. In general, the standards for building placement, building form, and sidewalk width for the Downtown Center (DC) and Urban Core (UC) areas are appropriate for more urbanized transit-oriented districts throughout the Los Angeles region. However, the plan also includes standards for a variety of contexts, such as ‘downtown edge,’ ‘retail district,’ and ‘neighborhood general.’ Some of the applicable standards include:

  • Table 10-1-2556.1. Building Placement and Form (pg. 6-7). Minimal setbacks allowed in order to define the pedestrian realm (see below).
  • Section 10-1-2557 Sidewalk Widths (pg. 8-9). Minimum and maximum sidewalk widths specified throughout downtown.

Table 10-1-2560.1. Permitted Building Types (pg. 14). Identifies permitted building types for each district in downtown and establishes design standards that apply to each building type.


Rather than regulate by density or FAR, the Downtown Development Standards regulate by height and by building type, as most form-based zoning codes do.

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