Friday, October 23, 2009

Progressive zoning plans - not here

The city of Miami last night adopted a zoning code overhaul, called Miami 21. Here's the Miami Herald article on it. Why should folks around here care? Here's why:

The new zoning overhaul is what's called a "form-based code." Raleigh is about to write one. Cabarrus County already has one. So does Davidson. Miami is the largest city, so far, to adopt one, but Denver is likely to adopt its own comprehensive form-based code in a matter of months, says blogger Mike Lydon. It's an approach to zoning that many progressive cities are taking on. Should Charlotte?

A form-based code bases rules that govern planning and zoning on buildings' form, not their use. In other words, what goes on inside a building (residence? office? store?) is less important than how the building fits in with what's around it.

For instance, it says parking lots have to be behind new buildings, and the buildings have to sit at the sidewalk – which makes walking down the sidewalk more attractive, thus encouraging people to walk instead of drive.

Form-based codes also generally use an approach with a weird-sounding name that makes plenty of sense – a "transect." It means you look at which areas are intensely urban, or completely rural, or somewhere in between and design things such as streets, sidewalks, even storm water management, based on how urban or suburban or rural an area is. It prevents, for instance, plopping a highway designed for intercity travel (think I-277) into a dense urban core. To move traffic there, it would say, use a high-capacity boulevard. (Think Champs-Elysee.)

Just as important, when adopted, a form based code is a plan with teeth. It overlays the city's expectations for urban density or suburban density or rural density onto the whole jurisdiction, complete with the zoning rules that govern those areas. So the "plan" isn't just a guideline but is a legal requirement. Imagine that!

One of the leaders of Miami's effort was the dean of the University of Miami School of Architecture, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, a luminary in the New Urbanism movement.

Here's a link to the Web site for the code itself. And if it rains today and you're looking for some meaty reading, here's the pdf for the code itself.


Motorhome said...

Progressive - the elitist belief that you know what is best for everyone else, and that they should abide by your dictates.

consultant said...

"belief that you know what is best for everyone else, and that they should abide by your dictates."

That sounds like Dick Cheney, sitting in his bunker.

That's how he led Republicans, weak Democrats and his puppet, Bush, into Iraq.

Back to smart planning. Good for Miami. We need more of this in all urban and most surburban areas.

For all the exurban and country folks, don't get mad, this doesn't apply to you.

fly_swatter said...

Charlotte already has variations of form based code such as TOD, MUDD, etc. Even with these flexible districts it's not always realistic to place parking behind buildings.

Development codes need to flexible and realistic whether Euclidean or Form Based.

Mary Newsom said...

Motorhome wrote: "Progressive - the elitist belief that you know what is best for everyone else, and that they should abide by your dictates."

But in fact, the Euclidian-based zoning Charlotte uses now already makes "dictates" about what can/can't be built and where and how. The question is whether to rethink and change existing rules. It's not a question of whether to HAVE rules - we already do.

Mets-N-Bounds said...

"Development codes need to flexible and realistic..." Agreed. This would be a positive step in a hopefully broader dynamic reform. Human logic to house humans.

Anonymous said...

Why do we need socialist zoning?

I don't think anyone should impede on my right to buy the house next to you, and open a live music hall with rock-n-roll playing until 4 a.m.

And when the house on the other side of you goes up for sale, I would like to buy it and open a strip tease establishment.

The house across the street from you would make a great used car lot. Who needs that big expansive lawn? I'll just pave it over.

Don't like it? You can move. That's the free market at work.

Zoning? Who needs it?

(Ever notice how everyone is a conservative standing up for their right to be left alone - until something affects them? Then it's government to the rescue.)

Anonymous said...

So Miami has decided it wants to stop suburban sprawl, bedroom communities, dependence upon automobiles, excess parking and creation of special districts? Isn’t that shutting the proverbial barn door after the horses have left for the burbs? And why, pray tell, does a city need a new code and land use atlas, which presumably cost taxpayers a princely sum to prepare, when all they had to do to accomplish mixed uses and walkability in existing zones (or trancepts) is to use a rezoning process?

For example, a curb-abutting, dense, mixed-use residential-commercial complex is rising in Charlotte’s Myers Park neighborhood along Selwyn Avenue near Colony. I think this is a good thing. It meets all the objectives of urban smart-growth, or, as the Wiz has declared to call it this planning season – “form-based zoning”. (And no, Observer, Myers Park is not a suburb, it’s part of Charlotte’s urban core).

Mary, why are you gaga over the news that Miami has adopted an allegedly “new” type of zoning? We’re progressively accomplishing the same thing in Charlotte without buying a pretentious and expensive new coat.

Haven't we already adopted form-based zoning?

Anonymous said...

Folks - form based codes "protect" what people say they want. If they want to live in a rural setting it does that. If they want a surburban setting, it provides that. If they want an urban setting, it provides that. Charlotte's current code does virtually none of gives everything a minimum 3 units per acre zoning and allows endless miles of vinyl sided boxes to be lined up from Center City to the River. If you want to protect Charlotte's beauty, a form based code is a step in the right direction.

