2007-06-14 / Front Page

Form-based zoning under consideration

By Michaela Kennedy

The Planning Commission offered a workshop last week on zoning ordinance reforms that will affect the future face of the village. An introduction to form-based zoning codes attracted participants to the June 6 meeting, held in cooperation with the Town Council, zoning board, and members of the Chamber of Commerce.

Sandy Sorlein, planning consultant and summer resident for 54 years, gave a presentation about form-based and transect-based zoning designs to an audience of 60 or so at the library. Sorlein, from Philadelphia, is a nationally recognized consultant who has recently helped to reconstruct communities in Louisiana and Florida that were devastated by hurricanes.

Town Planner Lisa Bryer noted that Jamestown is under a state mandate to update the zoning ordinance. She mentioned the high number of building permits that the town continues to issue, and reminded everyone that all development is regulated by zoning laws. Bryer also noted that the town planned to hire a consultant to help write the updates. "The focus is downtown because it is under the highest risk for change," she said.

Conventional zoning regulations are mostly based on land use, according to the planner.

Planning Commission Chairman Gary Girard welcomed the speaker and participants. He urged all residents to join in the discussion of the upcoming zoning changes.

Transect-based codes, a type of form-based codes, limit density to maintain a relatively rural character, and allow walkable streets. Sorlein introduced SmartCode, a commercial template for customizing neighborhood design. She showed pictures of general formbased and transect-based codes she has worked with in the South. The examples compared urban sprawl, with few pedestrian-friendly zones, to transect-based designs, which apply to nature, animals, and their habitat. A transect-code organizes a region into categories, from rural to urban style. "Humans have different habitats as well," she added.

A transect of a section of Hawaii was reviewed, showing heavier development towards the sea. Examples of various zones from Philadelphia, conventional and form-based, were also viewed.

"To use the transect and apply it to places, it needs to be systemized into zones," Sorlein said. "The code gets customized to what your range of habitats is."

Transect-based codes regulate both form and function. The speaker personalized the concept by pointing out examples of architecture in the village. She stressed that Jamestown has changed relatively little as compared to other parts of the country and has maintained its rural character. "You really notice the changes when you come here only in the summer," she said. "What we can see, the views are so precious. Everyone is within walking distance of the beach. Views belong to everyone."

Sorlein brought up some questions about building height and street setbacks that sparked murmurs from the audience. She noted that, where most zoning codes list only height, developers try to squeeze in as many stories as they can. "Limits expressed in stories allow for better proportions and varied rooflines," she explained.

"Are deep setbacks suburbanizing a village?" she went on. "If you value having this looseness, watch out for unintended consequences." Examples of private frontage that affect the public realm were shown, such as the lack of sidewalks in older sections of Jamestown. "Be careful of the degrading of a habitat you are used to," she warned.

After the presentation, the participants went on a walking tour of the downtown area with the consultant. On the tour, participants shared questions and ideas about form- and transect-based coding and how it could be adopted to aid downtown development.

When asked how towns who adopt form-based zoning deal with development projects in progress, Sorlein admitted that adopting the codes is a long process. "One option is to put a moratorium on new projects until the code is adopted," she suggested.

For more information about the SmartCode model design, visit online at www.smartcodefiles.org.

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