Form-Based Code project: Background
The King County Form-Based Code project is being conducted within a larger movement to rethink and modernize traditional, or Euclidean, zoning.
The historical focus of traditional zoning on segregation of land uses is increasingly being considered outdated and a hindrance to creating walkable communities that feature a mix of uses and destinations. The desirability of auto-dependent and land consuming sprawl is being reconsidered in light of climate change, rural land preservation, and rising oil prices.
A growing body of studies, including King County's Healthscape and the Equity and Social Justice Initiative, has documented and increased awareness of the effects the built environment can have on physical and social health.
In response to these and other issues, land use and zoning practitioners have developed alternatives to traditional zoning codes. One of these alternatives is the Form-Based Code. Whether specifically titled or sharing the general characteristics of a Form-Based Code, this type of code focuses on the form of buildings and its influence on the public space over land use. First created for private developments, codes that can be generally be considered 'form-based' have since been used by counties and cities as a way to encourage walkable and mixed-use neighborhoods.
The King County Form-Based Code project will develop and examine the feasibility of replacing the current zoning code with a Form-Based Code on two demonstration areas. For more information on the issues behind and the potential benefits of the King County-Form Based Code, please see the King County Form-Based Code White Paper, in PDF* (16KB) or MS Word* (47KB).
The early creation and development of the Form-Based Code was done by members of the New Urbanism movement as a way to overcome the failures of traditional zoning. Form-Based and related codes were a way to establish and codify their belief in walkable neighborhoods that contained a range of uses and housing types. This urban focus has meant these codes have been predominately used in cities and towns, either in part or whole, and have been rarely applied in rural areas.
King County's Form-Based Code project is unique in its intention to draft a code that serves the rural area as effectively as the urban. If expanded beyond the two demonstration areas, the new code must be applicable for areas ranging from the densely urban White Center to the Rural Area in eastern King County. A tool that allows for this transition that has been adapted to Form-Based zoning is the transect.
Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company
Developed by Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company for their SmartCode, the transect regulates development based on where a property falls on the rural to urban continuum. This allows one code document to consider the unique characteristics, regulations and desired outcomes for each area within the transect. Additionally, land uses that fall outside of this transitional spectrum, such as industrial, can be placed in a special district that provides the ability to draft specific regulations.
The SmartCode itself is a freeware template Form-Based Code. Built upon the transect and codifying Form-Based Code concepts and objectives, the SmartCode is developed to serve as a model code that is then calibrated locally. As with other Form-Based Codes, the SmartCode is concise and extensively uses graphics and matrixes.
Additional information on the SmartCode, including the latest version of the template code and its use of the transect, can be found at SmartCode Central (external link).
To request this information in alternate formats for people with disabilities, call 206-296-6600 or TTY Relay: 711.