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Form-based codes Form-based zoning

Suburb Repairman

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Several members of our steering committee working on the Comprehensive Plan have expressed an interest in supporting mixed-use development, especially near the "old village" (read: quaint under-developed downtown area). I've been doing some research on techniques that support this kind of development. They want to preserve the village appearance, so I'm most interested in form-based zoning. The problem is, I can't find much information that isn't second-hand from DPZ. DPZ paints an awefully rosy picture of form-based zoning/transect development, but I'm sure there is a darker side. Does anybody have an opinion on form-based zoning? Also, does anyone have other suggestions for promoting mixed-use? We have most of the basic stuff like planned-unit-developments, but I want to explore as many options as possible. Thanks for your help!
 

GISgal

Cyburbian
Messages
279
Points
10
Milwaukee is doing work on form based planning. UW-M architecture students were helping write the design guidelines last semester. What you are looking is the bulk of their work.

Good Luck.
 

Tranplanner

maudit anglais
Messages
7,903
Points
35
Toronto has experimented with "form-based" zoning in a couple of neighbourhoods. We've just finished an update report - both areas are growing - a lot of residential infill, conversion of old industrial buildings into lofts, and some commercial regeneration (more so before the dot-com bust).

I'll try to find some links and append them here.
 
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148
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6
It seems to be very sensible to remove many of those specific design provisions and overlay them in a form-based zoning pattern over the existing zoning. I see no reason for form to follow function as far as activities inside are concerned.

Question though: neo-tradiitonal coding gets a lot of flack for being impressively rigid and unflexible when it comes to allowing individuality and customization, not to mention the imposition of design taste in a top down manner. I can imagine a few court cases might be wandering through over just these reasons. Do these objections come up in a big way at the above places and how have they been responded to?
 

jresta

Cyburbian
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1,474
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23
Re: form-based zoning

Suburb Repairman said:
Several members of our steering committee working on the Comprehensive Plan have expressed an interest in supporting mixed-use development, especially near the "old village" (read: quaint under-developed downtown area). DPZ paints an awefully rosy picture of form-based zoning/transect development, but I'm sure there is a darker side.
If you say that it's a quaint under-developed downtown then what would the dark side be? Either you like it or you don't. If you like it then you won't see a dark side to protecting it or setting boundaries for it and letting it fill out. How did your quaint under-developed downtown get to be that way in the first place? Why not look through the town records and find out, polish off the old codes and put them into your modern code.

p.s. - development is either use based or form based. Unless you're separating things by use and form at the same time you can't have form-based zoning.

it's sort of like "urban sprawl" - an oxymoron.
 

Suburb Repairman

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I was referring to any possible negative side effects of form-based zoning. It seems like all I read about form-based zoning is positive. Bexause of that, I'm also leaning in the positive direction. I guess I'm looking for a devil's advocate with a negative perspective on form-based zoning.

Bulverde has only been around for six years as a legal city, so we don't have old city codes or town records to look at. The age and development of the city is a major reason why I'm looking into form-based codes. The people here want the city to look like it's been around many years, rather than another "blah suburb" (that's the actual description they used). Bulverde was settled as a very small village with a cotton gin and sheep/goat ranching. There are a couple of general stores, a bowling club, and a few restaurants, but it's all kind of spread out. Researching our city is difficult because there are all kinds of folk tales about its beginnings and history, much of which contradicts itself. I've been working on the history as kind of a pet project.

It sounds like most of your experiences with form-based zoning is positive. I'll keep researching, but I'm feeling a little more confident about this type of zoning. Thanks for all of your help.
 

jresta

Cyburbian
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1,474
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23
All i'm saying is, if you like the way your town looks now and you want to see it grow but maintain its current character then you shouldn't cut and past someone elses code.

You should take a look at what you have, what people like about what you have, what people don't like then work on setting minimum design standards that will allow your town to grow without looking too disney or too suburban.
 

Mary

Member
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127
Points
6
The one negative I've heard about form based zoning was that it suposedly (we don't have it here) takes real expertise to develop good guide lines that work so that it promotes your developers designing things that work for everyone without becoming just a free for all or a new set of restrictions.
 

Duke Of Dystopia

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2,713
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24
jresta said:
All i'm saying is, if you like the way your town looks now and you want to see it grow but maintain its current character then you shouldn't cut and past someone elses code.

You should take a look at what you have, what people like about what you have, what people don't like then work on setting minimum design standards that will allow your town to grow without looking too disney or too suburban.
Jresta has it right here.

Expanding on his "deciding what you want theme" People from the community have to be part of it. Not just the nasty don't tax me crowd, but others that are willing to come up with a vision. A good buy in from a number of prominant individuals both community and business oriented could really put the politicians at ease with a decision like this.

Spend the time to find a place for everything you want, some of the things you will get weather you like it or not, and a little left over for "Targets of Oportunity". Identify them and write good code whichever way you choose.

It sounds interesting, but why does it have to look old. How about the possibility of preserving what is old in specific but focus on the quality of contemporary or future oriented development. It helps if you can get a business tie in.
 

SGB

Cyburbian
Messages
3,387
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25
jresta said:
You should take a look at what you have, what people like about what you have, what people don't like then work on setting minimum design standards that will allow your town to grow without looking too disney or too suburban.
Sounds like a good rationale for using a visual preference survey.
 

