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Form-Based Code in the Midwest

5450 Views 5 Replies 4 Participants Last post by  ragerunner1
Barring some concerted and organized opposition, Lansing, Michigan is gearing up either late this year or early next year to adopt a Form-Base Code (FBC) for city zoning, replacing the traditional Euclidian zoning. This all came out of the Design Lansing Comprehensive Plan, the city's most recent master plan released in 2012, which called for the replacement of Lansing's zoning ordinance to speed up the transformation of the city's land-use.

Form-Base Code elevates the design of a structure above a defined land-use for the parcel on which is sits, which is the opposite of traditional single-district zoning. The benefits the city lists for the switch are that it increases the tax base, supports transit choice and levels the playing field for pedestrians in more parts of the city

What this plan will generally do:

- Reduce setbacks, parking (in commercial/retail districts), increase max (and adds minimum) heights, and allow for far more mixed-usage (by right) than the current zoning code.

- While it allows for more mixed-use, it also implement higher design standards, and really just add design standards to make them less subjective during a review of a project. This will actually have the effect from a NIMBY's point-of-view of retaining the character of older and historic neighborhoods and structures, with the trade-off for developmers of allowing more usages on more of the city's land.

- Allow changes in a plot's use without having to go through the rezoning process.

- For developers, it speeds up the process of development, as a design is required up front rather than a use and then a rough idea of a design.

- Finally, the code is easier to read and thus more predictable for developers.

Specifically for Lansing by-right, conditional and special usages have been determined by the type of street a lot is on:

Streets by NewCityOne, on Flickr

Map of new district:

Lansing Form-Based Code by NewCityOne, on Flickr

How this works:

How by NewCityOne, on Flickr

And, examples of building-types for the districts:

Residential by NewCityOne, on Flickr

Suburban Commercial by NewCityOne, on Flickr

Multi-Use by NewCityOne, on Flickr

For a full list of uses and design standards:

FBC Introduction, User Guide, and Form Based Zoning Code

So, which other cities in the region have FBC for its zoning, and what have the benefits (and any drawbacks) been?
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Cleveland has adopted the "Urban Overlay", which is form-based zoning for certain commercial corridors, generally arterial roads which are or were chiefly commercial. The idea is to return these roads to use as they were originally intended. It has greatly eased the design approval and permitting process for developers.

The city adopted the Urban Overlay process in March, 2016, and it has been quite successful. Off the top of my head, I can think of three developments (multi-family plus retail) which went from first draft proposal to ground-breaking in less than six months during 2017.
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Des Moines is working on the adoption of a city-wide form-based zoning code that is to be implemented this coming May.

Cedar Rapids is also working on a new FBC, but will be applicable to downtown, certain urban neighborhoods, and corridors of civic importance.
I just posted in the Cleveland thread an illustration of the success of form-based zoning used in an Urban Overlay district. A town house project recently went from first proposal to ground-breaking in about three and a half months - that's at least twice as fast as it used to take and everybody's happy about it.

This is the post:
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Yes, along with specifics about what has changed, physically, I'm also really interested in the actual process and where specifically it is sped up.

The current process in my city is usually long, since most large projects (and many small-ish ones) require a special land use permit, rezoning or both is:

Special Land Use Permit

1. The developer must first submit an application containing a lot plan, site plan, landscaping/buffering plan, photographs of the site (and other applicable documents) to the city planning office at least 26 days before a meeting of the Planning Board.

2. The city planning office staff reviews and guides the developer whether something is missing, incorrect, etc...then the city planning office makes a recommendation to the Planning Board before the meeting.

3. The development is then added to the Planning Board's agenda and notices are sent out to the neighborhood and placed in newspapers.

4. The Planning Board public hearing is held, where the development can either be approved, approved with condition, denied or tabled pending request for further information.

5. Finally, if approved by the board, they send their recommendation to the mayor who then sends the development through the actual city council process.

City Council

6. The development is then sent to the council's Development and Planning subcommittee, where it is reviewed and another public hearing is scheduled. If approved by the committe, the development goes to the full council.

7. The full council finally votes on approving or deny the project.

This entire thing can take nearly half the year, at times. And this is before getting into the rezoning process, which is pretty similar to the special land use process. Most developers who need a rezoning and special land permit start both at the same time, but the two processes don't always match up exactly which can add additional time to a project.

I'm going to look specifically at how FBC makes things faster, but from my understanding, since more uses will be allowed in more zones, you'll have many fewer rezoning and special land use requests. In the case that a development doesn't have to go through this process, it'll go through the much more simple site plan review, which usually takes 4-6 weeks.
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Hamilton, Ohio has a form based code for most of its urban neighborhoods, main street and university district.
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