Form-Based Codes can benefit a community in a wide variety of ways, from increased economic value to easier development approvals.
Form-Based Code Benefits
While the code consists of a series of separate components, they are meant to be used together to achieve the highest level of benefit.
Focus on the Public Realm
Form-based codes focus on the way in which buildings interact with the street. They create pedestrian friendly environments by controlling physical elements of buildings such as setbacks and minimum transparency levels. They also use street type requirements that work cooperatively with building type regulations to create an attractive, pedestrian-friendly environment. These regulations often include specifications for sidewalks, travel and bicycles lanes, and street trees.
Form-based codes define the form and general appearance of buildings as primary concerns and consider land use as a secondary concern. The benefit of placing building form over building use is that the community can control the physical impact development has on a community. This allows for a greater mix of uses, which encourages a more diverse and walkable community. It also makes the development process more streamlined and predictable. Clearly communicating the design, density, and use elements up front in the process with a form-based code results in fewer contentious hearings (after adoption) since all parties know what is expected from the beginning.
Form-based codes differ from design guidelines in two major ways. Form-based codes codify the design elements they specify, where design guidelines in many communities are merely encouraged. Also, form-based codes do not generally specify architectural styles, ornamentation, or elements like colors that are typically suggestions found in design guidelines. This ensures a variety and flexibility of designs and building elements within the district. The manual/template treats many of these stylistic design features as an optional chapter.
Form-based regulations are tailored and calibrated for their communities, where conventional codes rely heavily on suburban development that is often generic in nature and do not take into account the character of the preexisting community. Since form-based codes take the surrounding neighborhood context into consideration when assigning Street and Building Types, the existing community characteristics are preserved and encouraged. If a community is engaged in a FBC in an area where no particular form is considered worth reinforcing, the FBC can achieve, through community input, a new, more desirable form. They also make the transit and land use connection a standard, where traditional zoning can make it an afterthought.
Built from Community Preference
Form-based codes embrace the public design process. Specific input from key stakeholders, community leaders and city officials through such interactive processes as community charrettes or Image Preference Surveys (a process used to facilitate public discussion and to document how citizens want their community to look) provide a true representation of a community's interests.
Highly Illustrated Document
A defining feature of form-based codes is their easy-touse, illustrative nature both graphically and with carefully crafted, straightforward narrative. They streamline repetitive information and provisions, placing everything together in one ordinance, resulting in a more concise code document.
Levels of Control
Not all form-based codes are the same, and they give communities flexibility with how prescriptive the regulations are and how they are applied. Some communities choose a fundamental approach where only building envelope regulations are regulated in an overlay zone. Other communities want stricter standards and choose to regulate elements like facade treatments, building materials in entirely new districts. This customizable approach ensures that the amount of regulation is appropriate for each community. It is not anticipated that all the components of the manual/template will be used in the final ordinance, but that the process will debate all of them.
Form-based codes promote the development of walkable neighborhoods, which brings economic benefits like higher real estate values and increased occupancy rates. Homes in walkable neighborhoods have experienced less than half the average decline in price from the housing peak in the mid-2000s (Brookings Institution, 2011). In addition, the emphasis on permitted uses instead of conditional uses, decreases the amount of time and risk for developers.