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Form Based Planning

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I'm still a bit of a novice to the field but lately I've been hearing the concept of "form based planning" being thrown around. I've managed to find bits and pieces on it but nothing special. Is there anyone out there who could point me in the direction of a good info source or give a good description of what it is? How its used? And why it is beneficial?

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I'm still a bit of a novice to the field but lately I've been hearing the concept of "form based planning" being thrown around. I've managed to find bits and pieces on it but nothing special. Is there anyone out there who could point me in the direction of a good info source or give a good description of what it is? How its used? And why it is beneficial?

Good topic.

Simply put, form based zoning is beneficial in that it pays greater attention to building design and less attention to uses. Traditional "euclidian" zoning rigidly seperates uses; i.e. commercial, low-density residential, medium density residential, etc. Form-based zoning allows more mixing of uses and greater control over design and architectural standards. The City of GR, Grand Haven and Allegan are all pursuing form-based zoning ordinances. I'm sure GRTownPlanner could provide some valuable insight on this topic as well :whistling:

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If we desire to create something other than suburban monocultures, then we need to work within a different set of guidelines. Most conventional zoning codes force separation of uses and seldom deal with the quality of the built environment. These conventional codes are based primarily on use and density while focusing on what is forbidden (not what is desired). They have caused systemic problems over the past sixty years by separating uses, making mixed-use and walkable neighborhoods essentially illegal.

Conventional zoning codes are based primarily on use, process, performance or statistics -- none of which envision or require any particular physical outcome.

In addition to that, much of the conventional zoning now in place in this country is almost worded completely the same, and in fact, available from one clearinghouse, a company called MuniCode. So an R2 or C1 district in Topeka may be the same or very similar to an R2 or C1 district in Grand Rapids. It is not surprising that suburban sprawl looks uniformly bad from sea to shining sea.

Form-based codes are an alternative to conventional zoning codes. These codes focus less on what's forbidden and more on what's desired--the kind of town or city that people indicate that they want.

Form-based codes strongly address the physical form of building and development. They place primary emphasis on the physical form (rather than the use) of the built environment. The end goal of the code is to produce a place.

A form-based code will usually deal with all aspects of design-including building disposition and configuration, street and landscape standards, parking, and architecture.

Many sources are available in regards to form-based codes. I think that the APA even published something about them within the last couple of years.

There are also various excellent examples of these codes available to the public. Duany Plater-Zyberk and Company has created the SmartCode, which is available for free. The SmartCode is also a transect based code, which means that it ties the concept of Duany's transect into the code. There are actually classes in calibration of the smartcode available 2 to 3 times per year. A company called Placemakers is handling these classes along with DPZ.

Peter Musty has created what he calls a Frontage Code, which is quite an elegant and easy to use code. His company is located in Minneapolis and is called the Charrette Center. I have worked with Peter and his Frontage Code and am very happy with the results. We used it for the new town of Laurent in South Dakota and have adopted it for overlay with the hope that it could be adopted county wide in the future.

Check out Peter's website: www.charrettecenter.com. He also has a website devoted to the frontage code, there should be a link to that site at charrette center.

The important thing to remember about both the Frontage Code and the SmartCode is that they both need to be locally calibrated. Using them in their raw form will most likely not give the full results that are desired.

The GVMC has recently calibrated the SmartCode to local standards and it is a very good place to start. We hope to use parts of it in our Hudsonville coding project.

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As a sort of side note, I think a lot of the cities around West Michigan are going to end up with a form-based/eucludean hybrid at first. There will be a seperation of uses to some degree. Many form-based codes also feature lots of pictures for things like setbacks, architectural standards and streetscapes; whereas traditional zoning ordinances are all words, which makes them incomprehensible for those who are not lawyers, planers or developers.

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As a sort of side note, I think a lot of the cities around West Michigan are going to end up with a form-based/eucludean hybrid at first. There will be a seperation of uses to some degree. Many form-based codes also feature lots of pictures for things like setbacks, architectural standards and streetscapes; whereas traditional zoning ordinances are all words, which makes them incomprehensible for those who are not lawyers, planers or developers.

That's a good idea. I have found most people have very little "vision" for something that's not there yet. They need pictures, models, etc..

