Tuesday, May 28, 2013

City adopts form-based codes, form over function

Cincinnati City Council on May 8 approved of a new zoning tool that emphasizes building form over function.

The adoption of the , which will become Chapter 1703 of the Cincinnati Municipal Code in less than two weeks, means that residents will be better able to shape the look and feel of their neighborhoods.

Under the code, land use becomes secondary to physical form in driving development. The code is driven by a "transect", which establishes visually a hierarchy of places and contexts and gives a clear understanding of how buildings should relate to each other and to the street.

The code also speeds up development by streamlining the permitting and approval process.

Known as Plan Build Live Cincinnati, the initiative has been in the works since 2008 and has been championed by Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls.

The community-based process included six Neighborhood Summit training sessions, five years of neighborhood working groups, and five trips to Nashville to study its experience with form-based code development. In April 2012, a five-day citywide urban design workshop drew more than 700 participants.

"Cincinnati now joins hundreds of cities that are using form-based code to build and reinforce walkable places that create value, preserve character, and are the bedrock of Cincinnati neighborhoods' competitive advantage," Qualls said in a prepared release. "Cincinnati's great neighborhoods originally were developed so that residents could walk to restaurants, groceries, retail and meet their daily needs in their vibrant neighborhood business districts."

The neighborhoods of College Hill, Madisonville, Walnut Hills and Westwood will be the first to implement the new code, having participated in a separate four-day urban design workshop last fall. The code includes procedures for additional neighborhoods to join in the process.

Helping plans become reality

In Walnut Hills, the Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation (WHRF) already is in the process of working with the City and developers such as the Model Group to reinvest in the McMillan Street corridor.

"We have piles and piles of vision documents, but we haven't had a mechanism to make them reality through policy change until now, and that's exciting," said Kevin Wright, executive director of the WHRF. "We're already seeing developers getting interested solely based on the idea of form-based code."

A similar transformation is taking place in Madisonville, where the City has been working with the community to land bank property for a future public square and infill development centered around the intersection of Madison Road and Whetsel Avenue.

"People in Madisonville became interested in form-based codes almost five years ago when we realized that this new way of zoning could help to rebuild the fabric and character of our neighborhood," said Sara Sheets, executive director of the Madisonville Community Urban Redevelopment Corporation. "The current zoning code makes achieving our vision of a mixed-use neighborhood very difficult. We see the form-based code as a critical tool in revitalizing the neighborhood into the place that so many people have envisioned over many years and in hundreds of hours of meetings and conversations.

Plan Build Live was funded through a $2.4 million Community Challenge Planning Grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the U.S. Department of Transportation, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which was awarded in 2010.

Consultants who helped the City develop the code include Opticos Design, Inc.; glaserworks; Hall Planning & Engineering, Inc.; Urban Design Associates; Urban Advisors; and Brandt Retail Group. Wise Economy Workshop provided community engagement and public relations services.

Previous reading on BC:
Development controls established in two Uptown districts (4/29/13)
Westwood gets $10K to develop new civic square (4/29/13)
Planning Commission to consider finalized form-based code Mar. 7 (2/25/13)
Program set for 2013 Neighborhood Summit (1/25/13)
$2.5M bond package to further Madisonville redevelopment plans (12/27/12)

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