- KISS: Form codes have become too complicated and burdensome and there is a really need to simply them down and focus on what is important. The open source format of the Smart Code makes it cheaper and easier to develop a code, but it doesn’t make the regulations less burdensome. We spent a lot of time talking about how work with clients to identify what is important to them (What defines the character of the neighborhood to you? Your back yard? Your attached garage? Being able to walk to dinner? What don’t you like? Traffic? Noise? How are these factors inter-related?) and then keeping the code focused on those key elements.
- Name Change: We agree that “form based” is a bit alienating and confusing. “What is form anyways?”, many have asked. We’re thinking character based zoning is a better way to talk about it.
- Costs!: We talked a lot about the relationship between regulation and cost and how that affects our clients who have areas that are struggling to attract new businesses and residents. Excessive and complex regulation dives down property values, drives up construction costs, and ultimately makes it more expensive for the end user. We all agreed that having frank discussions about the impact of regulations with our clients upfront is critical. We also agreed that FBCs can be really effective in areas where there is development pressure and a need to ensure new construction conforms with existing character. The analogy we used was holding a baby: not to tight; not too loose!
- Past mistakes repeated?: FBCs have done a lot of good by introducing the notion and value of mixed use neighborhoods and buildings. We did a fair amount of lamenting about the problems with “separation of uses” zoning. But we wondered if the “generic style” that is imposed through FBCs on main streets (big storefront windows, wide sidewalks, mixed use buildings, and so on) wasn’t being overly prescriptive in some ways too. This lead into some really meaty discussion of alternative forms we’ve seen that worked well. One that struck us: single story retail bookended by high density residential. More to come on that for sure.
During our Friday Lunch this week we talked about “Form Based Codes: A Crack in the Code?” in the October issue of Planning Magazine. The article focuses on how “the hope-for cure for use-based zoning ills hasn’t quite taken off but the form-based emphasis on form has had a big impact on modern zoning.” Being a leader in FBCs in New Jersey and preparing for a new project with @NJTPA that will involve a lot of form work, we though it be good to sit down discuss. Here are a few take always from our discussion: