Monday, March 21, 2011

Bellevue first local municipality to adopt form-based codes

Last Wednesday, the City of Bellevue became the first municipality in Greater Cincinnati to adopt form-based codes as a tool for guiding future development.

The new code focuses on building form, massing, and relationships and is generally regarded as being development-friendly. Conventional, or "Euclidean", zoning techniques tend to focus almost entirely on specific land uses and are much more prohibitive.

With its new SmartCode, Bellevue feels like it has the tools to protect its existing historic, walkable neighborhoods while replicating the look and feel of that fabric in future infill and redevelopment.

"With this new code, we can guide future growth in keeping with community character and with our city motto: 'Preserving the Past and Preparing for the Future,'" said Bellevue Mayor Ed Riehl.

Needs identified early

The need to reform parts of the city's zoning code – especially in such underperforming areas as the shopping centers along Riviera and Donnermeyer drives, the gateway into the city along the western end of Fairfield Avenue, and along the riverfront – was identified in the City's comprehensive plan update in 2008.

In February 2010, Glaserworks principal Jeff Raser presented a concept plan showing how some of the underperforming areas could be made more vibrant and walkable.

"The concept plan showed a mix of residential, retail, and office uses and wonderful public places on pedestrian-friendly, tree-lined streets," said Jody Robinson, Bellevue's assistant city manager. "Everyone who saw the concept absolutely loved it. The problem was, our existing codes would have given any developer wanting to build even a small part of that plan a very long tough road."

A year-long public process to create the new code launched with a four-hour visioning exercise in February 2010, then a four-day charrette in March 2010 in which nearly 200 residents, business owners, developers and policymaker's helped assemble a vision plan for the project's implementation.

"Because we had such an open public process, we know that what we're putting in place is what the people of our city want," Riehl said.

A model for others in the region

Nationally-renowned firm PlaceMakers, LLC worked alongside the City of Bellevue and Glaserworks throughout the process.

"Everyone in Bellevue should be proud of their City staff and of themselves for working so hard to create this landmark redevelopment code," said Susan Henderson of PlaceMakers. "We think this will be a model for others in the region."

Region-wide, only Cincinnati is exploring the use of form-based codes in several City neighborhoods as part of its new comprehensive plan, Plan Cincinnati.

An update on the progress is expected to be given at the 2011 Neighborhood Summit, being held April 2 at Xavier University's Cintas Center.

"Form-based codes are being adopted by communities across the country as a way of telling developers, 'Here's what we want,' as opposed to having a set of disjointed ordinances that attempt to say, 'Here's what we don't want,'" Raser said. "They enable the kinds of projects that citizens prefer and that communities need in order to manage growth that benefits everyone."

Aerial photo courtesy of Bing Maps

Previous reading on BC:
'Pin ups', presentation show how Bellevue can build on historic fabric (3/29/10)
Cincinnati form-based code initiative moves forward (2/5/09)
Cincinnati may appropriate $50,000 to hire form-based code consultant (12/3/08)
Report on form-based code overlays due in November (10/23/08)