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Building Community with Land Use Planning & Zoning

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Topic 7

Slide Shows:
The three slide shows below address this broad topic of building community with land use planning and zoning. They show how to use planning and Form Based and Mixed Use Codes to create quality places and build social capital. The process begins with area-wide and neighborhood-based policy plans and a land use and design “template”. The city-wide “template” is modified appropriately to a particular neighborhood using a community-directed planning process. Here we begin with St. Louis and O’Fallon neighborhood policy documents. These policies and a general zoning template are applied to create the regulatory framework for new and rehabilitated housing and a revitalized commercial center. The Part 1 slide show contains the overall approach, which is applied in the neighborhood as shown in the Parts 2 and 3 slide shows.
Part 1 - Building Community with Land Use Planning and Regulation: Overview
Powerpoint presentation (in Adobe Presenter format) Click "Notes" for author's description of slides. It is suggested that you set the main slide controller (in the bar under the slide) to ">" / stop, instead of "||" and advance the slides manually using the ">|" and "|<" buttons.

Powerpoint presentations (in html format)
Part 2 – Neighborhood Housing
Part 3 – Neighborhood Commercial Center

The built environment is never more important than one’s relationships. But quality, attractive places can be built (or rebuilt) that foster and support social capital, helping economic development and more. On a fundamental level, there is a connection between social conditions and how and where people reside, work, shop and recreate. As such, our desire to build community has an important counterpart in the built environment.

Since the 1950s, conventional zoning created the suburban places we see all around us. By and large, suburban development is homogeneous in nature, separates uses by location, has low densities and is private-vehicle oriented. They are seen here as a narrow framework that does not support a diversity of life styles and circumstances. There is a wide range of life-choices from the country side to dense urban centers. Development standards that vary appropriately for these places are needed.

Fortunately traditional development advocates (including New Urbanists and Smart Growth supporters) have encouraged us to look anew at time-proven house, neighborhood and town building concepts. When translated into zoning, the new standards are conducive to mixed-use development, active street life, pedestrian and bike use and social diversity in terms of income and life cycle. The new standards foster neighborhood units whether at the urban fringe or in older areas of towns and cities.

Newer style zoning codes are visually presented, more readable, and deal with defined standards, such as minimums and maximums / specific requirements, that provide predictability regarding what will be built. The old approach provides flexibility for the developer. The new approach incorporates the preferences of the community or neighborhood. When the planning process is participatory, informed by useful information and alternative scenarios, and highly visual, the results almost always are better than when planners and developers work things out themselves.

The plans provided here are examples of better planning and zoning practices that set enforceable standards, incorporate the community’s needs and wishes and provide legally enforceable rights to those affected.


Neighborhood Plans. Neighborhood Plans are where all aspects of community and community development come together.  The approach supported here includes being comprehensive in scope; following the guidance of neighborhood residents especially; using a strategic planning framework (vision statement, outcomes, strategies, and programs); integrating social programs with the built environment; and incorporating implementation mechanisms.

In the St. Louis O’Fallon neighborhood this process begins with strategic planning that resulted in the O’Fallon Neighborhood Community Development Plan and the O’Fallon Neighborhood Community Development Plan – Agency Interviews (see Topic 4 in this website). The planning process allows residents and local leaders to establish the framework for the community development work to follow.

In the strategic plan, O’Fallon residents agree upon middle to long term Vision statements that describe the desired neighborhood; outcomes that contribute to realizing this future; and strategies that address the actions to be taken to achieve the outcomes.  The community’s direction related to housing and economic development, in specific, guides the plan described immediately below.

The O'Fallon Neighborhood Housing and Commercial Center Plan (OFNHCC), highlighted here, shows how land use planning, zoning, and design can implement key elements of a strategic plan and build social capital.  The other readings in this Topic contain many of the land use planning tools used in this plan.    

In the OFNHCC plan, neighborhood “anchors” of stability are identified in the community, which represent social and market strength.  The plan establishes focus areas, the Harrison School housing area and the Warne Wedge commercial center, that link these anchor areas and contain assets, such as buildings on the national historic register and publicly held vacant land.

For both the Harrison School housing area and the Warne Wedge commercial center, the plan contains “building form” standards (building types that are allowed); building design and site standards (such as shop fronts, porches, building materials, and building facades adjacent to sidewalks); parking regulations; and the rules for applying these standards.

While most of the neighborhood is on the National Register for Historic Places, the associated building standards only are required when historic preservation tax credits are used.  The National Register standards do not apply if the buildings are not significant or contributing, when no tax credits are sought, or in new construction.  Since there are 370 vacant parcel in O’Fallon, this is an especially important consideration. The OFNHCC plan standards close many of these gaps.

The building forms and the design, site, and parking standards are employed to draw “model buildings”.  These are used to show how redevelopment would appear under this set of rules.  In turn, computer land use images inform a design charrette and community meetings.

