San Diego

Architectural Quotations

The following quotations have been culled from a variety of sources - some more reliable than others. Our policy is to print mere hearsay from even the most slanderous of liars until a quotation is refuted by one of our esteemed readers. Please Email Us to send your favorite quote or to praise, correct, or accuse us.

Zoning Glossary

A glossary of City of San Diego zoning and planning terms in plain English for developers, homeowners, and architects.  These definitions are specific to the City of San Diego and may have different definitions in the county and other jurisdictions.


 Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), better know as a granny flats, are homes that provide complete independent living facilities and are 1,200 square feet or less in size.  They can be attached or detached from the primary Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs)(s).

Affordable Units

Homes that must, through deed restrictions, be rented to lower-income families at stipulated affordable rents.


Best Management Practices (BMPs) refer to the proper management of stormwater to reduce runoff and erosion while improving water quality.

Base Zone

Base zones are intended to regulate uses; density; building size and configuration; and to manage urban relationships.  Base zones are locally regulated and can vary from block-to-block or even lot-to-lot.


California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) (pronounced “SEE-kwuh”) is a California law which requires environmental impacts associated with a proposed project to be assessed, then eliminated or reduced, through mitigation measures if necessary.


Community Noise Equivalent Level (CNEL) is the average noise levels at a location for a 24-hour period.

Community Plan

A guiding document that outlines the vision, goals, and policies for the development and growth of a particular community.

Complete Communities

An optional affordable housing incentive program aimed at encouraging the building of homes near high-frequency transit, intended to create housing options for everyone, particularly those at low and middle-incomes.  Incentives include unlimited height and density, effectively unlimited FAR, waiver of parking requirement, waiver of DIFs in some circumstances, and other incentives and waivers the developer can specify.  See Complete Communities Housing SolutionsSDMC 143.10XX, or Ergo Architecture's Complete Communities for Developers.


The number of homes (units) allowed on your lot. It is often expressed in dwelling units (DU) per square foot (SF) or acre of lot area, such as 1 DU/1,000 SF or 50 DU/acre; or as the total number of units allowed after doing the math as in: Our (maximum) density is 24 units.

Density Bonus

Density bonuses are increases in allowable density in exchange for the provision of affordable housing per SDMC Section 143.0720.  

Development Impact Fees (DIFs)

Fees to pay for the impact of new development by financing pubic facilities to maintain existing levels of service to a community.

Discretionary Permit

A permit requiring the exercise of judgment on the part of the decision-making authority. Coastal, historical, and environmentally sensitive land permits are examples of Discretionary Permits. They typically require public input from neighborhood planning groups. Building permits, on the other hand, are ministerial or by-right permits. Typically you would apply for a discretionary permit before applying for a building permit.

Dwelling Unit

A single home or apartment:  One or more rooms arranged for complete, independent housekeeping purposes with space for eating, living, and sleeping; facilities for cooking; and provisions for sanitation.


Approval from governmental agencies to use or develop a parcel of land.

 Environmentally Sensitive Lands

Land containing steep hillsides, sensitive biology, coastal beaches, coastal bluffs, or Flood Hazard Areas.

Floor Area Ratio (F.A.R.)

The F.A.R. determines how much you can build.  It is the ratio of Floor Area you are allowed to build to your lot area.  An F.A.R. of 0.6 means that you could build 0.6 times your lot area.  So, if your lot were 5,000 SF, you could build a 3,000 SF structure.

Often the term is (incorrectly) used to mean allowable floor area, so in the example above you might hear that your F.A.R. is 3000 SF.

Gross Floor Area (G.F.A.)

Generally, the total area of all floors of a building to the outside face of the walls.  To the City: The sum of the horizontal square footage of all existing, proposed, and phantom floors of a building which may or may not be completely enclosed within the exterior surface of the surrounding exterior walls.  See SDMC Section 113.0234 for details on calculating GFA.

 Historical Resource

designated historical resource could be a historical building, object, district, landscape, important archaeological site, or traditional cultural property.

 Housing Action Plan

The Housing Action Package 2.0 aims to implement state law to allow the construction of more new homes near transit, provide protections to existing residents and increase the supply of land available for new home development. This initiative will also incentivize and promote new home opportunities in all communities that San Diegans of all income levels can afford.


Incentives are waivers of particular zoning regulations that a developer has earned in exchange for providing affordable housing units. See also Waiver

 Inclusionary Housing

Housing designed to accommodate families of lower income levels.

Infill Development

Development of land, often on smaller parcels, within areas that are already largely developed.


 A Junior Accessory Dwelling Unit (JADU) is a dwelling unit that is 500 square feet or less in size and is contained entirely within an existing or proposed  single dwelling unit.


A lot is typically the smallest subdivision of land referred to by number on a parcel maps.


Households earning 50% to 80% percent of area median income (AMI), adjusted for household size.


The multiple habitat planning area (MHPA), as identified in the City of San Diego MSCP Subarea Plan, includes areas to be preserved as well as some areas where development will be allowed.


A small home, generally considered to be less than 350-400 square feet (SF).  San Diego has a much more generous definition.  To qualify for a 100% micro-unit density bonus, the average unit size must not exceed 600 SF with no dwelling unit exceeding 800 SF.


Households earning over 80% but not over 120% of the area median income (AMI), adjusted for household size.


The Multiple Species Conservation Program (MSCP) is a regional program to preserve a network of habitat and open space to protect bio-diversity.

Overlay Zone

Overlay zones provide supplemental regulations tailored to specific geographic areas. Overlay zones do not typically correspond to base zones.


A legally defined area of land made up of one or more lots. Assessor's Parcel Numbers (APNs) are assigned to parcels, and used to identify land with more certainty that addresses provide.


An area of land and structures that, because of its use, is regarded as the smallest conveyable unit.

Previously Conforming

This is development that conformed to zoning regulations when it was built, but doesn't any more.  Commonly called Grandfathered.

Replacement Unit

Rental units that have been rent-restricted by law or have been occupied by lower-income persons in the previous 5 years. These units must be replaced by affordable units in addition to any affordable units already required.


Public property which is typically set aside for the construction of roads and the installation of utilities.


The minimum distance from a property line that all structures must be located.  Setback often differ on various sides of a property.

Sidewalk Cafe

An area for outdoor dining located in the public right of way adjacent to a street-level eating or drinking establishment.  See also: IB 523.


Outdoor places created in former parking spaces that serve as an extension of a restaurant.  See also: Spaces as Places.

Title 24

The California Building Code. However, when Title 24 is mentioned as such, it is generally referring to the state-specific portions of the energy conservation or accessibility codes.

Unbundled parking

Off-street parking spaces leased or sold separately from the rent or purchase price of a dwelling unit.


Households earning less than 50% of area median income (AMI), adjusted for household size.


Waivers are deviations from zoning regulations, beyond incentives, that would otherwise make a development including affordable housing impossible. You must prove the need for waivers, while incentives are earned.