Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Form-based Zoning

Over the last little while, I’ve been thinking a bit about zoning. With the City of Langley now looking to even further regulate what businesses are allowed in the community which I have some issue with, it has become clear to me that cities shouldn’t been focusing as much on land-uses, floor area ratios, and minimum parking requirement which do little to improve communities, but focus more on what form we want our communities to look like.

I found a great article on Wikipedia about form-based zoning. The basics of form-based zoning is that it focuses on what types of buildings best suits the type of public realm you are trying to create. An urban downtown is going to have a different building form than a quiet residential street.

From Wikipedia Article: At a minimum, a form-based code, written to enable or preserve a specific urban form, consists of building form and public space standards keyed to a regulating plan. An urban design is the intention or goal, the form-based code is the regulatory tool to achieve it.
According to the article, if you can answer these questions by looking at your zoning bylaw, you have form-based zoning.
How does one determine if a development regulation is a form-based code and a well-crafted one? Form-based codes generally receive affirmative answers to all of the following questions:

Is the code's focus primarily on regulating urban form and less on land use?

Is the code regulatory rather than advisory?

Does the code emphasize standards and parameters for form with predictable physical outcomes (build-to lines, frontage type requirements, etc.) rather than relying on numerical parameters (floor-area ratios, density, etc.) whose outcomes are impossible to predict?

Does the code require private buildings to shape public space through the use of building form standards with specific requirements for building placement?

Does the code promote and/or conserve an interconnected street network and pedestrian-scaled blocks?

Are regulations and standards keyed to specific locations on a regulating plan?

Are the diagrams in the code unambiguous, clearly labeled, and accurate in their presentation of spatial configurations?
We should be focusing more on built form and less on land-use, floor-ratio ratios, and minimum parking requirement.

In the City of Langley, for example, 10 pages of the zoning bylaw talks about parking and the section on zone C3 "Specific Commercial Zone" spends three pages talking about acceptable land-use. On the important topic of build-form, it use about 3/4 of a page which is mostly tables of numbers. If you looked at the bylaw, you wouldn't have a clear idea of what the final building would look like.

The built form of our communities affect human health, the environment, and the future that we'll leave for our children. If we want to create communities that are more sustainable, we need to overhaul our zoning bylaws because I don’t believe that people would support the build form currently allowed if examples of what is allowed today was transferred into a form-based zoning bylaw. It would also give the development community a strong idea of the vision of a community and hopefully that will save time which saves money over the current back-and-forth process.

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