Consultant’s claims missed the mark
As a private sector developer and downtown revitalization specialist, I’d like to clear up a couple misconceptions about Form Based Codes that were mentioned in your Nov. 23 article concerning the completion of Zebulon’s unified development ordinance, specifically the incorrect assessments that (1) form-based codes are “less effective in established areas like downtown” and (2)“Form-based codes… don’t care at all what happens on the backs of sites.” These statements are simply untrue and inaccurate.
As a real estate developer of large scale, mixed-use developments within established downtowns, I’ve utilized (and helped create) form-based codes to spur comprehensive revitalization and development on both public and privately owned parcels, including those under my control as developer along with properties owned by others. These codes provide the best means by which to create proper urban form while meeting both the needs of today’s market and offering the necessary flexibility to adjust and evolve as market preferences shift over the course of multiple real estate cycles.
If anything, I’ve seen the term form-based codes misapplied to greenfield developments, where a form-based code is often less applicable than within an existing built environment. Regardless, to say that a form-based code does not apply to an existing downtown is simply inaccurate.
In regard to the comment that form-based codes do not regulate the “back of sites” – once again, this is not at all accurate, and does not describe how a properly written form-based code works. A significant part of creating proper urban form absolutely incorporates the “back of sites” – after all, one property’s back is another’s front, or view, or someone’s pedestrian experience.
If we are talking alleys or less visible areas, there are means by which to address safety and security concerns, utilize certain back oriented facing for deliveries and similar activities to enable a better pedestrian experience and transportation flow on the main corridors along with improving general area aesthetics. Sometimes the “backs” of buildings may be community amenity opportunities that need to be planned and constructed in a manner that can allow proper programming. All of this is addressed in some manner by FBCs, and in my opinion, do a better job doing so than more traditional zoning methodologies. Regardless, to say FBC’s don’t address the “back of sites” is completely incorrect, at least any such code worth its salt.
While there is certainly an amount of flexibility in regard to what constitutes a proper form-based code, I do believe the above two misconceptions are important to clarify.
It should also be mentioned that a form-based code is not always the solution for every development scenario, and there are plenty of opportunities where some mesh between traditional zoning methodologies and form-based approached may provide an advantage. That said, we need to understand the underlying terminology and what a form-based code truly is in order to determine which specific approach is best for a particular context.
Brandon A. Palanker
Glen Cove, NY
Editor’s note: The writer is a member of the Form-Based Codes Institue, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit professional organization dedicated to advancing the understanding and use of form-based codes. The length limit was waived to allow a more complete response to the story.