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As a sort of side note, I think a lot of the cities around West Michigan are going to end up with a form-based/eucludean hybrid at first. There will be a seperation of uses to some degree. Many form-based codes also feature lots of pictures for things like setbacks, architectural standards and streetscapes; whereas traditional zoning ordinances are all words, which makes them incomprehensible for those who are not lawyers, planers or developers.

How would things work if there is a dispute? If we base zoning on pictures of architecture, what happens when a developer wants to build a different style of architecture?

I'm all in favor of mixed use and zero or very small setbacks, but it seems to me like form based zoning is going to restrict development a lot further than current zoning does. Are my fears unwarranted?

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Good topic.

Simply put, form based zoning is beneficial in that it pays greater attention to building design and less attention to uses. Traditional "euclidian" zoning rigidly seperates uses; i.e. commercial, low-density residential, medium density residential, etc. Form-based zoning allows more mixing of uses and greater control over design and architectural standards. The City of GR, Grand Haven and Allegan are all pursuing form-based zoning ordinances. I'm sure GRTownPlanner could provide some valuable insight on this topic as well :whistling:

The City of GR is pursuing this????? That's hard to believe considering at this point I feel like they could almost care less what things look like. I can't believe that one day they are going to all of a sudden change how they approve projets and are going to start concerning themselves with aesthetics and the greater good of the city. Hopefully this happens before we get another 400 ft of street level cmu at Icon II.

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Yeah, they actually started the process a couple years ago, but I haven't heard anything in a long time as to how it is going. I was very encouraged to hear they were going to try form-based zoning. It is potentially a great way to successfully implement the excellent Master Plan they adopted in 2002. You can check out a newsletter they have on the planning dept website that gives you a limited background of whats going on.

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Yeah, it's the natural extension of the Master Plan. In my neighborhood we gave input for this about 1 year ago, but have not heard much sense. We were asked a lot of questions about what we would like to see more of in terms of design in Residential, Commercial and Industrial. The attempt is to break down some of the barriers limiting more mixed-use neighborhoods. So if you can demonstrate how your development fits the character of the neighborhood, the use becomes a bit more secondary. i.e. "I can build an industrial smelter as long as the setbacks, building height, lighting, window treatments and ficade look pretty" My assumption is that they have taken back a lot of the community input and then will roll it out soon. (if Planning has any staff left that is)

The City of GR is pursuing this????? That's hard to believe considering at this point I feel like they could almost care less what things look like. I can't believe that one day they are going to all of a sudden change how they approve projets and are going to start concerning themselves with aesthetics and the greater good of the city. Hopefully this happens before we get another 400 ft of street level cmu at Icon II.

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My assumption is that they have taken back a lot of the community input and then will roll it out soon. (if Planning has any staff left that is)

Well it would be a huuuge undertaking, so the consultants (LSL) have probably been drafting it for a year or more...

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How would things work if there is a dispute? If we base zoning on pictures of architecture, what happens when a developer wants to build a different style of architecture?

I'm all in favor of mixed use and zero or very small setbacks, but it seems to me like form based zoning is going to restrict development a lot further than current zoning does. Are my fears unwarranted?

To clarify a little bit, form-based zoning has easy to read drawings of civic space standards, street standards, build-to (setback) standards, frontage types, block sizes, landscaping, etc.

But these codes do not specifically direct architectural style. Style is irrelevent. If a developer wants to build a "modern" townhouse, it is completely acceptable to do, as long as it follows the code in regards to urbanism. Garage in back; Front door, raised off the street at least 2-3 feet; Windows on the street; and close to the sidewalk (not appropriate to place 35' from the R.O.W.).

Form-based zoning will allow more flexibility in development, particularly in what types of buildings are allowed in each context zone. For instance, in the raw version of the SmartCode, apartment buildings can be placed in T4, T5 and T6. These apartment buildings would, of course, be articulated differently in each zone.

The same is true for the following:

Row housing is allowed in T4 and T5.

Cottage homes would be in T3 and T4.

Retail building would be allowed in T4, T5 and T6.

Keep in mind that all this info would need to be calibrated to local conditions.

Sometimes in addition to these codes, an architectural pattern book is included or at least a separate architectural code that, at minimum, provides for some definition of general building requirements.

