Land Use and Community Design Element

The Land Use and Community Design Element is the guiding force behind the physical form of our city. It lays out a framework for conservation and development to preserve neighborhoods, protect historic and natural resources, channel growth and commercial activity to suitable sites, respond to climate change, reduce pollution, and promote active and healthy lifestyles.

State law requires a Land Use Element to establish the location and intensity of housing, business, industry, open space, recreation, natural resources, and public facilities. The added Community Design component reflects a special interest in Palo Alto in maintaining historic integrity and enriching the built environment.

The Current Plan: A Solid Foundation

Palo Alto was an early adopter of compact development principles, as embodied in the Urban Service Area designated to manage growth in the current Comprehensive Plan. Through this strategy, the City has endeavored to direct new development into appropriate locations—such as along transit corridors and near employment centers—while protecting and preserving low-scale residential neighborhoods and open space lands that together comprise about 80% of the city.

The Land Use and Community Design Element identifies the residential areas, commercial centers, and employment districts that together constitute the city’s “structure.” Understanding how these parts of the community are connected to each other and the region is essential to resolving transportation and traffic issues and ensuring that businesses can thrive in places where they can serve residents and visitors without increasing impacts on neighborhoods. As the appearance of buildings and public spaces greatly affects how people experience Palo Alto, the Element calls for high-quality design to encourage social gathering in attractive settings.

The existing Land Use and Community Design Element is ably supporting the community’s objectives for growth management, and its cornerstone policy themes will be carried forward to guide future land use decisions, including:

  • Supporting the city’s future needs by accommodating an appropriate mix and amount of residential, commercial, and employment uses within the Urban Service Area.
  • Maintaining and enhancing Palo Alto’s residential neighborhoods, while ensuring that new development respects existing neighborhood character.
  • Providing adequate public services and facilities, parks, and open space.
  • Reducing emissions through energy efficiency standards and land use decisions that support walking, biking, and transit.
  • Fostering high quality design by improving streetscapes, maintaining and increasing connectivity, and enhancing gateways.
  • Preserving and protecting historic buildings and cultural and natural resources.

Our Palo Alto 2030

The updated Plan is intended to build on the solid foundation of the existing Land Use and Community Design Element to direct growth, provide clear development standards, reexamine the growth caps for the City and Downtown, and focus on the relationship between infrastructure, transportation investments, land use, and development. The updated Element is expected to respond to emerging trends and community concerns, including by:

  • Limiting the conversion of retail to residential use.
  • Requiring proposed development to demonstrate that adequate public services are available and that its design supports walking, biking, and transit.
  • Instituting new California Green Building Code requirements.
  • Distributing priority infrastructure improvements equitably across the city.
  • Providing infrastructure to strengthen Downtown as a regional economic center.
  • Expanding the City’s tree network, and restoring the Baylands.
  • Meeting the City’s adopted greenhouse gas reduction targets.

The Land Use and Community Design Element also will include maps and diagrams to depict densities and distribution of land uses.

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Vision Statement

Palo Alto’s land use decisions shall balance our future growth needs with the preservation of our neighborhoods, address climate protection priorities, focus on sustainable development near neighborhood services, and enhance the quality of life in our community.

Click here to view the current Land Use and Community Design Element.