The Austin Chronicle

What Is Form-Based Code?

By Katherine Gregor, January 8, 2010, News

The following definition of "form-based code" is slightly edited from the Form-Based Codes Institute.

Form-based codes foster predictable built results and a high-quality public realm by using physical form (rather than separation of uses) as the organizing principle. Not to be confused with design guidelines or general statements of policy, form-based codes are not merely advisory; they are adopted into city or county law as regulations. Form-based codes can be mandatory or optional/parallel.

Form-based codes address the relationship between building facades and the public realm, the form and mass of buildings in relation to one another, and the scale and types of streets and blocks. The regulations and standards in form-based codes, presented in both diagrams and words, are keyed to a regulating plan (see below) that designates the appropriate form and scale (and therefore, character) of development. This is in contrast to conventional zoning's focus on the micromanagement and segregation of land uses, and the control of development intensity through abstract and uncoordinated parameters such as floor-to-area ratio, dwellings per acre, setbacks, parking ratios, and traffic impact.

Form-based codes commonly include the following elements:

Regulating plan: A plan or map of the regulated area, designating the locations where different building form standards apply. The plan is based on clear community intentions.

Public space standards: These define desired elements within the public realm – sidewalks, travel lanes, on-street parking, street trees, street furniture, etc.

Building form standards: These control the configuration, features, and functions of buildings. This in turn helps to define and shape the public realm.

Administration process: A clearly defined process for development applications and project reviews.

Other standards can also be included: architectural, landscaping, signage, and environmental.

For examples, including the Downtown Duncanville plan referenced on the facing page, see

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