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Thread: Getting real with form-based code

  1. #1
    Cyburbian Masswich's avatar
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    Getting real with form-based code

    We are looking seriously at form-based code for a streetcar suburb, and running into the reality that peopley care about use, parking, etc., and that form-based code sort of wishes those issues away. Also, the process will have to be via special permit because no one will allow adminstrative review of development in this place.

    Most of the places that say they have used form-based code apparently have only used some parts of it, so I am wary of most success stories, although I am perfectly open to a hybrid approach. Talk to me about your direct experiences with form-based code. I mostly see using form-based code as a way of creating street-by-street design guidelines to guide any special permits that may be granted for relief from base zoning requirements.

    Thoughts?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian DecaturHawk's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Masswich View post
    We are looking seriously at form-based code for a streetcar suburb, and running into the reality that peopley care about use, parking, etc., and that form-based code sort of wishes those issues away. Also, the process will have to be via special permit because no one will allow adminstrative review of development in this place.

    Most of the places that say they have used form-based code apparently have only used some parts of it, so I am wary of most success stories, although I am perfectly open to a hybrid approach. Talk to me about your direct experiences with form-based code. I mostly see using form-based code as a way of creating street-by-street design guidelines to guide any special permits that may be granted for relief from base zoning requirements.
    Based on what you have said, I wouldn't bother with form based codes. If the process has to be via special permit, you really haven't gained anything. The power of form based codes is to provide a developer some certainty that, if the forms are followed, he/she can proceed directly to building permits. This allows the developer to bypass the long process of review by the Planning Commission and the elected body. If it makes no difference in time and effort by the developer if he/she adheres to the forms, or not, then why bother?

    Form based coding provides an incentive to developers to create projects that fit the form of a neighborhood or district. They can still deviate from those forms, but they then have to go through that long and onerous process. Also, I don't agree that uses are no longer considered in form based codes. The codes I have been involved in writing do specifiy uses (or specify non-permitted uses). For instance, you won't write a form based code that allows a manufacturing plant in the downtown district, no matter how well the plant adheres to the forms. While use is de-emphasized, use still has an influence on form, so uses need to be considered in a well-written code.

    You still need parking regulations, etc. Forms cannot replace those regulations. The Board of Appeals still plays a role. Form based coding is not some sort of anything goes PUD. When you say places have used "only parts of it" are you referring to some kind of model code? Our experience has been that the codes coming out of CNU and the Form Based Coding Institute have good elements, but are not always practical. If you try to do a FBC, find a consultant with good zoning credentials who understands the practical realities of land use regulation.

    Most successful codes in use are hybrid codes, with a combination of form based and traditionally-zoned districts. Others will adopt form based requirements just for specific areas, such as downtown or in an historic district. In any case, they can work very well if adopted for the right reasons and written very well.

    Good luck with your project, but, as I say, if there is no chance for administrative review, all you really have is an elaborate pre-zoned PUD with very detailed requirements.
    SOME say the world will end in fire, Some say in ice.
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    But if it had to perish twice, I think I know enough of hate
    To know that for destruction ice
    Is also great
    And would suffice.

    Robert Frost (1874–1963) (From Harper’s Magazine, December 1920.)

  3. #3
    Take a look at Sonoma, CA and Sedona, AZ...there are some good examples there for form-based zoning. From my observation and looking at implementing form-based zoning is that it takes the guess-work out of development. Everyone from the public to the developer to the local officials know exactly what they are getting.
    Forechecking is overrated.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Masswich's avatar
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    Via Special Permit

    Quote Originally posted by DecaturHawk View post
    Based on what you have said, I wouldn't bother with form based codes. If the process has to be via special permit, you really haven't gained anything. The power of form based codes is to provide a developer some certainty that, if the forms are followed, he/she can proceed directly to building permits. This allows the developer to bypass the long process of review by the Planning Commission and the elected body. If it makes no difference in time and effort by the developer if he/she adheres to the forms, or not, then why bother?
    ... When you say places have used "only parts of it" are you referring to some kind of model code? Our experience has been that the codes coming out of CNU and the Form Based Coding Institute have good elements, but are not always practical. If you try to do a FBC, find a consultant with good zoning credentials who understands the practical realities of land use regulation..
    Thanks for the input. The reality is that in this area everything is pretty much by special permit or variance because there has been so much downzoning in the last 30 years. Generally what we seem to try to do is keep things simple by requiring special permits rather than variances, and also to keep projects out of court if they are generally appropriate development. Unfortunately, many big projects around here end up being appealed, often for frivolous reasons, so "only" requiring a special permit may not be so bad...

    The idea here is to at least require the "right" special permits rather than the "wrong" ones. That way appeals can be minimized for good developments. If form-based special permits is the way to go I am interested in pursuing that.

    When I say "only parts of it" I don't mean the model codes, which are not bad but generally impractical. I just mean that when I look into examples of form-based code that may be similar to this situation, I find that they are not as "form-based" as they appear...

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Seabishop's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Masswich View post
    Thanks for the input. The reality is that in this area everything is pretty much by special permit or variance because there has been so much downzoning in the last 30 years. Generally what we seem to try to do is keep things simple by requiring special permits rather than variances, and also to keep projects out of court if they are generally appropriate development. Unfortunately, many big projects around here end up being appealed, often for frivolous reasons, so "only" requiring a special permit may not be so bad...

    The idea here is to at least require the "right" special permits rather than the "wrong" ones. That way appeals can be minimized for good developments. If form-based special permits is the way to go I am interested in pursuing that.

    When I say "only parts of it" I don't mean the model codes, which are not bad but generally impractical. I just mean that when I look into examples of form-based code that may be similar to this situation, I find that they are not as "form-based" as they appear...
    Sounds like here. We wouldn't be able to try something as new as form based zoning without the oversight of a special use permit.

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