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Thread: Proposal for form based code: controversial?

  1. #1
    Cyburbian
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    Proposal for form based code: controversial?

    In an effort to make form based codes even simpler, how about setting up a series of districts/transects/zones like this:

    District 0: Zero buildings per acre
    District 1: One building per acre
    District 2: Two buildings per acre
    District 3: Three buildings per acre
    District 4: Four buildings per acre
    etc...

    and so forth. This may seem a bit silly, but it avoids a lot of the complexity involved, while making it very easy for the layperson to understand the zoning map. Each District would also have additional rules:

    District 3: 100 feet of frontage, eight parking spaces, 25 foot setback
    District 4: 80 feet of frontage, 20 parking spaces, 15 foot setback
    District 5: 65 feet frontage, 40 parking spaces, 12 foot build to line, one tree per 30 feet along walking path, FAR's, architectural standards, etc.

    The point being that these districts/zones/transects are really easy to understand, and one could set up a small town's zoning around districts that are easier to figure out just by looking at them. With FBC's, one takes a quick look at the town's zoning map, then the chart showing how much density and what building types are permitted, and one knows precisely what one can build.

    Good idea? Too simple?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by maxxoccupancy View post
    District 3: 100 feet of frontage, eight parking spaces, 25 foot setback
    District 4: 80 feet of frontage, 20 parking spaces, 15 foot setback
    District 5: 65 feet frontage, 40 parking spaces, 12 foot build to line, one tree per 30 feet along walking path, FAR's, architectural standards, etc.
    You already have defeated the FBC by providing parking standards and frontage standards. Parking should be dictated by the what type of uses, its location, availability of on-street parking, and completed on a case by case basis. You ditch the standards. Frontage of what?

    Chuck you zoning standards in the garbage to get a form base coded. What one can build is dictated by the type of character you want to establish. That is the whole point.
    Men do dumb $hit... it is what they do to correct the problem that counts.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian
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    I'm a libertarian by philosophy, so I favor chucking the old rules and standards outright. Replacing them is the tough part. The old codes tend to deal with parcels of land and what they're used for. I like the concept of FBC's because you can simply architect out the layout of your whole town (or at least sections of it), and developers can build exactly that right now, letting businesses come in later and put each building/floor to use.

    Still, for Smart Code's T0-T6, why not just calibrate for
    T0: no buildings per acre
    T1: one building per acre
    T2: two buildings per acre

    and so forth...

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    your missing the point. The small town was never intended for the T6. It is more T4, maybe T5 at best, but never the T6. Changing the fundamentals of FBC, than you simply have another zoning code.

    You need to get away from "uses". It is that simple. What does your comp plan say? Does it discuss character? If not, you need to get your key stakeholders/policiticans to discuss what kind of character they want for each neighborhood. You may want to start off with a neighborhood as your guinea pig and go from there. To truly do a FBC, it is an educational process, to get people to stop thinking about parking ratios, building setbacks, uses, etc and instead visualize what they want from there.

    Utilize the T-Zones as an educational tool. Sounds like you also need to reprogram yourself to realize a successful effort in utilizing form base code. Have you even done an analysis of what's on the ground block by block? You need building blocks before you can even start running.
    Last edited by Raf; 02 Nov 2009 at 5:58 PM.
    Men do dumb $hit... it is what they do to correct the problem that counts.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian
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    I'm not sure if you are intending to, but you are coming off as authoritarian--even rude--by the way you write. Worst of all is a certain condescension, though I'm sure that you don't mean that.

    I'm really looking for input on the simplified transect approach. Anyone's opinion is good, as far as I'm concerned.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by maxxoccupancy View post
    I'm not sure if you are intending to, but you are coming off as authoritarian--even rude--by the way you write. Worst of all is a certain condescension, though I'm sure that you don't mean that.

    I'm really looking for input on the simplified transect approach. Anyone's opinion is good, as far as I'm concerned.
    The transect can always be simplified, but it is a basis for density of what's on the ground today and what can be in the future. The intention is that it is a basis to start working on. I don't know your background, but i am trying to point you in a right direction. Just digging to see what base info you have on the town. FBC are a tricky beast, it is not a simple as just re-writing a code. It is more a balancing act of getting buy in from your local stakeholders, visioning, good base information of what is on the ground today (utilizing the transect as a base) and then writing a code. I am not saying you have to follow this word for word, but from experience on writing form based codes and working with communities that want it, you need to start somewhere so just trying to see what you have to point you in the right direction.
    Men do dumb $hit... it is what they do to correct the problem that counts.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian
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    I don't know. Some small towns have simply taken their existing zoning maps and described one form for their existing residential zone, one for their commercial zone, one for their old rural zone, etc. That's not really the right way of doing things, but it gets you away from the old use based coding with the minimum of effort and learning curve.

  8. #8
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    More on FBCs and the Transect

    The notion of calibrating the transect for local application is good, but since the primary intent of FBCs (see FBCI definition below) is getting away from numerical parameters (such as density, FAR,etc.) and instead creating zones based on the intended character of place, this would not be an appropriate use of the transect. Regulating by numerical parameters is one of the big failures of conventional zoning.

    Form-Based Codes Institute definition (formbasedcodes.org)
    "Form-based codes foster predictable built results and a high-quality public realm by using physical form (rather than separation of uses) as the organizing principle for the code. These codes are adopted into city or county law as regulations, not mere guidelines. Form-based codes are an alternative to conventional zoning."

    If you simply start educating with the transect by showing local photos of the transect zones we have found that it is a very effective educational tool and can be used in a very simplified code. See the Downtown Benicia, CA FBC which is based on a modified transect as the Organizing Principle.

