Zoning Reform

We can help align your zoning with smart growth principles

Zoning codes are the invisible-yet-decisive guiding force that can catalyze the creation of great, walkable, people-scaled places—or stand in the way of the kind of smart growth that communities are clamoring for. Zoning reform doesn’t come easy for any community. But the Form-Based Codes Institute at Smart Growth America helps municipalities across the country review and revise proposed and existing codes to make places more walkable, preserve historic character, support transit-oriented development and complete streets policies, and improve parking practices. Recent assignments of FBCI’s Codes for Communities program include:

  • Reviewing a draft form-based code for a historic small town in Fauquier County, VA, offering key edits to make it more effective;
  • Revising the Maui, HI zoning code to actively support their plans to build complete streets;
  • Recommending changes to the Omaha, NE code to better align with their transit-oriented development goals;
  • Drafting a form-based code in Charlottesville, VA to align with affordable housing strategies in a mixed-income neighborhood;
  • Working with the Town of Leesburg, VA to learn why an existing form-based code wasn’t producing the kind of smart growth development the community was seeking and to recommend ways to fix it.

Click each level below to expand and read more about the four types of zoning reform assistance available from Smart Growth America and the Form-Based Codes Institute.

To explore how we can help your community reform zoning to support smart growth development, contact us.

Contact us

FBCI will review and comment on an existing zoning code to assess whether it supports or impedes other development goals like mixed-use or walkability. Experts will review the code, identify where it impedes other policy goals and suggest changes to address those barriers. FBCI also conducts peer reviews on new draft form-based codes for smaller jurisdictions or districts, before the code is adopted, to ensure the code is consistent with form-based code principles and easy to understand and administer. The sponsoring locality receives a six to ten-page report synthesizing the expert reviewers comments and suggestions.

FBCI conducts code audits of a neighborhood, district or corridor zoning code when a community feels that the form-based code is not producing the kind of development that the community wants. In these audits, FBCI staff interviews key stakeholders—city staff, elected officials and developers—to discover their objectives and concerns about the existing code. Experts will do an in-depth analysis of the code to identify where barriers to good development exist and make suggestions for how these provisions could be changes. At the request of the city staff, FBCI will make a presentation to local staff and stakeholders summarizing the report and/or assist the city staff to develop an RFP or RFQ of more substantial code revisions are needed. In each case, a final report is prepared with the results of the interviews and analysis and suggestions for code revisions.

Often, existing zoning codes conflict with other policies adopted to encourage better land use practices, like transit-oriented development or complete streets. In other cases, a zoning code may need to be updated to accommodate new development trends or practices. FBCI will review an existing code, as well more recent changes in policy and practice, to propose updates and adjustments that bring the existing code into alignment. For these assignments, barriers and inconsistencies; FBCI will: 1) review and analyze the existing ordinance and other land use policies and practices to identify barriers and inconsistencies; 2) interview stakeholders in the community — including staff, developers and decision makers; 3) propose adjustments in the ordinance, within the current structure of the code; and 4) prepare a report and final presentation to local stakeholders on the findings and recommended changes.

Each year, FBCI partners with a top-notch code writing firm to work with one jurisdiction to create a state-of-the-art form-based code for a corridor, neighborhood or district. Jurisdictions are evaluated based on the following criteria:

  • Is the scale of the study area a good fit for the program?
  • Is the city committed to adopting a form-based code?
  • Does the city have a vision for the study area and a commitment to community engagement?
  • Is the city leadership prepared to commit financial and staff resources to the project?
  • Does the city have the ability and resources to implement an FBC, once it has been adopted?
  • Will the new code serve as an exemplary model for other communities?