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Thread: Form-based development without every transect

  1. #1
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Form-based development without every transect

    The elected and appointed officials in the community where I work are very interested in adopting some kind of form-based zoning, likely as a supplement to a new unified development code.

    In the one other community where I worked that adopted a form-based code, calibrated SmartCode-based transects replaced regular zoning districts at the original townsite/downtown area, and traditional zoning districts were applicable everywhere else. However, a developer could chose the option of developing under the SmartCode, but they had to develop a mixed-use project that incorporated a variety of transects; the goal was to create new neighborhoods, rather than just single-use residential subdivisions or shopping centers.

    The problem with such an approach where I work is that land ownership is extremely fragmented, making it very difficult to agglomerate land for the kinds of mixed-use NU communities seen elsewhere. We want to keep large, contiguous agricultural and open space parcels intact and in production. That leaves a collection of smaller parcels; five to 30 acres on average, many with constraints such as very steep slopes.

    The concept I'm considering for use here involves a form-based overlay. There would be the traditional zoning map, with certain nodes designated for development based on a form-based code, with the transect scheme to be developed in a charette.or neighborhood plan. The form-based overlay would include the T-1 (natural zone) through T-4 (general urban) transects. When a site is developed, the owner could choose to develop under the regular zoning district, or under the form-based transect. If a parcel is large enough, they could apply for a PUD or a Smart-Code based development involving multiple transects.

    The shortcomings that I see; the intent of the SmartCode to create walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods will be undermined. The new UDC will likely be a hybrid conventional/form-based code, so there may be no advantage with development under a different FBC.

    Your thoughts? Scrapping conventional zoning entirely for form-based zoning isn't an option, unfortunately.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  2. #2
    Cyburbian UrbaneSprawler's avatar
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    We seem to be looking into something similar, but I'm the black sheep engineer in the group of planners looking into this, so I'm probably going to be misunderstanding things. At the same time I'm interested in understanding more and learning about what you describe. So I have a few thoughts and questions but pardon the ignorance in advance:

    - If your existing conventional zoning has a modification/variance procedure, will the form-based overlay have to demonstrate that no modifications/variances result had it been reviewed under the conventional code? Or will the form-based overlay allow for overriding this?

    - Is there a defined set of performance standards that you're looking to see in conjunction with developing under the form-based overlay? I'm wondering what you're looking to gain in enacting this. Is it that it will make it easier to make smaller parcels develop, relieving the pressure to develop large agricultural parcels? (Encourage infill?)

    - Is the decision maker still the same under this alternative? And if so, how does the decision maker make a finding of compliance (especially if it's a public board who might be used to do the "check-off" exercise of conventional zoning -- can the public board at large juggle two different codes/code types in its decision making duties?)

  3. #3
    Cyburbian ursus's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Dan View post
    The shortcomings that I see; the intent of the SmartCode to create walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods will be undermined. The new UDC will likely be a hybrid-based code, so there may be no advantage with development under a different FBC.
    I think it comes down to the reasons - and how strongly the community and staff feel about it. It's not a totally uncommon response in Utah, although it's even often further hampered by only applying in certain geographical areas of the city. The form-based option might only be available in the city center, for example.

    I think your approach here might yield better results, because you're beginning from a premise that there ought to be some advantage. The sad truth is that many times I've seen it done it's actually written to facilitate some specific project the city is vying for.
    "...I would never try to tick Hink off. He kinda intimidates me. He's quite butch, you know." - Maister

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    Cyburbian HomerJ's avatar
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    Well I have no idea if it's remotely viable or realistic, but have city's ever tried overlaying districts with FBC's in a similar type of incentive strategy one would normally see with a TIF district? The reason I ask, is that I assume when given the option between building under Euclidean or form based, most will take the former because there is more familiarity with those regulations. I haven't had the chance to see any FBC cases in action, but I assume there is at least an initial resistance to changing models.
    Insanity in individuals is something rare - but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.

  5. #5

    Form based development without transect

    It is very exciting to see that times are changing and that planners - and engineers - are relearning how to design, code and build walkable communities.

    The SmartCode (SC) template does not require all zones, but it does require a mix of at minimum three T-zones within every 1/4 mile pedestrian shed. The reason is to ensure that diverse uses and housing types are within walkable distance from one another. This is tantamount to the historic traditional neighborhoods that have a center (T5) a general fabric (T4) and an edge (T3).

    [A more rural format night be small scale T4 with commercial, T3-loose residential and T2-Ag - but scale is important! All of this must be within a single 1/4 mile ped shed!)

    Of course this model can be accomplished using master plans or PUDs or even form-based codes (FBDs), if the basis is a good design. The caveat is scale - most form-based codes and even some plans do not recognize specific scale (the historic walkable ped shed) and if used incorrectly actually perpetuate the "one size fits all" model that we are trying to avoid.

    What is unique about the SC is that if followed according to instructions, it will produce a complete and walkable mixed use, mixed-building types community with a mix of density and "character." It is also "parametric" meaning directions are included for very dense and urban neighborhoods - or looser, more rural neighborhoods.

    In other words, the SmartCode codes human scale diversity - of uses, buildings and housing types.

    BTW, not using a transect-based form code when scale is the most important thing that impacts communities is to me (as a property owner with a vested interest in protecting property values) unconscionable.

    Ann

  6. #6
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Dan View post
    The concept I'm considering for use here involves a form-based overlay. There would be the traditional zoning map, with certain nodes designated for development based on a form-based code, with the transect scheme to be developed in a [snip] neighborhood plan. The form-based overlay would include the T-1 (natural zone) through T-4 (general urban) transects. When a site is developed, the owner could choose to develop under the regular zoning district, or under the form-based transect. If a parcel is large enough, they could apply for a PUD or a Smart-Code based development involving multiple transects.

    The shortcomings that I see; the intent of the SmartCode to create walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods will be undermined. The new UDC will likely be a hybrid conventional/form-based code, so there may be no advantage with development under a different FBC.

    Your thoughts? Scrapping conventional zoning entirely for form-based zoning isn't an option, unfortunately.
    I'm not a NU fashionista, so take this as you will: why do you have to limit your freedom by staying in the transect box? Is it because some architects speak confidently and assuredly about the need for transects?

    Nonetheless, as time goes on I'm sure you'll see other talk about overlays and UDCs and the struggle to make nice places now, with limited staff, and lots of wrangling over fewer resources.

    In my view, your comp plan has to want it, then your UDC has to allow it, and eventually it will work out. Name the places where you want what. Let it happen.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Dan View post
    That leaves a collection of smaller parcels; five to 30 acres on average, many with constraints such as very steep slopes.
    While consolidating properties may be desirable for redevelopment or infill in general, how do form-based codes, specifically, inhibit developing these parcels?

    Are you making transit improvements to accompany the form-based codes?

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