Comments

  1. I think there are two issues here. First, FBC and Coonventional Zoning are like Deisel and Unleaded Gas. They both run engines, however these two fuels cannot be swapped between the two engine types. Communities have been brainwashed for 50 plus years that separation and buffers will make great places. It is hard to set things right through proximity and form.

    Secondly, zoning codes are the the false safty blanket for residents of a community. They feel that zoning will protect them from the evils of the built world. What I have found, is that conventional zoning codes are not predictable and actually permit more then they prohibit. It is not until a undesirable building is built, or until someone takes the time to show how conventional zoning is inconstant with community expectations, until you can start talking solutions.

    It would be interesting to learn more how a consultant can work with a community to spend the time to work through these issues without spend hundreds of thousands of dollars of fee to complete.

    • Just a minor addition to Edward’s comment is that zoning codes are also the security blanket of municipal reviewers and code officials. “You must have a 30 foot front yard set back and 10 side yard setback” because that’s what the code requires even though your neighbor may have neither for many reasons including being built before the rules were implemented or that no one enforced them. I am often amused by communities that love their “look” but blindly enforce rules that require something different.

  2. Interesting points, Ed. I think that your point regarding engagement and education are very well made, but unfortunately that’s also the most expensive part of the consultants deliverables. Authoring a meaningful, localized, implementable code does take experience and expertise, but with enough experience can be produced fairly affordably. The expenses begin to mount with not only the citizen community and the development community must be effectively engaged, but perhaps the biggest hurdle is the staff that Cory speaks of.

    We usually find there is one or two visionary individuals on a local government staff who are moving the effort forward, but for the most part the staff as a whole doesn’t want to deal with the learning curve required to change the operating system. As you well know, the hours necessary to engage fire, engineering, and even members of the planning staff become overwhelming to the project – but well worth it if effectively designed and executed.

    • PlaceMakers says:

      A footnote to this: The issue is not fees so much as it’s time. Costs grow when the required time grows but, to specifically address Ed’s question, where those costs fall is a variable. Municipalities can significantly reduce consultant fees by shouldering greater portions of the consensus-building themselves in advance of the process — visioning, broad-based outreach and education, personal engagement, locking down variables, wrangling loose canons, and all the other time-consuming work associated with the unique, and often messy, political realities inherent to one’s particular context.

      I once heard Andres Duany say, “If you want us to fix your code, that’ll be X dollars. But if you want us to fix your politics, it’ll be 4X.”

      Measuring, mapping and the like is a manageable and predictable task whereas uniting people in both where to go and how to get there often is not. Yes, it’s something that’s typically a prerequisite for success, but it need not be the consultant doing the heavy lifting. –SD

  3. Richard Hartman says:

    Am curious as to title of the article as an expansion of FBC from downtown district to city-wide has been discussed. I think that it is key to determine what is to be accomplished in different areas; the preserve-enhance-evolve- transfrom continuum. Not a big fan of optional components; either the neighborhood design is socially oriented or its not. No a bit here, a bit over there. If FBC is the answer, get on with it.

    As to the above comments, I’m not so sure that intransigent staff is actually the obstacle cited. Seems that many of the leading consultants on FBC and Smart Growth have worked in the public sector. Where was the change? Far more common is the politicians and public misperception that current staff created the problem that they want to fix. Personally, no politician and few residents ever asked me what do you think we should do to revive our town or create a sense of place.

    Could the market potential of FBC developments allow for inclusion of public-private relationships with development and homebuilding companies and their resources in the early stages of consensus building when so much of the aforementioned time and effort falls on staff or consutants? They have the tools and expertise in-house for those predictable tasks and there are companies that desire the market benefits emanating from FBC communities, or would that open a can of favoritism worms. Unfortunately, a recent review of development locations by the BIG 3 national homebuilders shows that they learned nothing from the recession, health factors, and GEN-whatever; What’s that Beatles’ song: “Greenfields Forever?”

    Placemakers and Hazel; this is my favorite place to stimulate planning thoughts. Thanks.

  4. Leslie Creane says:

    Having worked in the public, private and non-profit sectors AND having successfully implimented the first SmartCode in New England (Hamden, CT) I know that there is no shortcut for grassroots organizing. Whatever you bite off as the section of a municipality to impliment FBC someone needs to do the legwork. There are ways to be efficient about it (I’ve learned some of them the hard way), but there is no avoiding it. Whether it is the consultant or a well educated public official, someone “with the answers” needs to lead the charge. The real key is to keep the process moving forward and not be derailed by a few naysayers.

