Form-Based Codes Institute at Smart Growth America

Narberth Borough Form-Based Zoning Code

Narberth Borough, located in the heart of the Philadelphia “Main Line” was developed in the early 20th Century as worker housing within easy walking distance to a station stop on the Main Line of the Pennsylvania Railroad (today a stop on SEPTA’s regional rail line). Small lot single family homes, twins, and a scattering of apartment buildings dominate the landscape. A small village downtown is located in the center of town and is within easy walking distance to every neighborhood. It’s no wonder, therefore, that the back to the city movement has discovered Narberth Borough. Once known for its affordable housing, its very desirability is driving property values to astronomical levels. In such a market, no neighborhood is safe from a developer who can turn a sizable profit from tearing down a small turn of the century home in order to cram in the largest house possible, or better yet, townhouses. Borough officials knew that their traditional Euclidean zoning regulations, written in the 1920s, were no match for the coming onslaught of redevelopment. As a result, in 2012 Borough Council retained the services of the Montgomery County Planning Commission to write a new zoning code that would protect community character but not completely stifle redevelopment. Their only stipulation was that the new zoning code be form based.

The suburbs of Philadelphia tend to be very conservative where zoning is concerned. The common refrain we planners hear when proposing something new is “has anyone else done this before” or “let someone else be the guinea pig”. Until Narberth Borough adopted their form based code in April of 2016, no other Montgomery County municipality (of which there are 62) adopted, or even considered, a true form based zoning code. Now that Narberth is the crack in the door, we expect that other municipalities will follow.

To view the code, click here.

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