January 17, 2015
In reading the Park Record’s Jan. 14 guest editorial written by Michael Wolfe, regarding the Form-Based Code being prepared for Bonanza Park, I felt deeply compelled to write a response. Responding is necessary because it was clear to me that Mr. Wolfe is either ignorant or misinformed about Form-Based Codes. Allowing his explanation to stand alone would do nothing but harm what Park City is trying to do for the good of the community. A more well-informed response was in order.
To begin, we must recognize that development in the United States is shaped by zoning laws which govern its practice. Zoning has both direct and indirect impacts on such areas as physical appearance, human behavior, economic development, fiscal responsibility, and environmental well-being. All of these carry over to the everyday, human experiences in our communities. Our system of zoning is made up of regulatory, economic, and design related forces which manage the arrangement that our built environment takes. Zoning laws are, in essence, the DNA to our neighborhoods and communities.
Conventional Zoning is the current standard in the United States, and has been since the 1920’s. It is the tool used by government to establish how development is regulated. Conventional Zoning focuses on USE and DENSITY. This focus tends to generate subjective and reactionary decision making, while leaving little room for communities to define what they want to be, and merely defining what they cannot be. This generates a tendency toward nameless, placeless and homogeneous environments.
Form-Based Codes offer an alternative to Conventional Zoning. They place a more direct focus on urban form while emphasizing physical character. Form-Based Codes don’t ignore USE and DENSITY, but rather place them in a supporting role to FORM. USE and DENSITY become subject to the FORM which is determined by a community’s vision of their desired outcomes. The results tend to deliver a greater degree of predictability. Form-Based Codes have shown tremendous promise in promoting placemaking, encouraging infill, and integrating land use and transportation.
If we want different development results then the tools we use need to change. Our present challenges with growth, transportation, unsustainability, shifting market demands, demographic changes, and there impacts on development need to be dealt with differently. This is exactly what Park City has been attempting to do in preparing a Form-Based Code for Bonanza Park. The city should be commended for their efforts rather than criticized.
In response to Mr. Wolfe’s claims regarding comments that developers have made to him, I would suggest that he needs to talk with people that have experience working with Form-Based Codes. I am confident, from the remarks that he references, that he hasn’t done that. Developers that truly understand how they work will tell you that Form-Based Codes are vastly superior to Conventional Zoning.
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I have personally studied, written and worked with Form-Based Codes for over a decade. Those with similar experiences to my own will tell you they prefer them because:
They provide a consistent set of rules which minimize uncertainty in both process and results
They offer a better set of tools for community placemaking
They reduce entitlement, time and market risks
They balance the developer’s need for flexibility with government’s need for certainty
They instill a more cooperative relationship between developer and government, rather than adversarial
If you would like more information on Form-Based Codes I would recommend referring to an expert source such as the Form-Based Codes Institute .
Kudos to Park City for working towards a better future for Bonanza Park. As far as I am concerned the city is doing the RIGHT thing for its residents and the community at large. They deserve a great deal of credit for what they are doing rather than disparaging them simply because you don’t understand.