home Zoning and Land Use Planning Form- Based Codes – a catalyst for successful Transit Oriented Development

Form- Based Codes – a catalyst for successful Transit Oriented Development

Good codes are basic guidelines through which great communities are created. Unlike conventional zoning which emphasizes more on types of land uses and segregating different land uses to different zoning districts, form based zoning, insists basically on the form of built environment. Form based codes as defined by a group of practitioners who are advancing the concept is, “A method of regulating development to achieve a specific urban form. Form based codes create a predictable public realm by controlling physical form primarily, with a lesser focus on land use, through city or county regulations (Institute on Planning, Zoning and Eminent Domain, Nov 2009).”  Form based codes are not a new phenomenon and it is gaining popularity because it is mainly used to achieve a compact physical form.

Transit Oriented Development (TOD) is a developing new trend in creating compact, walkable and mixed-use community centered on a transit station. The major concern of the U.S. Cities regulating development through conventional or Euclidean zoning is that, it dates back to industrialization of American Cities at the turn of last century, which is not admissible to economic realities of cities today. Back in 1950s, suburban single-family homes were popular. Due the changing demography, there is growing majority of single parents and friends living together. The changing population is more interested in live, work environment and TODs. The main reason of many cities for switching to form based zoning is to achieve vibrant, livable, human- scaled neighborhoods.

There are several Counties throughout the nation that have adopted the form-based codes. For instance, Arlington County, Virginia adopted the  form based codes, ‘the optional (parallel) codes, for the 3-mile Columbia Pike corridor. The corridor is located immediately across the Potomac River from down town Washington DC. County leaders initiated form-based codes to cater transit and pedestrian oriented development. One of the earliest codes was created in town of Seaside, Florida, in 1980s, which was considered as important planning efforts of the post-World War II era. In 2002, San Antonio adopted the ‘Use Patterns’ in its Unified Development Code for Traditional Neighborhood Development (TND), TOD, revitalizing existing malls and other commercial areas.

Columbia Pike Form Based Code Town Center

Source: Arlington County Virginia, 2011

Penrose Square Development on Columbia Pike

Penrose Square Development on Columbia Pike

The Walnut Creek apartments east of San Francisco, California are a successful TOD project adjacent to Pleasant Hill/ Contra Costa Center Station of the BART system. Multiple charrates and public-private partnership agreement led to the writing of form-based code for the County by Geoff Ferrell, urban planner with Ferrell Madden in Washington D.C. In 2005, the City of Palo Alto, California updated its Zoning Ordinance based on the TOD mixed-use context –design guidelines. The code was developed by Van Meter, Williams, and Pollack and Urbsworks, Inc.

Walnut Creek Apartments, California

Walnut Creek Apartments, California

Leander is located at the northwestern edge of the Central Texas growth corridor. Additional growth in the area is due to the construction of the 183A Toll road by the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority (CTRMA) and also the proposal of regional commuter rail system. The proposed commuter rail connects Leander with downtown Austin through Capital Metro rail line and links San Antonio with Central Texas through Mopac rail line. Andres Duany, noted leader of New Urbanism and Paul Ferguson, Chairman of Board of Supervisors of Arlington County, Virginia, hosted the Central Texas delegation. The Central Texas delegation was later convinced that, TOD with form-based codes could result in sustainable mixed-use neighborhoods.

Smart Codes permits development in three primary forms: the Traditional Neighborhood Development (TND), Clustered Neighborhood Development and Regional Center Development (RCD). As discussed by Geller, Richard in ‘The Legality of Form-Based Zoning Codes’, Journal of Land Use, TOD consists of an overlay on all or part of a TND or RCD, permitting increased density to support transit on dedicated lanes. The form-based code acts as catalyst for successful TODs and is a tool for economic development. The young generation and the retiring boomers prefer the vitality of compact and mixed-use neighborhoods. Form based codes unlike conventional zoning promotes mixed -use and TOD. It is high time for Cities to develop codes that create abiding values in creating communities.

5 thoughts on “Form- Based Codes – a catalyst for successful Transit Oriented Development

  1. Mixed zoning idea is good, but my worry as urban planner is that we need not totally avoid the Form-Based codes and shift to TOD approach. we have to be careful which type to apply where. the other issue which must be taken care of in TOD is on deciding the type of activities that can be mixed. those activities shall complement each other and make life more simpler and enjoyable. we have to avoid putting together conflicting activities, which later cause negative implications and create unhappy citizens.

  2. Sorry but Form Based Codes are Reinventing yesterday, today with new words that mean what a charlatan would like them to mean.. It is new buz-words like re-engineering that died…pure Public relations. Zoning is a living process of urban planning and design living adaptation to evolving innovations and reality.

  3. We are in the process of adopting forn-based codes as part of our new land development plan here in Cincinnati. The final draft is avaliable at PlanBuildLiveCincinnati.com. Four neighborhoods ahve been targeted for the first implementation of the FBC. Primary focus is “walkable neighborhoods” as outlined in our new Cincinnati Plan. There are several communites waiting in line to adopt FBC.

  4. Josephine has it right. A Form-Based Code is a great way to be sure the intended outcomes of a transit-corridor become reality. By having a clear plan for the desired results and then requiring the private owners to adhere to the rules embedded in the code for such things as building placement, height, elements and -yes use -and the public sector to follow the vision for the street, parking, curb, sidewalk and tree lane forms, the place will actually look and function as intended.

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