Smartcode – Form Based Code
City of Livingston Form-Based Code
The Form-Based Code was created because many communities with mixed-use, walkable urban patterns are not protected by their current zoning codes. The human-scale character and safe walkability of some of our best city neighborhoods and small towns are being eroded lot by lot, by garage frontages, anti-urban setbacks, and blank walls. It is common that these frontages are actually permitted under current use-based ordinances. Many older neighborhoods were formed by a beloved small-lot pattern that cannot be replicated under current codes that mandate larger minimum lot sizes and deeper front setbacks. The Form-Based Code provides protection for such neighborhoods.
The Form-Based Code is based on the model SmartCode in-house Version 9.5 by DPZ & Company and the Center for Applied Transect Studies (CATS). The SmartCode is a transect-based and form-based code that incorporates New Urbanism principles. The full SmartCode is a unified development ordinance for all scales of design, from regional planning on down to the building frontage. At the community scale, its zones are guided by the rural-to-urban Transect rather than separated-use zoning. These Transect Zones are thereby able to integrate a full range of environmental techniques.
The model SmartCode, like this model code, is freeware, available in editable formats from www.transect.org.
The Form-Based Code is intended primarily for the mapping and zoning of existing towns. Its transect-based approach is uniquely effective in protecting and completing traditional neighborhood patterns. It may be applied to any existing neighborhoods, intended areas of growth and new development, including walkable downtowns. Note that Chapter 2 provides regulations for Public Standards and Chapter. This is necessary because even existing thoroughfares and civic spaces will need streetscape improvements or retrofit.
Because of the need for retrofit in many communities, a Lot and Building Retrofit table is included in the Form-Based Code. Detailed retrofit tables for thoroughfares are available in the supplementary Sprawl Repair Module and the Bicycling Module. Numerous other supplementary Modules are available for assembling the calibrated code. Most are listed here in the Table of Contents and may be downloaded at www.transect.org.
The Form-Based Code does not contain any density or parking requirements, other than Parking Location. The code’s form-based standards control density, and the market controls the amount of parking.
Items to be considered for customization appear in green text, although other items may be customized or calibrated. The Synoptic Survey method is recommended to analyze the DNA of each neighborhood. This process identifies the particular metrics and types to be included in the final code for adoption.
The full SmartCode is a unified planning ordinance that applies to three scales of regulation. The three patterns are in a nesting relationship as follows:
- Regional Land Use Categories contain designated types of Community Units.
- Community Units (Neighborhoods, Districts, and Corridors) contain designated ratios of Transect Zones.
- Transect Zones contain appropriate public and private design elements.
The Form-Based Code addresses only B and C, shown in the diagram above. The Community Units are complete neighborhoods in the sense that each provides a choice of habitats, a diversity of dwelling types, and a mix of uses within a pedestrian shed (walkshed). Pre-existing urbanism, pre-existing property rights, and market conditions affect their allocation.
No Special Districts and only some Civic Buildings are part of the normative Transect, but they may occupy land area to supplement these ranges to reach 100% within a Community Unit. Civic Space is correlated to its T-zone and would be included in the calculation. These are rough guidelines. Specific standards appear in the code that follows.
Structure of the Form-Based Code
Chapter 1 contains the general instructions pertaining to all other Chapters.
Chapter 2 prescribes the Infill requirements for areas already urbanized, including tables.
Chapter 3 prescribes standards for Thoroughfares and Civic Spaces in context with their Transect Zones. Thoroughfares consist of the Vehicular Lanes and the Public Frontage.
Chapter 4 prescribes Lot and Building standards within each Transect Zone, including tables.
Chapter 5 contains a Summary Table. Special District summary may be added.
Chapter 6 contains Definitions of terms and Definitions Illustrated.
Responsibilities for Implementation
The Form-Based Code requires the preparation of plans that lay out the Community Unit and indicate lot and building placement.
- Chapter 2 – Infill Plans are prepared by or on behalf of the Municipal Planning Department.
- Chapter 3 – Public Standards – Thoroughfare Plans and Civic Space Plans are prepared on behalf of the land owner, the developer, or the Municipal Planning Department and implemented by the Public Works Department.
- Chapter 4 – Lot & Building Plans are prepared on behalf of a builder or property owner.
Calibrating the Code
This model code must be calibrated for local character and metrics. Calibration should be done in the context of a public charrette with the advice of urban designers, architects, landscape architects, planners, civil engineers and land use attorneys familiar with transect-based codes. A calibrator’s SmartCode Manual is available at www.newurbannews.com.
