Form-based codes are often intended for relatively small areas, ranging from single streets to neighborhood districts. Yet they are also being tested further up the scale as key tools in regional planning.
Moreover, it’s not just about what is between the curbs. It’s about placement of buildings and parking lots and street trees. It’s about the codes that determine how streets are designed and buildings interact with the public space. It’s about street networks and size of blocks and how it all fits together. It’s about creating a place.
Implementing a form-based code (FBC) is not just a matter of desired form, but also a community’s expectations about the role of government officials, public input into development, and the necessity of architectural design and site plan review. The decision also requires an understanding of what might go wrong, and how unintended consequences and necessary deviations from the code will be addressed.
By their very nature FBCs faces many hurdles. Over the last century, we have separated zoning standards from physical planning, leaving out place-making. FBCs are now trying to make up for this all at once. The planner’s concern is we don’t have the capability to do it in-house and the money for consultants has dried up. We have to overcome the legacy of the planning system we have inherited and undergo a generational shift.
All of the goals in the Community Vision assume the principle of Connectivity: a fine network of thoroughfares should knit together the community. The goals also all draw upon the principle of sustainability: places must be ecologically, fiscally, and socially sustainable.
A key barrier to protecting and creating distinctive places is lack of clear and precise place-based standards and a predictable review process. Design guidelines are difficult to apply consistently. They offer too much room for subjective interpretation. Design guidelines are difficult to enforce. A developer can legally refuse to comply putting at risk the larger collective investments of neighboring properties. Design Guidelines require oversight by discretionary review bodies, leading to a protracted and politicized planning process that can cost time and money.