Urban Village Design Review

Design review is a tool used to create a better city. It gives planners, residents, and the professional volunteers serving on the Design Review Board a voice in the design of most new multifamily and commercial buildings in Bellingham’s urban areas. Projects are reviewed under adopted design standards (requirements) and guidelines to determine whether it meets the aspirations of the community in terms of:

  • The overall appearance of the building
  • How it relates to adjacent properties and contributes to the street
  • How it responds to unique conditions, like neighborhood context, surrounding architecture or critical areas
  • Pedestrian and vehicular access to the site
  • Quality of materials, open space, and landscaping

Design Guidelines and Code Requirements


On Wednesday, March 15, 2023 city staff held a meeting to introduce the recently approved urban village design review process and also provided an opportunity for Q&A.

We would be happy to meet with you individually if you have any questions or would like to know more about these changes and how they might apply to your upcoming projects.

Development within an urban village must obtain design review approval, with limited exemptions. Approval is granted by the Planning Director, based on a recommendation from the Design Review Board.

Application Requirements

This informal meeting to introduce your project idea to your planning staff lead will provide high-level guidance on the site considerations, unique neighborhood conditions, process steps, and priority guidelines. Other City staff may be included in this meeting, depending on the characteristics of the property. THIS CONFERENCE IS REQUIRED PRIOR TO PROJECT DESIGN!

The applicant will introduce the project concept to the neighborhood, including design drivers, inspirational images, and general massing/orientation. The purpose is to solicit feedback on how the project can be most compatible with the neighborhood, considering what is allowed to be built by-right under the zoning regulations. Feedback from the neighborhood meeting must be documented and a non-binding response to concerns provided as part of the Early Design Guidance packet for consideration by the Design Review Board.

The purpose of the Early Design Guidance (EDG) meeting is to determine how the design standards and guidelines will apply to the project. The applicant will present the project concept (general site plan, neighborhood character and mass/bulk studies) to the Design Review Board (DRB), describing the design approach and any alternative concepts or requested departures. The DRB will review public comment, deliberate, and provide direction on information to be included with the design review application.



Applicants may request a technical review by all relevant City departments in a pre-application meeting. This will provide detailed information on code requirements and responses to specific questions about the project. Pre-application meetings are held every Tuesday at 8:30 and 10:00 A.M.

This is the submittal of the building design details and any associated land use permits. Staff will verify compliance with the design standards and prior DRB direction.

This meeting with the Design Review Board is the final review of the building and site design, including materials, landscaping, and open space plans and elevations. The DRB’s role is to determine whether the early design guidance direction has been fulfilled and whether the project complies with the intent of the urban village design guidelines. The meeting is required unless the Planning Director waives it based on demonstrated compliance with the design review standards and guidelines.

The Design Response Meeting review will use the materials from the land use application submittal and be based on compliance with the guidance from the Design Review Board during the Early Design Guidance meeting. Additional information may be required prior to the issuance of a permit decision.

How do I know whether my project will pass design review?

Design review approval will be granted if:

  1. The project complies with (or receives a departure from) all of the urban village design standards  including those within the individual urban village development regulations;


  • The project design responds to design-related community concerns presented during the neighborhood meeting or as written or verbal testimony during the design review process.

Your project will be approved faster if you:

  1. Coordinate with planning staff, the neighborhood and the design review board prior to designing the building (via the pre-design, neighborhood and early design guidance meetings);
  2. Provide all the required application materials with your first submittal; and
  3. Clearly demonstrate how the project complies with all the urban village design standards and guidelines.

By following these steps, you could cut 2-3 months from the review process, which takes approximately 4-6 months under typical circumstances.

Design review only addresses design: the building’s size and shape, materials, and other elements within the urban village design guidelines. Development regulations, such as traffic and parking, are not addressed by the design review process. Concerns about these issues should be directed to the assigned planner as part of the land use review application. The highlighted steps below indicate opportunities for public comment, either in person or via written comment:

Current projects COB Development Dashboard (arcgis.com)

Upcoming projects Visit the Design Review Board Meeting Materials webpage