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Town of Windsor – Land Use & Community Design Program to Address Climate Change

Case Story

Windsor has adopted special area plans and compact zoning designations for key parts of town.

Climate Action Connection: Land Use & Community Design

Concentrating new development with higher densities helps Windsor reduce vehicles miles traveled and thus greenhouse gas.

Healthy Neighborhoods Connection

Compact development can increase pedestrian activity contributing to increased physical activity rates, reduced neighborhood crime incidents and a more vibrant active neighborhood.

Community:Windsor (Sonoma County)

Population: 27,000


Windsor has adopted special area plans and compact zoning designations for key parts of town. They are designed to channel future growth into certain geographic areas and to encourage mixed uses, smaller lot sizes, and minimum two-story residential and commercial structures in these locations.

Program Highlights

  • Area plans will channel growth into three primary parts of town.
  • High density development slated for land around downtown train station.
  • Three zoning designations – Compact Residential, Boulevard Mixed-Use and Regional Mixed-Use – will steer new growth onto smaller lots with higher density.

Lessons Learned

  • Make commercial downtown zoning building design flexible enough to accommodate large and small retailers.
  • Do not force commercial space into downtown areas where no foot traffic exists.
  • Do your homework: know your market, and prepare for an anchor tenant and supporting businesses.

Resources to Learn More

The Rest of the Story…

The Town of Windsor incorporated in 1993 in response to growth pressures in this previously rural hamlet. Following incorporation, a ballot initiative established an urban growth boundary and the town council adopted a growth ordinance limiting the number of new homes to 150 per year. In recent years, focused area plans have resulted in directing new growth to three primary parts of town – the Old Redwood Highway, Shiloh Boulevard, and the downtown. The three area plans include designations for mixed uses, smaller lot sizes, minimum two-story residential and commercial structures, as well as a prohibition of parking in front of commercial structures.

In order to achieve this compact development and implement the adopted area plans, Windsor created three specific zoning designations:

  • Compact Residential zoning allows 12-32 units per acre with a minimum 3,000 square foot lot size. It provides flexibility in setback and height limitations to meet the desired density requirement.
  • Boulevard Mixed-Use zoning allows up to 32 residential units per acre on and requires three-story buildings with a ground floor. Typically, Windsor requires at least 24 residential units to the acre under this zoning designation.
  • Regional Mixed-Use zoning allows more traditional, lower-density commercial development; only a limited number of acres in Windsor have this designation.
Vision Plan and New Development

As the result of a vision plan prepared for 80 acres of Shiloh Road, Windsor approved plans for Shiloh Village, a four-story building with 76 units of affordable senior housing, an anchor grocery store, and 60,000 square feet of restaurants, shops and a health clinic. The project is expected to be built to LEED Gold standards. Two additional projects have been approved under the compact zoning designation for this area as well.

Without the compact zoning designation and vision plan, this area would otherwise have been developed at typical suburban densities of six to eight residential units per acre. The area plan and accompanying special zoning eliminates the need for project applicants to get a general plan amendment or a conditional use permit.

Evolution of Windsor’s Downtown

Over the last six years, Windsor’s downtown has evolved into a series of three-story, mixed-use buildings centered on a five-acre town green. All buildings include ground floor commercial with residential condominiums above. One new project includes a rebuilt restaurant with four apartments added above.

Beginning in 2011, the new Sonoma-Marin Smart Train (SMART) will run through Windsor. A new train station has already been built downtown with higher density mixed-use zoning surrounding it. The new passenger train and freight trains will run on tracks previously unused for 25 years. The Windsor bicycle master plan provides for new bike trails throughout the town with a bike path paralleling the resurrected train tracks.

With planning to concentrate development into targeted areas and to encourage higher density development, Windsor expects it is primed to meet new SB375 goals and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Read the Town of Windsor climate leadership case story on Green Building.

Compiled May 2009

This case story was prepared in partnership with the California Air Resources Board.

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