Form-Based Zoning from Theory to Practice

  • April 12, 2014
  • • Written by: David Walters Dustin C. Read, Ph.D., J.D. 

Spring 2014, Vol. 39, No. 1
Abstract: In this article, the authors explore the potential advantages and disadvantages of form-based zoning to understand how it can be used effectively to support development that is financially viable and socially beneficial. Instead of focusing mainly on “use” as the controlling factor in regulating development, form-based zoning is primarily intended to enhance the “public good” derived from private sector development by defining the “urban character” of neighborhoods and districts. This involves managing the siting, massing and frontage design of buildings in ways that create safe, attractive and efficient public spaces for movement and public activities. By emphasizing urban design features, as opposed to use restrictions, and by the inclusion of key “by-right” provisions in the code, form-based zoning can provide real estate developers with greater flexibility to respond to market forces. If properly administered, form-based zoning can also reduce the amount of uncertainty faced by developers in the entitlement process. However, both these advantages can be compromised through the structure and (mis)application of local regulations.