I attended the educational workshop on Form-Based Zoning held in City Council chambers on February 3, 2010 hosted by Code Studio. The workshop provided an overview of the uses of form-based zoning, but left many more questions. Some of these questions were addressed during the Q&A session, but one question remains, what type of zoning code is right for Raleigh?
Special thanks to Betsy Kane for her review of this before posting to ensure it was technically accurate with all the planning and zoning jargon.
Thanks to Ken Bowers for helping find this example of form-based zoning.
The District D Neighborhood Alliance (DDNA) and Citizen Advisory Councils (CACs) were well represented at the workshop. In fact, many of the questions came from neighborhood and CAC leaders. There was a lot of discussion around affordable housing, but not too many answers. Lee Einsweiler, Principal-in-Charge, Code Studio, fielded questions while Planning Director Mitchell Silver added some commentary.
Ana Duncan Pardo asked “can form-based coding create a variety of housing types?” The answer I heard from Einsweiler was that Raleigh needed to get comfortable with form-based zoning. I didn’t exactly hear him say that this type of zoning would create any type of mandates or incentives, but that the market would somehow work itself out and provide the housing options that we need. I’m not sure attendee’s in the audience were convinced and similar questions around affordable housing kept coming up.
WakeUp Wake County Director, Karen Rindge asked, “How do we use the diagnostic report?” Einsweiler responded and said to first, try to read and understand the report. The most useful focus would be for each person to look at your own personal, narrow issues and focus on the things that worry you the most–for example, transitions between residential and commercial development.
Rindge’s follow-up question, “The report is providing us options and choices, but what are we commenting on?” Einsweiler said there are only a handful of sections with options. For the most part, the report is providing direct advice.
One citizen simply asked, “where is the height defined?” Einsweiler replied that currently it’s defined in the zoning and is variable–it goes up one foot for each foot of setback, and it is also increased based on “bonuses” awarded for certain site improvements. The report recommends to stop doing it this way and start with a base-line of consistent heights. He said the report added heights to the zoning categories. For transitional heights, the report recommends a public, fact-based workshop to discuss transitions.
Another question was around quality of development. Einsweiler said that we have the opportunity to create a satisfactory starting point for each project. Set high(er) standards to get more predictable projects to avoid the customized zoning (on a per project basis) that we currently deal with.
Planning expert Betsy Kane thanks the team for taking on this project. She, and many other neighborhood advocates have been frustrated with the battles over the years for each project that comes up. She posed a question about how to create incentives for infill versus green field developments. Kane said that our prime infill opportunities are on existing surface parking lots. “How do we code to incentivize for this type of use?”
Einsweiler said that they have not found a great package of incentives, but want to be more of an enabler. They want to provide the toolkit to make this type of development possible and indicated that they would like to make it desirable, but it’s difficult to accomplish this with form-based zoning.
Another citizen asked “if form-based zoning can address maintaining the economic diversity in an area, such as downtown?” Einsweiler stated that the model is to build to a quality, so that when the hot spot moves, we don’t have to bulldoze the last one because it was not built well. Instead, create good places that will outlast trends and demographic change. Einsweiler also commented that gentrification is the natural process in a free market whereby reinvestment occurs in neighborhoods. His opinion was that people simply move to another part of the community and this is not necessarily a bad thing. Note: another part of the community doesn’t necessarily mean another part of Raleigh.
“What about the sign ordinance?” Asked another person from the audience. Einsweiler said that a re-think of sign types is probable, but a total re-write was out of scope.
A citizen concerned about transit asked, “How does this make possible mixed-use transit and plan for public transportation?” Einsweiler responded that the plan makes the areas transit-ready.
DDNA member Donna Bailey asked, “What happens when there is a conflict between form-based code and existing zoning?” Einsweiler said that form-based code would replace the existing zoning when enacted.
That was the Q&A, but I’m sure there are many more questions. Were you in attendance or able to view the the session on TV? Help make this more useful by adding your comments below. What type of zoning do you think is right for Raleigh?
The notes and insight part of this session are available in the post, Can Form-Based Zoning Save Raleigh’s Growth? The session was recorded on Raleigh Television Network for future playbacks.