February 26, 2013
Market Pitfalls of Form-Based or Smart Codes
By: Melina Duggal, Senior Principal
The intent of many form-based or smart codes is to promote smart growth within a community. Smart growth is a very broad concept. It is a general term for policies that integrate transportation and land use decisions by encouraging more compact, mixed-use development within existing urban areas, and discouraging dispersed, automobile-dependent development at the urban fringes of metropolitan areas.
Most communities use zoning to control local land use, including the location, type, density, size, lot coverage, and design of development and requirements. Conventional codes tend to encourage lower-density, single- use, automobile-dependent land use by mandating generous parking supply, limiting density, and in many ways prohibiting innovative urban development. Many communities are now changing their zoning codes to reflect smart growth objectives.
Without getting into the merits of whether or not a community should promote smart growth, it is critical that if smart codes are implemented to promote the ideals of smart growth, they should create the framework to achieve the desired end result. When planners calibrate smart codes to local zoning ordinances, they spend time ensuring the document is consistent with other development control documents, works from a process and implementation standpoint, and provides for the desired form of development. However, planners often don’t consider whether the new policies would have an adverse impact on the local real estate market. Impos- ing requirements that could hinder job creation is particularly unwise in these times when economic growth is a key consideration for local governments.
After reviewing form-based smart codes from around the country, it became clear that a number of common provisions have the potential to cause problems from a market perspective. The top-ten common market mis- takes in form-based codes are the following:
Smart codes appear to be the wave of the future of land development codes. It is important that when com- munities adopt codes with the intention of creating a certain type of walkable environment, they don’t unintentionally stifle the market and end up with a code that is too restrictive, cost-prohibitive, and not market-driven. This can lead to plans that are not realized and goals that are not achieved.