The Future of Urban Planning: Form-Based Zoning Codes

Land use regulations are slowly evolving. Here's an overview of what you need to know from a real estate development standpoint.

Huber Bongolan
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In my previous blog “Today’s Commercial Real Estate is the NBA of the 1990's”, I gave a brief introduction to Form-Based Zoning Codes and promised to delve deeper into this term in a later blog. Here we go.

Form-Based Zoning: “A form-based code is a land development regulation that fosters predictable built results and a high-quality public realm by using physical form (rather than separation of uses) as the organizing principle for the code.” — formbasedcodes.org

What does this even mean?

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  • As more and more counties adopt modern Form-Based Codes, real estate development will continue to trend towards more walkable mixed-use spaces.
  • These new codes should reduce uncertainty and enable faster development.
  • It’s important that the code is adopted by the local government and given authority.

As more and more counties adopt modern Form-Based Codes, real estate development will continue to trend towards more walk-able, mixed-use spaces.

Breaking Down Form-Based Code

“A form-based code is a land development regulation that fosters predictable built results and a high-quality public realm by using physical form (rather than separation of uses) as the organizing principle for the code.”

  • Land Development Regulation: These are the rules. They are not just suggestions.
  • Predictable Built Results: Reduces uncertainty to encourage faster development. Uncertainty is the enemy of reinvestment.
  • A High-Quality Public Realm: Focuses more on how buildings in a set relate to each and reinforce one another.
  • Physical Form (rather than separation of uses): Focuses less on what is going on in private spaces within the building. However, it’s still important to ensure that separate uses compliment each other (i.e. a gas station should not be built adjacent to a school).
  • Organizing Principle for the Code: It’s important that the code is adopted by the local government and given authority.

A Simpler Definition for Form-Based Code

A form-based code is a set of zoning rules that encourages development by reducing regulatory uncertainty. This code is more focused on how buildings within a development relate, reinforce, and complement each other. While still important, the code is less focused on the individual use and design of each building.


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