Conditions of Use
The images and diagrams appearing in the Form-Based Code are the property of Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company (DPZ & Co.). Their reproduction and use is freely permitted. For free electronic editable files and PDFs of the full model SmartCode, supplementary Modules, academic and technical research materials, case studies, workshop opportunities, and consultant services, please visit the Center for Applied Transect Studies (CATS) at www.transect.org
CHAPTER 1. GENERAL INSTRUCTIONS
1.5 WARRANTS AND VARIANCES
TABLE 1A TRANSECT ZONE DESCRIPTIONS
CHAPTER 2. INFILL PLANS
2.2 COMMUNITY UNIT TYPES
2.3 TRANSECT ZONES
2.4 CIVIC ZONES
2.5 SPECIAL DISTRICTS
CHAPTER 3. PUBLIC STANDARDS
3.2 THOROUGHFARES – VEHICULAR LANES
3.3 THOROUGHFARES – PUBLIC FRONTAGES
3.4 CIVIC ZONES
3.5 SPECIAL DISTRICTS
TABLE 3A VEHICULAR LANE DIMENSIONS
TABLE 3B VEHICULAR LANE & PARKING ASSEMBLIES
TABLE 3C PUBLIC FRONTAGES – GENERAL
TABLE 3D PUBLIC FRONTAGES – SPECIFIC
TABLE 3E THOROUGHFARE ASSEMBLIES
TABLE 3F CIVIC SPACES
TABLE 3G PUBLIC LIGHTING
TABLE 3H PUBLIC PLANTING
CHAPTER 4. LOT & BUILDING PLANS
4.2 PRE-EXISTING CONDITIONS
4.3 SPECIAL REQUIREMENTS
4.4 BUILDING PLACEMENT
4.5 BUILDING FORM
4.6 BUILDING FUNCTION
4.7 PARKING LOCATION STANDARDS
4.8 LANDSCAPE STANDARDS
4.9 SIGNAGE STANDARDS
TABLE 4A BUILDING PLACEMENT
TABLE 4B BUILDING FORM – HEIGHT
TABLE 4C BUILDING FORM – PRIVATE FRONTAGES
TABLE 4D PARKING CALCULATION
TABLE 4E LAND USE
TABLE 4F LOT STRUCTURE
CHAPTER 5. FBC SUMMARY TABLES
TABLE 5A CODE SUMMARY
TABLE 5B RURAL EDGE T2 FBC SUMMARY
TABLE 5C NEIGHBORHOOD T3 FBC SUMMARY
TABLE 5D TOWN CENTER EDGE T4 FBC SUMMARY
TABLE 5E TOWN CENTER T5 FBC SUMMARY
CHAPTER 6. DEFINITIONS
TABLE 6A DEFINITIONS ILLUSTRATED
TABLE 4B LOT AND BUILDING RETROFIT
TABLE OF CONTENTS AVAILABLE SUPPLEMENTARY TRANSECT-BASED MODULES FOR EXISTING NEIGHBORHOODS
- AFFORDABLE HOUSING INCENTIVES
- AFFORDABLE HOUSING POLICY
- ARCHITECTURAL STANDARDS
- CANAL URBANISM
- HAZARD MITIGATION
- LIGHT IMPRINT MATRIX
- LIGHT LEVELS
- LIGHTING DESIGN
- NATURAL DRAINAGE
- NOISE LEVELS
- PLACE TYPES TRANSLATION
- RETAIL MARKETS
- RETAIL: SUSTAINABLE COMMERCE
- RIPARIAN AND WETLAND BUFFERS
- SPRAWL REPAIR
- SUSTAINABLE URBANISM
COMPOSTING AND RECYCLING
SHADING OF GLAZING
SURFACE TO VOLUME RATIO
TREE CANOPY COVER
VEHICLE MILES TRAVELED
ZERO NET ENERGY BUILDINGS
- THOROUGHFARE ASSEMBLIES
Modules are available at www.transect.org
Shortcomings of the Existing Zoning Code
- One anticipated anchor for the downtown is a health/ wellness clinic. Locating this in the downtown would be problematic given the existing zoning code’s excessive on-site parking requirement for this type of use. By way of contrast, the existing code would make it relatively easy (if not expensive) to build the clinic at the perimeter of the city in close proximity to a ‘big box’ location. The problem with such an approach is both that:
- The clinic represents a great opportunity to create a huge economic anchor for the downtown thereby creating a stimulus for desperately needed economic development; and,
- A downtown location would be more appropriate for the clinic’s region wide clientele, many of whom use public transit; the latter services the downtown, but not commercial development on the city’s exterior.