Anonymous said...

When is this Marxist nonsense going to stop.

Daniel said...

For some strange reason. I don't believe that this was the whole story. Hmm... Maybe we should read the full code

Anonymous said...

The whole code indeed- all 458 pages of it. Another new urbanist ditto-head ordinance peddled to the happless by one of the best of the 21st century snake oil salesmen. It deals with such major public development and growth issues of the day as the difference between "live-work" and "work-live" (lest the two be confused). Check the record Mary. Only a few months ago the same mayor who now professes support for the ordincnce this time around was a major opponent. Think about it. For starters, Miami is fairly well developed and its overall form and structure, transportation networks, and infrastructure is in place. Heck it already has the dense urban form that you say Charlotte needs to be a "world class city". Miami is completely surrounded by other dense urban and suburban development under the control of other political jurisdictions so it's not like the holy transect actually fits. Oh, it can be shoved down the throat of the non-belivers or those easily duped but it rarely changes anything in any meaningful way. Miami has a contorted boundary due to topography and politics and exists as a small part of the mega market that is south Florida. Print out the map Mary. The big road corridors are still 'zoned' for commercial, the business areas are 'zoned' for business, and the parks are colored green. How much effort does that take? Fiddling with the garage door or the front porch of a house or the setback for a store will not likely remake the face of Miami. The notion that the Miami 21 will fundamentaly alter that city will persist until the next great idea comes out in the next book. Then the snake oil salesmen will have a whole new bag of tricks to sell. P.T. Barnum would be proud. Mary, you must let go of the simplistic notion that there is a single answer. A form based code may work in some places or be an alternate way to develop in others. But the ideas aren't new, just repackaged. Many planners gravitate to such a solution since it promises to fix everything and doesn't require planners and officials to really deal with fixing what needs fixing. They can simply point to "The Code" as the decision diety and not have to actually learn about or understand how development occurs or why. Check around and I think you find many communities that rushed to adopte these ordinances are finding just how impractical they are in the real world and are now trying to figure out how to get back to something that works on their communities.

Anonymous said...

Well said Anonymous!! Mary, it looks like you need further instruction about how to actually research the news so you don't swallow the whole hook, line and sinker about a subject that you claim to be the expert in. So here's what an actual expert, the president of the Miami AIA, had to say about the Miami 21 "code" that you are so enamored with. "Miami 21 doesn't live up to its promises. More parks, wider sidewalks, better transit, connected bike paths and an active street life are things we all desire. Architects are among the first to champion such causes. Perhaps this is why many do not understand how the American Institute of Architects Miami board of directors could not support Miami 21.

AIA Miami wants all of the things our residents have been promised. We have determined, however, after years of study, participation, meetings and presentations that Miami will not become the place shown in the pictures by virtue of passing this zoning code. For the past two years a committee of members has reviewed the code, tested each of the numerous iterations and continues to have the same concerns that have remained unanswered in the current version.

For example, Miami 21 claims to address the transition from commercial buildings to single-family neighborhoods. One of the ways is by limiting height in certain areas. However, in every single zone maximum height varies from 150 percent to 200 percent.

In other words, maximum does not really mean maximum. For example, if a building's maximum allowable height is 12 stories in one zone, it can be increased to 20 stories for a fee. Is 12 stories appropriate? Is 20 more appropriate for a price?

Miami 21 claims to preserve neighborhood character. Do the neighborhoods along Coral Way, Calle Ocho, Douglas Road and Miami Avenue all have the same character? Then why does the proposed code treat them all the same, mandating the same street character, garage requirements and house forms for these certainly different and diverse neighborhoods?

Miami 21 claims to promote world-class architecture. How can this be when the zoning code determines the orientation, placement and form of every building, block after block?

Better bike paths are not mandated in Miami 21. There is nothing in the plan that requires or rewards enhanced public transit -- something that is critically important. Furthermore, some of the mandated requirements are already in practice, such as garage liners and active uses at the street level. In fact, these practices occur because current project designs undergo peer review, which is not required under Miami 21.

The Miami Herald recently published several examples of successful urban neighborhood renewal that were alleged to follow the concepts of Miami 21. It is worth stating the obvious: These projects were designed and built well before Miami 21 was even an idea. They simply were developed utilizing responsible design principles under the current zoning code.

So, if we have relevant examples of such successful projects that did not need Miami 21 and we see that it does not get us where we are looking to go, why is it a priority to get this code passed now, without all its goals being achieved?

The valuable dialogue from this healthy debate could be utilized to create a unified vision for the growth of our city. No one is saying this is an easy endeavor, but the motivation is there to discuss the tough issues and reach reasonable solutions. Only after this process has been allowed to occur should we establish the laws and regulations that will define our city's growth from here forward."

Sounds like some of Charlotte's planning projects where the planning folks seem to think that just saying it makes it so. Oh, and Mary, the process to buy basically a canned code cost the taxpayers of Miami something like $2m.