  9. #9
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Even with a FBC you can't completely avoid having some use restrictions. Without some basic use restrictions and/or a really good combo of an FBC and performance regulations - how do you deal with the asphalt plant that wants to build next to the outdoor dining area for your favorite downtown restaurant? (I know - ridiculous, but since this is a theoretical discussion.....)

    I understand what maxx is thinking and it makes sense. Many zoning regs are needlessly convoluted and inexplicable, even to the trained.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Let's not be didactic in this profession, because that is a path to disillusion and irrelevancy.

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  10. #10
    Cyburbian
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    I'm just a caveman. Your strange building guidelines are strange and new to me.

    Seabrook has a nuisance ordinance that is triggered by resident complaints. Any activity that produces excessive noise, odor, etc, would be in violation. Personally, I think that the ordinance should be expanded, but that's for another thread.

    Here's a more FBC version of the idea:
    Dist. Max Ht. # stories Build-to, trees/veg
    D1: 10 ft 1 story 18 ft --
    D2: 20 ft 1-2 stories, 16 ft 30
    D3: 30 ft 2-3 stories, 14 ft 25
    D4: 40 ft 3-4 stories, 12 ft 20
    D5: 50 ft 4-5 stories, 10 ft 15
    D6: 60 ft 5-6 stories, 8 ft 10
    SD: 60 ft 1-6 stories 30(min) 20
    D0: No permanent structures

    For areas requiring architectural standards, you use letters like A, so something zones for A5 could be 3-5 stories, up to 50 ft with an 8 ft Build To Line and trees every 20 feet. Since it's 'A,' though, the developer would have to use brick buildings, cobblestone streets, etc. A1 or A2 might be seen in rural/neighborhood forms where locals prefer appearances to property rights. SD refers to Special District (like Industrial XOning

    Once the zones/districts are described, you just draw up the entire town using these districts.

    My original notion was that you'd have some formula where you just punch in numbers (D2, D3, etc) and letters and can figure out the details according to the formula. You wouldn't have to check some chart.

    Likewise, you could use the maximum building height for the number, and base everything off of that:

    District height Build-to Line
    D16 16 ft 30 ft
    D22: 20 ft 25 ft
    D35 33 ft 15 ft
    D50 50 ft 10 ft

    and so forth. You could even set this number as a function of the total number of cars driving past each day, automatically updating figures--and the zoning map--every year as DOT figures come in.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by mendelman View post
    Even with a FBC you can't completely avoid having some use restrictions. Without some basic use restrictions and/or a really good combo of an FBC and performance regulations - how do you deal with the asphalt plant that wants to build next to the outdoor dining area for your favorite downtown restaurant? (I know - ridiculous, but since this is a theoretical discussion.....)

    I understand what maxx is thinking and it makes sense. Many zoning regs are needlessly convoluted and inexplicable, even to the trained.
    BTW, there are several other approaches to preventing this kind of harmful thing. In a perfect world, we would never prevent non-harmful developments or activities, and make developers pay abutters for the devaluation and harm that they do. In fact, developers actually seem happier writing out checks than wading through an unpredictable process or red tape.

    Property owners used to take developers to court or arbitration if there were some terrible development going in. Courts would (and still do, if there's no zoning/permit), enjoin these types of developments/activities. In lieu of a courtroom and $250/hr lawyers, you can set up some kind of town arbitration process where devaluing/pesky developments or activities require that the business pay neighbors for the harm done.

    Many small towns still have no zoning laws because they don't want the red tape--but also because they see the courtroom (and voluntary organizations like homeowner's associations) as a better protector of property values. The jury is still out on which mode works better... no pun intended.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian
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    Okay, here's another iteration of this concept:

    Lacking any ability (state control, lack of funds, etc) to change the roads, why not set up a default formula for the forms of buildings involved:

    Where W is simply the width of the road (or the widest extent that the state intends to widen the road to), and L is the length of the block from corner to corner:

    ROW = 1.4 * W
    BTL = 0.2 * W
    Building Height = 16-19% of ROW

    If W > 28 feet, trees native to the region shall be planted every 25-30 feet along the street. If W > 35 feet, Trash Receptacles shall be placed, at a minimum, near each corner. If L > 150 feet, Park Benches or other seating shall be placed at intervals of no more than 100 feet.

    No fuel pumps, inoperative vehicles, broken pavement, self-illuminated signs, barrels, cardboard, duct tape, etc, shall be placed within 50 feet of any street.

    General provisions against junk yards, noise, vibrations, fumes, health hazards, etc, apply.

    Then district for G-rated activities, PG-rated areas, and R-rated areas.
    Last edited by maxxoccupancy; 05 Dec 2009 at 7:35 PM. Reason: correction of formula

  13. #13
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by maxxoccupancy View post
    .....

    For areas requiring architectural standards, you use letters like A, so something zones for A5 could be 3-5 stories, up to 50 ft with an 8 ft Build To Line and trees every 20 feet. Since it's 'A,' though, the developer would have to use brick buildings, cobblestone streets, etc. A1 or A2 might be seen in rural/neighborhood forms where locals prefer appearances to property rights. SD refers to Special District (like Industrial XOning

    Once the zones/districts are described, you just draw up the entire town using these districts.

    My original notion was that you'd have some formula where you just punch in numbers (D2, D3, etc) and letters and can figure out the details according to the formula. You wouldn't have to check some chart.

    ......
    What you describe here reminds me of the sytem Leander, Texas has adopted. You might google Leander and check it out. They call it Composite Zoning.

  14. #14
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    Leander is mentioned in this thread:

    http://www.cyburbia.org/forums/showthread.php?t=23624

    If you want to see their composite code, try this link (warning 10.5MB pdf)

    http://www.formbasedcodes.org/downlo..._SmartCode.pdf

    Leander might be especially appropriate if you are looking at a lot of greenfield development, rather than redevelopment & infill.

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

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