OfficialPlanner

Cyburbian
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930
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23
ablarc said:
Possibly--just possibly--all zoning should be form-based.
If Paris were built today, It could be accomplished by form-based zoning. The best things in my city today have been the result of form-based zoning. It would be neat if more planning departments started incorporating it into their zoning codes.
 
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Form-based codes are really not that complicated. Right up to 1940, America had a limited number of building forms:
1. Prestige single family houses lining the avenues leading to the town center.
2. Single family homes lined up on narrow side streets.
3. Attached homes of various types depending on local traditions
-- the three decker of Boston, the two-over-two of Brooklyn.
4. Townhouses supported by an alley.
5. Small apartments of 4 - 6 units -- throughout the south -- that resemble
prestige houses in massing and avenue location if not architectural quality.
6. Main-street-storefronts with apartments above and a rural variant, the one storey country store with a tall, front-parapet.

Additionally, some cities and towns developed specialized forms such as the residential "close," which is a small L or U shaped courtyard of apartments and tiny townhouses, I have seen examples in Richmond and Los Angeles; or an L or U shaped courtyard apartment house.

At the back of their minds, all Americans know these forms and many love them. The way to code these building types is to systematically analyse good examples: How many floors and how high are they, building width, proximity to the street, fenestration, yards, roof type and pitch and set up a performance sheet. Having defined the envelope, within reason, there is greater flexibility with uses.
 
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vaughan

Cyburbian
Messages
335
Points
11
A couple of weeks ago I was at the Rocky Mountain Land Use Institute Spring Conference. There was a debate on form based zoning which essentially tore it apart. the guy that was supposed to be up there on the "pro" side pointed out all the negative aspects so that he could then try and address them (he didn't do a great job), and then Chris Duerksen of Clarion associates got up there and continued the attack on the "con" side. Most of the complaint centered around the fact that, for the most part, form based codes have been written by architects rather than planners, and example after example was shown that demonstrated how vague and legally indefensible much of the language is. it wasn't a good showing for form based codes.

I've got no opinion right now and, since it's not my argument, can't give you a great breakdown of the devil's advocate point of view, but I can pass on the fact that people who make a living writing code in the rocky mountain west seem to be against it.

If you're interested, you could probably get a transcript of that session from the Rocky MOuntain land use Institute.
 

Lee Nellis

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I have heard Chris D say similar things. My view is that we have known how to get the development we want for a long time without coming up with new gimmicks. I happen to prefer performance-based approaches, but the suburb next door is doing fine with a conventional (albeit rather convoluted) ordinance. It isn't about technique as much as it about political willpower AND a strict attention to defensibility. What I have seen in the DPZ models lacks that attention (and in a major way), but I am more concerned about how simple those models try to make the world. All of the places I have ever lived, including places of a few hundred population, fit poorly on a transect that has so few "stops."
 

Suburb Repairman

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Lee Nellis said:
I have heard Chris D say similar things. My view is that we have known how to get the development we want for a long time without coming up with new gimmicks. I happen to prefer performance-based approaches, but the suburb next door is doing fine with a conventional (albeit rather convoluted) ordinance. It isn't about technique as much as it about political willpower AND a strict attention to defensibility. What I have seen in the DPZ models lacks that attention (and in a major way), but I am more concerned about how simple those models try to make the world. All of the places I have ever lived, including places of a few hundred population, fit poorly on a transect that has so few "stops."
I am also looking at performance standards as a more defensible option (and easier to work with & explain). I read DPZ's work sample from their site a few times and kept asking myself 'how many ways could a decent lawyer tear something like this apart?' I also thought the transect idea they bring up doesn't fit with our situation (we will never have the density illustrated in the more urban parts of the transect). I've learned from reading the existing ordinances that simply copying another city can really screw you up-we even have a few ordinances where they accidentally left the name of the donor city 8-! . What we are really trying to do here is encourage creativity with the developers without burdening them with risky and more drawn out PDD proposals. Developers around here are sometimes a little hesitent to put out a new idea because 'scared of anything but the status-quo' councilmen/commissioners shoot them down because they're scared of mixed-use/TOD or something (this is probably true everywhere).

I'm about to be late to a comprehensive plan meeting...gotta go!
 

Lee Nellis

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My experience is that a community can encourage creativity in relatively simple ways that fall into one of two categories.

1) Make the process easier for the creative developer. In a rural setting I would, for example, provide for quick administrative approval of subdivisions (up to a certain size) that use an open space development pattern while making the conventional subdivisions go through a hearing process. Same could be done with a specified class if infill projects in an urban setting.

2) Use performance standards that allow developers to solve problems different ways, while still ensuring that the community's broader goals are achieved. Also, incorporate incentives, including possibly narrower streets, higher densities, etc.
 

boiker

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Lee Nellis said:
2) Use performance standards that allow developers to solve problems different ways, while still ensuring that the community's broader goals are achieved. Also, incorporate incentives, including possibly narrower streets, higher densities, etc.
You have to be careful with performance standards so that they don't encourage achievement of the standards at all costs. You could end up with something completly unintended yet meets all performance standards.
 

Lee Nellis

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boiker is correct. Most communities that use them have had to adjust some of the performance standards as experience accumulates - which is a healthy process for any development regulations. Indeed I think that one liability of conventional zoning is the tendency not to amend it until there is great pressure, and then to do in a piecemeal fashion.

The key to good performance standards is process. You have to hammer them out in a locla discussion of what works and what doesn't, then take your draft, apply it to real situations (I like to use past developments, but you can also create some hypotheticals) and see how it works. Field testing is the most neglected part of the design of regulations.
 
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