Form-Based Codes Institute at Smart Growth America

Standards of Practice for Form-Based Codes

A well-crafted form-based code is the most effective form of development regulation for shaping pedestrian-scaled, mixed-use, and fine-grained urbanism. How does one determine if a development regulation is a form-based code and a well-crafted one? Click HERE to download a PDF of FBCI’s standards of practice for form-based codes. 

Definition of a Form-Based Code

A form-based code is a land development regulation that fosters predictable built results and a walkable public realm by using physical form—rather than separation of uses—as the primary basis and focus for the code and standards. Communities can apply form-based codes at different contexts and scales. Form-based codes are legally-binding regulations, not optional guides, and offer municipalities an alternative to conventional zoning for shaping development.

Standards of Practice for Form-Based Codes

A form-based code must include:

  1. A DETAILED PHYSICAL PLAN AND CLEAR VISION, which has been developed and adopted through an inclusive community engagement process.
  2. A STATEMENT OF INTENT AND PURPOSE, which ties the code to the vision or plan and sets parameters for development of and a framework for waivers and exceptions.
  3. BUILDING FORM STANDARDS with specific requirements for building placement and building frontages that will shape public spaces.
  4. A REGULATING PLAN that establishes a specific set of standards for each zone shown on a regulating plan.
  5. CLEAR AND OBJECTIVE STANDARDS with limited or no discretionary review.
  6. PEDESTRIAN SCALE THOROUGHFARE STANDARDS that promote and/or conserve an interconnected street network and pedestrian-scaled blocks.
  7. PREDICTABLE PHYSICAL OUTCOMES, which are determined by standards and parameters for physical form–build-to lines, frontage type requirements, and open space features–rather than standards with highly unpredictable physical outcomes–floor area ratio and density­­–which result in a high-quality urban form and public realm, while still allowing for variety in the size and shape of urban spaces and the design of buildings.
  8. COMMON-USE LANGUAGE, GRAPHICS, AND DIAGRAMS, which are unambiguous, clearly labeled, and accurate in their presentation of spatial configurations and relationships.
  9. DIVERSITY OF USES AND HOUSING TYPES incorporating standards that encourage this diversity within a walkable distance.

Best Practices for Form-Based Codes

An exemplary form-based code should:

  1. be effectively coordinated with other applicable policies and regulations that control development on the same property.
  2. be designed and programmed to be regularly updated, convenient for public distribution, and understandable to all members of the community.
  3. produce walkable, identifiable neighborhoods that provide for daily needs to be accessible through multiple transportation options.
  4. ensure parking requirements, if included, are compatible with pedestrian-scale urbanism.
  5. promote racial equality, social and economic inclusion, and cultural diversity.
  6. clearly describe the administrative procedures for project approval in easy-to-understand language, with efficiency in the number of steps, and options for flexibility that still provide results consistent with the vision or plan.
  7. include definitions of all technical terms in language that is understandable to everyone who uses or is affected by the code.