Form Based Codes

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Friday January 04, 2013

The Form Based Code Committee, one of four Interim Zoning committees, hosted a public event on the evening of December 13, to share how Form Based Code will shape South Burlington.  

Councilor Paul Engels, chair of the committee, introduced the public to the members of the committee and to the consultants—Paul Dreher and Jen Black of Dreher Designs—who took the floor for the remainder of the evening.

“Form Based Code is what and how you see yourself,” Dreher said. “It becomes a representation of your community.”

In essence, Form Based Code does not have one look. Barcelona, Miami, Newport, and Denver are just a few examples of places where this new regulation is implemented.

“[Form Based Code] recognizes and celebrates a community’s strengths,” Dreher said.

Dreher provided different processes for how to approach Form Based Code with a list of, “tools of the trade.” He presented the transect diagram (grading from a dense area to open land), a regulating map (determines how land will be used in the future and how it will grow), building envelope standards (describes what could happen in certain parts of the city), upside down planning (place vision being the goal), and messy maps (maps to draw on and scribe opinions and ideas). Dreher used the words, “prescriptive, predictable, and high quality” to describe the Form Based Codes process. He says it is meant to regulate development at individual lot-scale, encourage independent development, make it easier for non-planners and professionals, and to help find South Burlington’s DNA via physical measurements. Furthermore, it eliminates the need for design guidelines; it’s more easily enforced, requires less oversight, is a less politicized process, eliminates soft cost, saves time, and engages the community.

“We approach this as the ‘community is the expert,’”  Dreher said.

Dreher explained that an effective tool in measuring ‘what is South Burlington?’ is to use the “Power of 10.” Select 10 major destinations in South Burlington, then 10 attractions in City Center, then 10 perks of Market St. Macro to micro will provide a cornucopia of things that makes South Burlington tick.

The public jumped right into discussion after Dreher’s presentation. Where will they start? What’s the time frame? Where do recreational areas and gardening fit in? Where does renewable energy fit in?

Dreher Designs will focus first on City Center and will work to have a plan for City Council by next year. A transect diagram could show how to integrate recreation and space for gardening, but the community will decide its design. When the city becomes more walkable and pedestrian-friendly, fewer cars will need to be used and the city may choose to use green roofs and “green streets” to help use stormwater as an amenity.

One resident asked if the process would provide a generalized structure without it becoming too dictatorial. Dreher reverted back to the real driver of the future is the people; the community will have ownership of their city.

How it shapes industrial sections, residential sections, economic security, and establishment of trust were other themes of conversation.

As the Form Based Code Committee works through the process with Dreher Designs and public input, it may prompt a new name for the regulation. A new name may make it easier for citizens to understand, Council Chair Rosanne Greco said.

Resident and member of the Recreation Path Committee, Donna Leban, made an observation that this topic drew a number of different committees together. Representatives of City Council, Planning Commission, Development Review Board, Public Works, Natural Resources Committee, Energy Committee, Recreation Path Committee, Recreation and Leisure Arts Committee, School Board, and the four Interim Zoning Committees were among the audience. Using these various perspectives will strongly help shape South Burlington.

“ Use resources we have in the state to exceed the code, not just make the code,” she said.

This presentation will be viewable on CCTV. org as well as the city’s site, The city has also created a site catered to sustainability and the progress of Interim Zoning: There will be cafe sessions to further discuss Form Based Codes. Dreher can be reached at for more information. Become part of the conversation.

SOURCE: Miranda Jonswold, Correspondent