- While the existing code does allow mixed use in the downtown, the amount of residential unit per acres that it allows is somewhat less than ideal. (29 per acre vs. 35 per acre)
- The charrette focus has included several areas on the perimeter of the city that have future mixed used growth potential. These areas are presently within the City’s sphere of influence and are un-zoned. For that reason, the City has encouraged developers to seek entitlement via the use of a Planned Development (PD), which in essence means the creation of a series of ‘islands’ within the City having land use regulations that while consistent with the City’s General Plan are often different than regulations found in the City’s zoning code. Disadvantages to this approach include the following:
- Rather than having the City’s vision for a particular development area clearly defined through the use of e.g. a form based specific plans, each new PD entitlement process becomes a potential battleground that can lead to delays. As one example, delays in the approval of a PD resulted in Blue Diamond withdrawing their request to locate in Livingston, which translated into the loss of 500 new jobs for Livingston.
- Each time a new PD approval is sought, City staff is put in the potentially time consuming position of egotiating a regulating plan or guideline with the developer.
- Administratively, PDs adds complexity and potential ambiguity to the enforcement of land use regulations; this is particularly the case if there are multiple PDs with which the City planning staff must contend.
- In contrast, a form based regulatory process would make the entitlement process for developers considerably more straightforward, less time consuming, less expensive and more predicable than is currently the case with the PD driven entitlement process. As such, a well administered form based regulatory process would provide a significant incentive for developers to consider investing in Livingston.
Phased Strategy for Form Based/SmartCode Implementation
- Continue to put emphasis on obtaining consensus support from the General Plan Committee for a revised and less expansive General Plan update. This is particularly important given that the committee consists of a diversity of stakeholder, including representation from groups such as the Farm Bureau and Merced County that opposed and/or had serious reservation concerning the magnitude of expansion of the 2008 draft GP update. Also, seek consensus for this less expansive General Plan update from other stakeholders and stakeholder groups not represented on this committee.
- Pursue local, state, federal and private foundation sources of funding to create the planning and environment documents needed to update the General Plan and provide the various form based oriented implementing mechanism identified below.
- Obtain Planning Commission and Council approval to utilize the Form Base Vision plan created in the 4 day Charrette as the foundation for the revision of the General Plan update.
- Circulate RFP to update the General Plan utilizing the vision identified in the Charrette.
- Obtain General Plan Update and required CEQA approvals by the Planning Commission and Council.
- Circulate RFP to update the existing zoning code for the downtown utilizing a) a Smart code or b) utilizing a specific plan based on form based principals.
- Obtain Planning Commission and Council approval for either a SMART Code or Specific Plan and any required CEQA documentation for the downtown.
- Circulate RFP to proactively create a Specific Plan based on formed based principal for one or more of various Growth Areas and connecting corridors identified in the Charrette.
- Obtain Planning Commission and Council approval of one or more Specific Plan (or Plans) that are developed for one or more Growth Areas and/or connecting corridors.
Coding and Economic Development
As noted in the accompanying analysis, there are serve limitation, complexities and ambiguity to the existing zoning code that greatly handicap the city’s ability to move forward– be that in term of revitalizing the downtown and/or attracting anchors employers to designated ‘growth sites’ on the town’s outskirts. Nothing more clearly illustrates the magnitude of this problem than the entitlement induced delays in the entitlement process related to the Blue Diamond development proposal that resulted in the loss of 500 potential future jobs!
Adoption of a General Plan update based on form based principals in conjunction with the implementation of a form based code and/or specific plan (as noted above) for the downtown and other key development area in the City will provide the city with the optimal entitlement tools to transform Livingston economy. In particular, it will encourage investment as developers see the city proactively moving ahead to transform Livingston.
Likewise, cleaning up the entitlement process will reassure developers that they will be able to move through the entitlement process in a timely and predictable manner. By way of contrast, the failure to incorporate these entitlement tools and standards exponentially increases the odds of another Blue Diamond debacle and continued stagnation in the downtown.
Because of the SmartCode’s simplicity, its implementation will allow city staff to work much more effectively and efficiently in areas of the city that are expected to have the most development activity.
Quality of Life
Identifying a unified and sustainable vision and implementing mechanism for the city’s land use policies will facilitate the attainment of the quality of life that Livingston residence and officials seek.
Complementary Economic and Community Investment Strategies
Livingston and the surrounding area is home to families that own some of the state’s most notable agri-businesses. Staff has anticipates that city will increasingly be in a position to attract additional investment from these families as a result of the city’s proactive efforts to transform the city not only by greatly improving the entitlement process, but also by greatly improving the maintenance and appeal of the public sectors of the city. In this latter regard, staff has indicated that while residents take great pride in maintaining their own residences and neighborhoods, they desire the city to do a much better job of maintaining their property.