    • Hey, Jamestown RI beat you guys; close enough that Hamden can call it a tie, but let’s give credit to Jamestown’s planner Lisa Bryer, who jumped on the SmartCode opportunity with gusto and got it done, with the help of Donald Powers Architects (now Union Studio), Cornish Associates, and Smartcode Local. The story I love to tell about Jamestown is that it was adopted the same hour, same day as Miami 21 – at 9 PM on October 22, 2009. This shows how flexible the SmartCode template is, that it was successfully calibrated for a small rural island village in New England, and a major urban center in South Florida.

  5. Richard, thanks for the really good question. That sort of incremental approach — adopting a FBC first downtown, and then expanding it over time — is exactly what I’m advocating. It lets the City or Town test out the new tool, and the development community learn how to use it to realize value capture. Then, as the political will is available, expand into additional areas of town.

    You see this approach in places like Montgomery, Alabama, which adopted a SmartCode in January 2006 that was optional for the jurisdiction; made it mandatory for Downtown in May 2007; mandatory for West Fairview in 2010; and mandatory for Cloverdale in 2011. The development community there has realized what it’s worth so that through the recession the majority of development happened under the FBC. $100 million in new development within 5 years of SmartCode adoption shows some resilience in the face of recession.

    Places like Miami that have the political will and funding to get mandatory FBCs in place will likely experience higher value capture in the near term, as has been illustrated in a variety of recent studies about how the market — particularly the Boomers and Millenials — value walkability.

    Leslie, you’re right on! Thanks for sharing your experience as a Planning Director having recently adopted a FBC. It takes everyone to make livable places.

  6. Really great conversation regarding the private / public sector division of financial responsibility for FBCs and the importance to make them predictable. Nice analogy Edward on the separation of the two code types, “these two fuels can not be swapped between the two engine types”. Both ideas point to the impact of time on city growth and economic development.

    My thoughts are like Hazel argues, the role of the strategic, intervention based FBC frameworks are to expand the conversation between constituents, gain the expertise from a global viewpoint (like Placemakers), and link it directly to the local knowledge contained in the broader public. All of this takes time / money. But I believe that this built-in allowance of evolution over time is the single most important aspect missing from conventional zoning.

    The conversation that occurs in developing a flexible framework rather than a static document results in a greater mutual understanding of the complexity of the choices available to the city which in turn results in an eventual expansion of the opportunities available. If we work it right, zoning does have the potential to be the flexible, underlying legal property development code which allows a process like this to work predictably. Ex. a factor increasing stability of such a code might be calculating density on a scale larger than the individual lot in order to give a more accurate descriptor of block character for citizens to grab ahold of. To emphasize the importance of place, encourage human scale and fine grained subdivision, rather than reactions to perceived negative density-caused externalities.

  7. Hello all,
    We have to be very careful when discussing “mandatory” and “optional” because many will assume that “optional” means that property owners, most of whom just own one lot and building, can choose whether or not to comply with the new Smartcode. That should never be the case. As the blog post explains, best practice is to require a large parcel of land in order to use a Smartcode or other FBC that is adopted as an available option. Because an entire hamlet or village is usually required, the code must also contain the protocol for mapping the Transect Zones or whatever zones are used, similar to Article 3 of the SmartCode or Chapter 3 of the Neighborhood Conservation Code (NCC). That entire hamlet or village is all not all one Transect Zone – it will contain at least three, in most cases. It has to be planned. Code templates like the SC and NCC are thus considered unified codes because they contain planning and zoning that are coordinated, and scales (e.g., community scale + lot scale) that are coordinated.

    If applied that way, and made available over the whole jurisdiction or, say, just greenfield, to plan and adopt it hamlet-by-hamlet, village-by-village, neighborhood-by-neighborhood, downtown-by downtown, the code is likely to get more buy-in and move more quickly to adoption, and to be less watered down. Miami is indeed one of the exceptions; they had very strong Mayoral leadership and very skilled staff and consultants.

    Richard, does that help assuage your concerns about “optional” components? The components would not be optional lot-by-lot. It’s just the use of the code for a whole neighborhood that is presented as an option. Within the mapped area with its adopted code, all rules are regulatory, just like they are in all of Miami.

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