The O’Fallon strategic plan’s social and economic development elements are incorporated into the housing and commercial center plans through the options of: establishing mini-neighborhoods; incorporating human services and economic development into housing and the commercial center; housing solutions that enhance social capital such as land trusts and coop housing; and economic development approaches that are neighborhood-based such as starting a bank account, micro-lending, entrepreneurship training, and a business incubator.

Financing tools are reviewed such as State of Missouri and federal Historic Preservation tax credits and Low Income Housing Tax Credits, and federal New Market tax credits.  Potential implementation partners also are identified.

In all, we followed Mike Green's advice to be "motivated by what you don't have, to use what you have, to create what you want, by working together."  

Corridor Plans. Many older urban areas have underutilized and ill-kept block fronts of commercial buildings that often lined now-abandoned streetcar routes. Often design changes to the roadways over time have made the corridors increasingly vehicle-focused to the detriment of the pedestrian (e.g. conversion of on-street parking to traffic lanes, wider lanes, higher design speeds, narrower sidewalks).

The buildings on these corridors are assets to the community and “Main Street” and “Great Street” redevelopment efforts have made strides in restoring the vitality of these places. The existing buildings contain many attractive elements that can be reinforced, generally with a higher density of residential uses. Commercial corridors are more-public spaces where the neighborhood can meet the city in a comfortable and controlled way. The Huning Highland - EDo Corridor Plan and the Nob Hill - Highland Corridor Plan highlighted here contain many good corridor zoning regulations.

The Huning Highland – EDo Plan combines standards to create a lively pedestrian environment. These regulatory elements address building heights, building “step-backs” to reduce massing where appropriate, site set-backs to bring building close to the sidewalk and enclose the public realm, façade treatments including shop fronts and sheltered sidewalks with awnings and arcades, open views to activity within building through windows and doors, parking on-street and in block interiors only and pedestrian friendly signage and lighting.

The Nob Hill - Highland Plan demonstrates that streetscape design standards (i.e. the area from façade to façade across the sidewalk and street within the public right of way) must be compatible with zoning requirements for buildings. The streetscape elements of note in this plan are ample sidewalk widths including “café spaces”, on-street parking, sidewalk “bulb outs” at intersections, pedestrian crossing improvements and removal of medians in some locations to increase sidewalk widths and reduce traffic speed.

The following links are to the Nob Hill Highland Sector Development Plan. The size of the plan resulted in its division into two parts.
- Introduction, Historic Context, Nob Hill Today, Movement Systems;
- Community Form, Infrastructure, Economic Vitality, Implementation, Regulations, Apendices

NOTE: If you have difficulty in opening your readings, you may need to download Adobe Acrobat Reader.
This is a free download and simple installation. Please follow the instructions at the official Adobe website.



Selected Readings (pdf)
Building Community with Land Use Planning

Subtopics inside:
General Approaches / Form Based Code
Streetscape and Corridors
Town Planning
Defensibe Space - CPTED

Town Plans. The Volcano Heights Sector Plan is an example of how residents and local government can shape the future of urban growth at the fringe by proactively establishing development regulations for large areas in advance of private action. The Volcano Heights Plan creates a town structure of about 30,000 residents, 12,000 housing units and 20,000 jobs on 3,500 acres. It is organized into a town center, five villages with neighborhood centers, and low-density conservation subdivisions at the edges.

A substantial proportion of the Volcano Heights area was platted in the 1970s, and sold to about 1,700 owners, predominantly 1/3rd acre lots, without the provision of infrastructure; in other words, a “premature” subdivision that would be illegal by today’s requirements. The site is surrounded by the 8,000 acre Petroglyph National Monument and City Open Space containing more than 20,000 petroglyphs carved 700 to 3,000 years ago. The area is an important place in the cultures and practices of many surrounding Native American groups. In the Pueblo world view, blessings are channeled from village plazas, petroglyphs, and shrines through the landscape, amplified, and returned back to the community.

The five neighborhood “villages” have sufficient population to support a small elementary school (about 650 students). Each neighborhood has a mixed use village center with retail, commercial, residential and public uses. All have a central plaza and school, sometimes co-located. Housing densities vary in a progression from higher at the center, through suburban, to low at the edge. Social engagement is encouraged through public facilities such as parks and playgrounds, convenience retail, walkable densities, traffic calming, bicycle and pedestrian friendly streets, buildings brought closer the sidewalks, active building frontages including porches, storefronts and arcades, and other design elements.

The Volcano Heights has a regional mixed-use town center where people can shop, dine, have fun, work and live. Most of the 20,000 jobs intended for Volcano Heights are located here. The town center has a higher density core focused on a plaza and multi-modal transportation nexus (bus rapid transit, possible light rail, and regular bus) and is bordered (rather than intersected) by regional limited access arterials. An active ground floor retail and commercial core surrounds the transit center. Traffic calming on state highway department controlled, limited access arterials is achieved through an urban boulevard design.

