Friday, January 09, 2009

Calif. city manager: Scrap zoning

Rick Cole writes that zoning codes are the problem, not the solution, in the effort to build and maintain great cities. He writes:

“The American Dream” of single-family tracts, shopping centers and business parks owes more to zoning mandates than to market economics. Zoning was imposed on the American landscape by an unholy alliance between Utopians preaching a “modern” way of life and hard-headed businessmen who profited from supplying that new model, including an auto industry steeped in the ideology that "What’s good for General Motors is good for America."

Cole is a former mayor of Pasadena, Calif., and now city manager in Ventura, Calif. Instead of zoning, he says, use "codes" -- something more and more municipalities are doing. Then he has a good analysis of the terminology of "form-based-codes" (a cumbersome term that addresses the how, but not the why you'd have one) vs. "smart codes" (a term that's been adopted by lots of developers whose projects were anything but smart).

A number of smaller municipalities in this region have adopted codes that are akin to the form-based code. Charlotte isn't one of them.


Louie said...

I totally agree with those summations, and I have BA in planning. I've never been a big fan of being told what I can and cannot put on my property either, setback rules, etc. Charlotte's zoning regulations actually make it very tough for mixed use projects/new urbanism to really take root here too, which is unfortunate. The only potential problem with disbanding zoning would be the possibility of industrial developments popping up in residential areas. But then again, industrial properties are generally in search of the cheapest land possible, and would naturally be steered away from such areas.

Anonymous said...

The Town of Davidson has a unified development code, of sorts; Indian Trail has just adopted one; others around the area have, as well. Form-based (or performance-based) development codes that are more inclusive than separative work better in the long run, and that's the way things are going nationally.

Frankly, it's a way to address both the desires of those who hope for mixed-use/new urbanism AS WELL AS those who desire more property essence, it's a rather libertarian notion that you can do a lot of different things on your property, so long as you make allowances for what is being done on all the neighboring properties--the neighborliness being key.

Louie is right about his last thought, too...the 'bugaboo' of an industrial plant going in next to houses is less likely with form-based codes (since you have to respect/respond to everyone) than it is with current zoning regulatory powers...which allowed, by way of example, the Wallace Farm conflicts to occur. In cases like that one, developers are allowed to do whatever is allowed under the zoning categories, with no "common sense" checks or balances being mandated.

Cole--and others--aren't suggesting that UDOs are a panacea, but they're on the right track toward allowing people to create the kind of cities/towns/villages/rural areas that USED to be created organically before the advent of the form of zoning used most frequently in the latter half of the 20th century.

The former is what we pretty much like; the latter is what we pretty much have had to accept.

Anonymous said...

Using those city population figures is highly misleading since both Wake and Mecklenburg have about the same population at roughly 900,000 each.

It just so happens that liberal annexation laws ironically made in Raleigh are used twice as much by Charlotte.

Charlotte annexes anything and has even gone into another adjacent countys to steal land since it has run out.

For the size of the county populations of Wake and Meck the subsidies are equal in both.

Annexation by even smaller towns is out of control spreading like wildfire to extort more millions from overtaxed property owners in the times worse than the 1929 Depression.

Tax officials and elected govt officials who approve of annexation and tax increases thru revaluation should be arrested tarred and feathered. Remember the Boston Tea Party of 1775 over a 1 cent tax!!!

Jumper said...

It's a difficult issue. Many would love a coffeeshop or tiny bakery in their neighborhood - if it's about three doors down and not right next door. When Courance was being built, I half-joked that it needed exactly that. One wonders if they would be required somehow to open the gates of their gated community.

I actually live next door to a business. They ship and receive but most goes out in a single truck daily at most, and they have turned out to be quite good neighbors with whom I talk.

People do not like bad smells and excess motor traffic, nor the type of foot traffic that encourages sneak-thievery or other crime. I think that sums up most of the resistance.

Anonymous said...

Form based codes are the wave of the future. They allow things to develop in a logical urban pattern without being overly complicated. There has to be a level of exclusion to some uses, however.

We can't throw the book out of the window, but it is amazing how some of our country's most memorable cities were developed on free market location theory. Think Charleston.

However, there will have to be cultural change for councils and commissions to vote them in.