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Lansing Form-Based Code


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Barring some concerted and organized opposition, Lansing is gearing up early next year to adopt a Form-Base Code for zoning, replacing the traditional Euclidian zoning.  If adopted, it'd be the largest city in the state to go to a total FBC zoning plan.  This all came out of the Design Lansing Comprehensive Plan, the city's most recent master plan, released in 2012 which called for the replacement of Lansing's zoning ordinance to speed up the transformations of the city laid out in the master plan.  Form-Base Code elevates the design of a structure on a city parcel over a defined land use for that parcel, which is the opposite of traditional single-district zoning.  The benefits the city lists for the switch are increases the tax base, supports transit choice and levels the playing field for pedestrians in more parts of the city

What this plan will generally do:

- Reduce setbacks,  parking (in commercial/retail districts), increase max (and adds minimum) heights, and allow for far more mixed-usage (by right) than the current zoning code.

- While it allows for more mixed-use, it also implement higher design standards, and really just add design standards to make them less subjective during a review of a project.  This will actually have the effect from a NIMBY's point-of-view of retaining the character of older and historic neighborhoods and structures, with the trade-off for developmers of allowing more usages on more of the city's land.

- Allow changes in a plot's use without having to go through the rezoning process.

- For developers, it speeds up the process of development, as a design is required up front rather than a use and then a rough idea of a design.

- Finally, the code is easier to read and thus more predictable for developers.

Specifically for Lansing by-right, conditional and special usages have been determined by the type of street a lot is on:


Streets by NewCityOne, on Flickr

Map of new district:


Lansing Form-Based Code by NewCityOne, on Flickr

How this works:


How by NewCityOne, on Flickr

And, examples of building-types for the districts:


Residential by NewCityOne, on Flickr


Suburban Commercial by NewCityOne, on Flickr


Multi-Use by NewCityOne, on Flickr

Something worth noting is that there is actually an increase in districts from I believe 19 to 23.

For a full list of uses and design standards:

FBC Introduction, User Guide, and  Form Based Zoning Code

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Had some time to dig through this and compare it with the existing zoning code.  A few observations:


- Though the districts aren't directly comparable, it appears max heights in the new single-family home districts have been increased by 2 feet.  Not sure what the difference is between 33 and 35 feet, but that's what they've done.  I was also a bit surprised they didn't lower the minimum lot areas for new construction in the single-family homes districts.  It's still 4,000, 5,000 and 6,000 square feet.  I'd have like to have seen a bit more flexibility as it relates to lot minimums.

- Setbacks in residential-focused districts have been largely kept the same.  The minimum is still 20 feet (or average setback of the blockface) for the densest single-family home-focused district (R-4 through R-6).  Interesting enough ALL of the previous lowest-density residential districts had a setback minimum of 20 feet, but the new code actually has its lowest-desnity residential districts (R-1 through R-3) with a setback minimum of 25 feet (or average setback of the blockface).

- A significant change is that in the denser residential districts, we've gotten the lot widths down to 30 feet minimums, whereas all new single-family lots under the existing code had by-right 60-foot width minimums.  It was very rare for a home to have a 60-foot lot minimum, because most of the lots in the city were lots-of-record recorded before the zoning code when into effect, and you could built on lots-of-record. But just theoretically it was a bad policy.

- There are too many different single-family home-focused zoning codes in this new code.  There are six, double what the old code had.  You have one for the largest homes in the city around the Country Club (R-1),  mid-century to modern subdivisions (R-2), mid-century to modern subdivisions on deep lots (R-3), historic inner-city neighborhoods (R-4), mid-century inner-city-to-mid-city neighborhoods (R-5), and historic inner-city neighborhoods with alleys on small lots (R-6).  Like tons of these overlap.

- Duplexes were given their own district in the old code (C Residential), but are folded in to multiple districts in the new code: R-6 (with conditions) , MFR (Multi-Family Campus Residential), R-MX (Mixed Residential),  and R-AR (Adaptive Reuse Residential),.

I'll do a post on the mixed-use/commercial-focused districts next.

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