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Form Based Codes at the “Yard”

June 3, 2010

Historically, neighborhoods that have high property values, attract people, and are economically stable are the ones that have a mix of uses, a coherent pattern of massing and building scale, and a strong relationship with the pedestrian over the automobile.  Among these are Savannah, Raleigh’s City Market area, Washington DC’s Georgetown and historic Charleston.  The Navy Yard at Noisette is shaping development in a way that will make such a community attainable.  Instead of utilizing the zoning to separate uses, the Navy Yard uses Form-based Code (FBC) to mix uses.  This form of code describes the relationship of buildings with their physical surroundings and how the public spaces connect them.  This approach allows more flexibility to deal with changes that are reflections of the dynamic economy or population trends.

From Wikipedia Form-based Code – (FBC) is a means of regulating development to achieve a specific urban form. Form-based codes create a predictable public realm by controlling physical form primarily, with a lesser focus on land use, through city or county regulations.  Form-based codes are a new response to the modern challenges of urban sprawl, deterioration of historic neighborhoods, and neglect of pedestrian safety in new development. Tradition has declined as a guide to development patterns, and the widespread adoption by cities of single-use zoning regulations has discouraged compact, walkable urbanism. Form-based codes are a tool to address these deficiencies, and to provide local governments the regulatory means to achieve development objectives with greater certainty.”

Form-based codes promote mixed use and utilizes transects to define zones.  The above illustration outlines the general density and scale of transects.  The Navy Yard at Noisette falls in the T4-T6 zones.  It gives a clear set of rules regarding physical form of the land use.  At the Navy Yard, it provides framework for a pedestrian friendly environemnt by requiring buildings to be built close to the lot line giving an urban feel and a more enjoyable pedestrian experience.  Locals can relate to the East Montague streetscape and places such as King St.

Historical zoning or Euclidean zoning often ignores that streets are public spaces, and more importantly, that streets and their edges should be designed for pedestrians as much as they are designed for transportation, if not more.  Typically, euclidean zoning does not help to create a streetscape; it dictates a way that buildings should sit in a space instead of using buildings to shape space – or – create place.  As the street is taken over by the automobile, it becomes abandoned, unpleasant, and unsafe.  At the Navy Yard, buildings are placed to define stronger street edges, thus creating more lively sidewalks and zones where activity can take place.

From wikipedia: Euclidean Zoning – Named for the type of zoning code adopted in the town of Euclid, Ohio, and approved in a landmark decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, Village of Euclid, Ohio v. Ambler Realty Co.  Euclidean zoning codes are by far the most prevalent in the United States, used extensively in small towns and large cities alike. Euclidean zoning is characterized by the segregation of land uses into specified geographic districts and dimensional standards stipulating limitations on development activity within each type of district. Advantages include relative effectiveness, ease of implementation (one set of explicit, prescriptive rules), long-established legal precedent, and familiarity to planners and design professionals. However, Euclidean zoning has received heavy criticism for its lack of flexibility and institutionalization of now-outdated planning theory.”

The pictures above show an example of results from form based zoning and the other from sprawl associated zoning.  Euclidean zoning is most associated with sprawl.  It favors low density development that extends infrastructure, tax resources and dependence on automobiles.  The planning and development of the Navy Yard and the overall Noisette community places value on comprehensive planning and a regenerative land use strategy that utilizes form-based coding.  The use of form-based zoning leads to a vibrant urban environment.  It has contributed to the decision-making of over 85 businesses and 2000+ employees who choose to call the Yard home.  Having an accepted master plan and zoning codes friendly to sustainable growth are crucial as the Yard moves out of the planning phase and into a living, breathing, mixed-use, work, live, play urban center.

For reference:

Check out this book – Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream by Duany, Plater-Zyberk and Speck

Transect Center

Noisette Master Plan


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