The Volcano Heights Plan includes networks of open space, recreational trails, bicycle routes, conservation standards in buffers adjacent to public open space, and archeological resource protection.

[Note: elements of the Volcano Heights Plan were contested legally by some property owners. The district court found a procedural flaw in the adoption, but the plan standards were upheld. Before the plan could be reconsidered, political control of the city government changed and the plan was redrafted and development regulations were compromised.]

The following links are to the Volcano Heights Sector Development Plan. Retaining the detailed graphics results in the number of files.
- Table of Contents, Sect. I, Ch. 1: Area Conditions;
- Sect. I, Ch.1: Area Conditions;
- Sect. I, Ch. 2: Existing Land Use Plans and Policies, Sect. I, Ch. 3: Planning Process, Sect. II, Ch. 1: Goals;
- Sect. II, Ch. 2: Transportation;
- Sect. II, Ch. 3: Land Use;
- Sect. II, Ch. 4: Urban Design, Sect II, Ch. 5: Architectural and Landscape Design;
- Sect. II, Ch. 6: Open Space;
- Sect. II, Ch. 7: Implementation, Appendices A-G

General Use Zone Code. Many goals of the Albuquerque Planned Growth Strategy (see Topic 3 in this web site) cannot be achieved without incorporating them into a new zoning code. Most examples of New Urban / Smart Codes address specific, limited plan areas. The issue of how to apply these new zoning standards is something of a dilemma. By continuing their use on a plan-by-plan basis, the new development regulations cannot become the standard for development. However, stating these regulations in a general way appears to drain the texture and sensitivity that results when rules are crafted for a particular place. Also, the social capital-building focus of this website calls for purposeful engagement of local residents in the rules that affect their lives. The events surrounding the public review, amendment and adoption of the Albuquerque Form Based Code (FBC) clarified these issues and resulted in the amended version of the code presented here.

The FBC contains prescriptive land use standards that constitute the building blocks for place-making in a variety of settings. These include rules for: 17 different, generally mixed-use Building Forms (e.g. Podium Apartments, Live-Work, Flex Building, Structured Parking); building Frontage Types (e.g. Shop Fronts, Forecourts, Portals / Arcades); Parking; Block Size; Streetscape; Materials; Lighting, and Signage.

In order to create viable places, the FBC is not applied on an isolated parcel basis. Rather it is necessary to utilize the code through area-wide planning processes that apply to neighborhoods, town centers, corridors, employment centers, and so forth. The place-based FBC zones include: Transit Oriented Development – Major Activity Center; Transit Oriented Development - Corridor / Community Activity Center; Planned Village Development – Greenfield (including separate standards for a Village Center, Urban Area, Suburban Area, and Fringe); Planned Village Development – Established area; Commercial Mixed-Use center; Campus; and Conservation Subdivision.

These zones are drafted to apply to both Greenfield and already developed area contexts. This redevelopment focus especially applies to the TOD– Corridor; Planned Village Development – Established area; Campus; and the Commercial Mixed-Use center zones. The new zones are designed to establish more complete, mixed-use places (e.g. adding housing to the commercial corridors, malls, and office centers), fostering pedestrian activity (e.g. commercial shop fronts, reducing traffic lane widths, expanding sidewalks), and re-establishing neighborhoods (e.g. through village centers, neighborhood schools, mixed uses including diverse housing types which support life-cycle changes).

The Albuquerque FBC adoption process went awry when the legislative sponsor focused on modifications so that it could be applied easily to development on individual parcels. Since this approach sought to avoid a lengthier process that allowed more public engagement and adjustment of the requirements, this led to diminishing the standards to a low common denominator.

Consequently, revisions were made here to the original draft FBC to clarify that it should only be applied through Sector (neighborhood), Corridor, or Center planning processes. This allows modification of the code specifics to be appropriate to context and encourages public participation. As such, the FBC is a tool kit that establishes a coherent, but not mandated, framework for area planning.

[Note: a revised draft version of the Albuquerque Form Based Code is provided here. Many of the elements of the original code were compromised in the adoption process and the adopted version should not be used as a model.]

Public Participation in Planning. Charrettes are much better than public meetings for involving residents in planning efforts. In the charrette process, sound plan alternatives are developed and presented to the community. But, more importantly, residents partner with planners and other technical advisors to guide the final plan. This collaboration overcomes the “us versus them” polarization that is an impediment to good results.

Highlighted here is the East Falls Church Transit Oriented Development Plan. The plan demonstrates the use of a charrette to engage residents (the East Falls Church Civic Association).

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Copyright 2005
Dr. Louis Colombo & Ken Balizer, AICP