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To clarify a little bit, form-based zoning has easy to read drawings of civic space standards, street standards, build-to (setback) standards, frontage types, block sizes, landscaping, etc.

But these codes do not specifically direct architectural style. Style is irrelevent. If a developer wants to build a "modern" townhouse, it is completely acceptable to do, as long as it follows the code in regards to urbanism. Garage in back; Front door, raised off the street at least 2-3 feet; Windows on the street; and close to the sidewalk (not appropriate to place 35' from the R.O.W.).

Form-based zoning will allow more flexibility in development, particularly in what types of buildings are allowed in each context zone. For instance, in the raw version of the SmartCode, apartment buildings can be placed in T4, T5 and T6. These apartment buildings would, of course, be articulated differently in each zone.

The same is true for the following:

Row housing is allowed in T4 and T5.

Cottage homes would be in T3 and T4.

Retail building would be allowed in T4, T5 and T6.

Keep in mind that all this info would need to be calibrated to local conditions.

Sometimes in addition to these codes, an architectural pattern book is included or at least a separate architectural code that, at minimum, provides for some definition of general building requirements.

Thanks for the responce GRTP. My concern over picture zoning is similar to 3dad's experience with vision. For a lot of people, once they see a picture its impossible to get that picture out of their head. I guess I was worried that people would use the pictures to block architecture they, themselves, didn't like.

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Good topic.

Simply put, form based zoning is beneficial in that it pays greater attention to building design and less attention to uses. Traditional "euclidian" zoning rigidly seperates uses; i.e. commercial, low-density residential, medium density residential, etc. Form-based zoning allows more mixing of uses and greater control over design and architectural standards. The City of GR, Grand Haven and Allegan are all pursuing form-based zoning ordinances. I'm sure GRTownPlanner could provide some valuable insight on this topic as well :whistling:

To simplify this further, think of form based planning as the anti-simcity approach to planning :P

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I guess I was worried that people would use the pictures to block architecture they, themselves, didn't like.

There is certainly a danger to that. If you look at nearly every New Urbanist project, they are biased to the traditional form, particularly in some of their pattern books. There is a reason for this, which is that, from a precedent standpoint, the traditional architecture has proven for a very long time to be able to create the kind of places that are desired urbanistically. The modern form, generally speaking, has been co-opted to rationalize the suburban office parks and banal strip malls. Although that appears to be changing, for the worse, with some really bad traditionally "styled" buildings cropping up. The new term is "themeing the architecture". Wonderful stuff.

The problem with having this bias is that you end up with a disney like place, that does not look real or organic.

When a good modern building is built, and fits into its context, it can achieve the exact same results as when a good traditional building is built. Steven Holl has built a good building at Seaside.

The key is that it has to be done well, whether it is traditional or modern. We live in a time, when neither is really done all that well. All we really have is this jumbled mix of things.

An example of this is when someone takes a 1950's ranch house and tries to remodel it into a craftsman style house, with some cute brackets and porch addition. This is akin to the monster hybrid toys in Toy Story. It is happening all too often in certain areas around here.

I recently reviewed an architectural guideline prepared by an architect for a traditional neighborhood. At the very beginning, they had listed all the styles that would be appropriate to the neighborhood. The list included "the foursquare" and "bungalow" style.

I am not sure what either of these are. There is a craftsman style. But a foursquare and bungalow are a type, not a style. When an architect is mixing these basic things up, it is no wonder that we have so many meaningless places.

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I think this is part of the challenge. It is desirable, at least from a planning standpoint, to regulate architectural style in urban areas, to what is desirable and "urban", but you can't have the standards be so tight that they are suffocating, because then you could very easily end up with a different kind of bland monotony. I think they key (correct me if I'm wrong GRTP) would be to include language with the pictures. So for some district you could say setback shall be 5 feet, roof pitch shall between X and X, windows should be of a vertical orientation, front porches should be at least X feet wide, and so on.

That way, you can allow flexibility within the ordinance for people to build a variety of buildings that are still part of an urban context. And you would probably have to explicitly state that the picture is merely an example, not an illustration of what "must" be built.

I agree that many "new urbanist" neighborhoods, while the houses do look better, are still very cartoonish.

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