I'm going to start a small discussion about form based codes. I have already written about it, but I think It would be good review to refresh your memories. Below is a reprint of a portion of my earlier post. Afterward, I will comment on FBC, a new subdivision, and Rowlett.
The definition of the form based code as defined by the Form Base Code Institute and as copied from their website.
"Definition of a Form-Based Code"
"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 for the code. They are regulations, not mere guidelines, adopted into city or county law. Form-based codes offer a powerful alternative to conventional zoning.
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 are presented in both words and clearly drawn diagrams and other visuals. They are keyed to a regulating plan that designates the appropriate form and scale (and therefore, character) of development, rather than only distinctions in land-use types.
This approach contrasts with conventional zoning's focus on the micromanagement and segregation of land uses, and the control of development intensity through abstract and uncoordinated parameters (e.g., FAR, dwellings per acre, setbacks, parking ratios, traffic LOS), to the neglect of an integrated built form. Not to be confused with design guidelines or general statements of policy, form-based codes are regulatory, not advisory. They are drafted to implement a community plan. They try to achieve a community vision based on time-tested forms of urbanism. Ultimately, a form-based code is a tool; the quality of development outcomes depends on the quality and objectives of the community plan that a code implements."
Now, tell me what you just read. No going back. Tell yourself what you just read.
It's kinda fuzzy ain't it? Well, that's the character of form based codes. Everything's kinda fuzzy, but highly regulated when strictly followed. I want you to re-read some of the above.
"Form-based codes foster predictable built results and a high quality public realm"--simply a self serving opinion. No facts. Blowin' smoke. Any positive results are based on properly utilized skill, not codes. The codes buttress authority only.
"They are regulations, not mere guidelines"--much more control by city government. The city is designing the exterior of the buildings. That's scary.
"form-based codes are regulatory, not advisory." All I can say is that Rowlett must have some pretty skilled people on staff. Approaching duties suggest they had better.....but they don't. To the best of my knowledge, no one on staff has built anything or designed anything of consequence in their entire life.
Architects are a proud breed. The really good ones are very possessive of their creativity. I like to look at elevations of a good architect. To me, its like looking at a good painting. When the architect fills in with color, it is very much like a painting. Some of the architect's possessiveness is centered in his/her "creativity and originality." Form based codes, when strictly applied with a bureaucratic appreciation of art and creativity, usually produces a brick.
A Harvard trained architect that I know (yes, they have an architectural school) feels that it is a part of his duty to make his building fit into the culture and environment that best suits his new creation. He talks with city officials and his client to be sure he understands what is desired by both. Then, he goes to work creating. Can an untrained and inexperienced city staff completely strangle a good architect's design? Absolutely. I have seen my friend walk away from an excellent assignment because of the air being sucked out of his designs by bureaucratic egos strictly utilizing the authority granted by form based code ordinances.
Now, can form based codes be good? Absolutely. There is a situation in our own downtown that supports a form based code application. We have DART (TOD) and some old building charm, close proximity to the tollway to tie together as a cohesive neighborhood. These ingredients call out for higher residential density and commercial intergration, and some coordination is in order. I don't want to get into a complete case study here, but because of so many land owners in this area, some coordination by "officialdom" is in order. Form based codes work very well in these conditions. I also think there are conditions for form base codes in the Gateway area and the land east of the Community Centre. I think the Wellness (bad name) area is more difficult to apply form base codes disciplines. The housing and development is fairly new in the Wellness area and only small islands of undeveloped land exists.
Do form based codes work well on horse pastures that is immediately adjacent to the outer edge of the Dallas Metro area? Nope. Form based codes work where there is urban influence. In fact, form based codes are a major tool of the New Urbanization movement. I am somewhat a supporter of New Urbanization, but it doesn't work everywhere. There are still people moving to Rowlett to escape the urbanization of Dallas. Some of our new arrivals are coming here to escape urbanism and we're enforcing urbanism. I do believe that most people would not call Rowlett urban, unless they grew up in west Texas. Our controversial Northshore cow pasture area is contiguous with farms and ranches all the way to the Louisiana state line. So, we're going to urbanize it? I guess we're experimenting again.
I have a story. Do you know you have a Form Base Code officer? You have one. He is never identified by name, but is referred to often as having reviewed submittals of developers. You can't find him in the city directory. I know his name. I wouldn't have known his name if I hadn't been on city council. Why so secret? He's a pretty nice guy. He is not embarrasing. He's an architect by education, I think. Why keep him under wraps? I don't know. However, I asked our previous city manager who he worked for. I said he wasn't a part of the original HOK team. To clarify my question, I asked, "Who is he going to be mad at if he doesn't get paid?" I was in a car driven by the then City Manager and there were two other city councilmen in the car also.
The first answer I got made no sense at all. After an uncomfortable pause, I was given a second answer, only slightly different from the first. It, too, made no sense. Another uncomfortable pause, then a third answer came out. This one made sense. Apparantly, it was decided (by someone) that they needed a Form Base Code expert. After deciding who (by who?), the city went to HOK and asked that they hire him, but add it to Rowlett's bill. Apparantly, he is operating as another consultant. I hate that type of crap. If another consultant is needed, let the council know and if one is needed, get one without all the intrigue. I was on council and I didn't know about it, so I presume the magic 4 votes number was achieved somehow, someplace, to give a "consensus" and the deal was cut. Is it legal? Probably. Is it ethical? I don't think so.
Anyhow, the above expert was in a later meeting that I attended about the form-based codes. I was going thru some of the more detailed items during the presentation and I noticed that one of the "rules" was that all houses had to have three steps leading up to the porch or entry to the house. Well, I've been a builder, too. I know the three steps favor a townhouse design, as well as a 1920's look. I raised my hand and asked our expert what he thought the extra cost of the foundation modification would do to the marketability of the townhouse. He seemed dumbfounded. There were round eyes and silence. I then said the extra steps would cause the beams around the house structure to be deepened another 21 inches. That would cost quite a bit of money. He finally responded by saying "they do it with grading somehow." I knew what he was talking about, but it was not a good answer. Grading would not solve my original question. If the lot is graded higher in the back, then lowered to the front, a condition is created whereby three steps will be needed to gain floor level. However, such a procedure would require a "step down" in the slab beam forming. Somewhere midway between the rear of the slab and the front of the slab, the slab beam would have to be "dropped down." It might only cost a few yards of concrete, but it would also cost extra steel. However, the big cost is the forming labor. It is a pretty extensive effort to build a "drop down" in the structural beams. On a 35 foot front of a townhouse, this endeavor, including extra grading, might cost $3500-$4500. That's $1100 to $1500 per step.
The above problem doesn't even take into consideration the ADA problems. With the three steps, what do you do with handicaped owners? How does an unhandicaped owner sell to a proposed handicaped purchaser? Experts (?) say, "build a ramp." Do you know how unattractive a ramp is in a townhouse development?
Form based codes with "regulations" as above, doesn't work everywhere.