Form-based zoning is new concept in commercial districts

Published 9:11 am Wednesday, May 23, 2018

One of the newest trends in Planning is a concept call form-based zoning codes. Form-based zoning codes take our conventional concept of zoning and reverse it. Instead of focusing on regulating the land use (what is happening on the property) first, building type second, and building aesthetics last, form-based codes are more concerned with building aesthetics first, building type second, and land use last.
Form-based zoning codes are more commonly seen in places that have a 19th Century development pattern — a time before cars when everything had to be easily accessed by walking or bicycling. Downtowns are a great example of what a form-based code would produce from a commercial district. The focus is more on the look and patterning of the windows and doors rather than on the specific use of the building. It could be a retailer, an office, or an apartment building.
Modern form-based zoning codes are utilized in developments in which the developer desires a mix of various types of land uses, such as residential, retail, office, medical office, small production, and restaurants.
As I mentioned before, the actual use of the property is not of primary concern in a form-based code, but rather the appearance and location of the building on the property is of primary concern. This allows for the property owner to have greater freedom in determining what uses to utilize in a building.
Let’s look at a few examples of how this might work. In Elizabethton, if Walmart wanted to relocate to just on the edge of downtown they would be able to construct their typical Walmart layout with the big parking lot in the front with a huge building set far from the road. With a form-based zoning code, however, Walmart would be required to locate their entire business into what would appear as multiple different buildings matching a downtown window and door patterning. They would also be required to place their parking lot in the back of the building to help hide it from view.
In this example, the focus is not on the use of the Walmart, but more about ensuring that the Walmart building would blend in with the appearance of the existing neighborhood. Rather than the big front wall, Walmart would look like a two or three story downtown building with multiple entrances.
This is a new concept and has started to really take hold in many cities. Locally, Kingsport has implemented some form-based zoning codes in their downtown area. Is this concept something Elizabethton should consider? Let’s talk about it!
(Jon Hartman is Director of Planning & Economic Development for the City of Elizabethton. He also serves as City Manager Pro Tem. He can be contacted at 542-1503 or at JHartman@City of

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