Form Based Codes and Zoning Ordinances
The physical form of our towns and cities affects the quality of our lives and form-based codes have been created to help improve and protect this quality. Whereas traditional zoning ordinances typically emphasize land use regulation, the separation of land uses, and controlling development intensity through parameters such as dwellings per acre, building setbacks, parking minimums, and floor area ratios, form based codes primarily stress physical form and urban design. This approach to regulation recognizes the intrinsic relationship between public areas such as streets and sidewalks with the private realm of homes and buildings.
By recognizing the relationship between public and private space, form based codes address the interaction, form and mass of buildings with each other, as well as the scale and types of streets and blocks. Because form based codes are designed to convey three-dimensional design concepts, the Code's regulations and standards are illustrated and presented in diagrams, cross sections, and in other visual depictions, as well as expressed in text. To ensure that an overall coherent design is achieved, these codes are linked to a community plan and vision.
Form based codes often reflect and complement the traditional design fabric of a neighborhood or surrounding area, and also encourage a less automobile-dependent development pattern. Design flexibility is also encouraged because these codes promote a range of desired development formats and types within overall design parameters, they can encourage more design flexibility. Form-based codes may also result in developments that reflect a particular aesthetic character.
Form Based Codes offers the following benefits:
- Promotes energy conservation by using land efficiently, reduces energy use and conserves future energy use by reducing the reliance on individual automobiles, particularly for the non-driving population;
- Achieves a more predictable physical result because they are prescriptive rather than proscriptive;
- Offers a wider range of development types, architecture, materials, land uses and transportation options;
- Encourages public participation;
- Helps reinforce a neighborhood's existing vernacular architecture, thus contributing to a "sense of place" as well as in-fill development;
- Easier to use than conventional zoning documents because they emphasize visual access and readability. This can make it easier for nonplanners to determine whether compliance has been achieved.
- Provides transportation choices and a greater ridership potential for transit;
- Assists transportation planners in targeting future services and transit stops;
- Reduces the amount of required new infrastructure, such as sewer, water and road facilities;
- Provides an alternative to conventional "sprawl" development;
- Can be paired with Transferable Development Rights programs to direct growth into areas better served by infrastructure.
The following limitations may be associated with form based codes:
- Form based codes are relatively unfamiliar to municipal officials;
- Form based codes may require significant revisions to municipal land use ordinances;
- Public acceptance of a compact, mixed land use pattern may be difficult to achieve;
- Form based codes are best implemented with a single, master, coordinated plan that reflects widespread municipal support.
How To Use This Tool
Form-based codes can be incorporated into municipal zoning ordinances. While traditional zoning regulations stress the separation of land uses and the establishment of rigid development densities, form based codes reverse this perspective. Because the primary basis of this type of regulation is the establishment of desired building types, these codes initially concentrate on the visual aspects of development: building height and bulk, faÃƒÂ§ade treatments, parking locations, building massing, and the relationship of the buildings to the street and to one another. Form based codes therefore emphasize the appearance and qualities of the public realm and the community-oriented places created by buildings.
Form based codes typically express their design parameters through the use of a "transect", which represents cross-sections of different parts of a municipality; the transect shows areas ranging from areas with low levels of development or natural areas, transitioning to areas with more development. The rural-urban transitional zones describe the physical form and character of a place.
Form-based codes should include the following elements:
- Definitions: Technical terms are defined.
- Overall or Master Plan: A master plan of the area designates the locations where overall building massing and forms standards apply, based on community expressions regarding the physical character of the area.
- Building Form Standards: Regulations control the configuration, features, general styles, and functions of buildings.
- Architectural Standards: Standards for external architectural materials and quality are provided. A "design palette" containing photographic examples of desired design elements is often included.
- Public Space Standards: Specifications are established for the elements that comprise the public realm (e.g., sidewalks, street landscaping, on-street parking, street trees, street furniture, etc.).
- Landscaping Standards: Regulations control landscape design and plant materials.
- Signage Standards: Sign regulations that control maximum signage sizes, locations, materials, illumination, and placement are included.
- Review Process and Administration: Clear and predictable application and review procedures are included.
- Environmental Resource Standards: Regulations controlling stormwater and infiltration, steep slope preservation, tree protection, solar access, etc. are provided.
- Graphics: Illustrations explaining the intentions of specific code provisions are helpful.
The Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code, Act 247, Section 619, enables municipalities to establish land use policies through the comprehensive plan and land use controls such zoning and subdivision and land development, which can accommodate Transit Oriented Developments.
There are no examples of form-based codes that have been adopted in Chester County yet, although the Borough of Phoenixville has been considering such a code.
- The Form-Based Code Institute
- A good overview of Form Based Codes is provided by the Local Government Commission.