Zoning Practice — June 2004

Ask the Author

Here are reader questions answered by David Rouse, co-author of the May 2004 Zoning Practice article "Form-Based Development Codes."

Question from Chance Sparks, City of Bulverde:

The city I work for is looking at adopting some new codes over the next couple of years following adoption of a new comprehensive plan. In discussions during the comprehensive planning process, a lot of support was given for a more predictable (read less politically exposed) performance or incentive-based system. The city's population is just over 5,000, and the city operates on a very limited budget. The city is served by on-site sewage facilities and is limited to one-acre lot sizes due to county health regulations on OSSF. One of the complaints I've heard about form-based and performance codes is that they require a large and extremely skilled staff to administer. Do you know of any cities close to our size that have adopted more user-friendly versions of these types of codes?

Answer from author David Rouse:

To our knowledge, the form-based development codes that have been implemented to date have been in larger municipalities with the resources to support consultant services to develop the codes and in-house staff to administer them once they are adopted. In addition, they typically have been implemented in more urban contexts with higher densities than what you describe for the city of Bulverde.

Given the limited resources you describe, you might consider the use of simple design guidelines to achieve the goals of the comprehensive plan. For example, if preservation of rural scenic character is one objective, you might consider setback/buffer requirements. If the issue is one of incompatible development in established neighborhoods, you might consider the use of standards such as "build-to" lines.

Another approach could be to provide development options to the apparently prevalent pattern of one-acre lots. For example, if open space preservation is one goal of the plan, conservation development could be offered as an alternative development pattern with incentives in the form of a density bonus. This approach would, of course, be contingent on resolving the on-site sewage disposal issue, which appears to be an over-riding constraint.

Feel free to contact me if you have further questions.