Form Based Code is a cutting-edge zoning district tool for regulating development in a way that helps realize a community’s vision for a specific area. In Columbia Pike, we’re using Form Based Codes to transform the Pike into a walkable community anchored by a lively “Main Street” that is lined with restaurants, businesses and attractive public spaces, while preserving housing options for residents with a mix of incomes. The revitalized Pike will accommodate more people and higher density development.
It’s a win-win for developers and the community. The Form Based Code provides an attractive option for developers because it typically allows for more density and gives them an alternative to the regulations included in the existing zoning districts. It may also provide an alternative to the more intensive and expensive site plan review process, should a property owner choose to request land use plan changes and rezoning and site plan applications. Developers benefit from financial incentives and a faster, more streamlined approval process. Developers’ confidence also gets a boost from the predictable form-driven zoning requirements. Altogether, the community and the County benefit from managed growth and public improvements that are aligned with their vision for the future.
How it Works
While conventional zoning focuses on separating land uses – such as residential, commercial and industrial – it does little to encourage an integrated approach to development. Form Based Codes help regulate land development by setting careful and clear controls on building form, rather than focusing strictly on types of land use. It’s similar to the urban design guidelines we have for many of Arlington’s planning areas, except Form Based Codes are regulatory in nature.
Here’s how it works in Columbia Pike. Through an extensive community-based process, we created plans to guide future commercial and residential development. The County Board then adopted two Form Based Codes that apply to development in commercial centers and the surrounding multi-family residential areas. They will be used to help achieve the community goals outlined in the Neighborhoods Area Plan. To accomplish this, our Form Based Codes clearly define and illustrate requirements for building heights, building and parking placement, historic facades, windows, balconies and other architectural features, as well as standards for public sidewalks, street trees, parking and parks, civic greens and town squares. Affordable units and energy-efficient buildings are also requirements of the Neighborhoods Form Based Code.
The Pike is one of Arlington’s planning corridors that’s targeted for denser development than exists today. However, the community wanted something different than the high-rise developments that characterize the Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor. Instead, the plans endorsed by community stakeholders call for mid-rise, mixed-use buildings with up to six stories along the Pike frontage, and lower buildings to ease heights into the adjacent neighborhoods. Taller heights, some up to 10-, 12- and 14-stories are possible in the east and western ends of the Pike as allowed by the Neighborhoods Form Based Code. Preservation of two large and important examples of Arlington’s garden apartment heritage is envisioned in the heart of Columbia Pike.
Although our Form Based Code is optional, many developers have already opted to use it to complete new projects along Columbia Pike. During the first 12 years since the commercial centers Form Based Code was adopted, developers have added over 1,600 residential units (of which 200 were committed affordable to residents earning up to 60 percent of AMI), more than 210,000 square-feet of commercial space, a 52,300 square-foot community center, public plaza and new supermarket. Recently approved projects are currently under construction throughout the corridor. Several new projects have just been approved under the Neighborhoods Form Based Code adding 229 affordable rental units, 73 ownership units (6 of which are also affordable) and a public mini-park.
FBC Advisory Working Group
The Form Based Code Advisory Working Group is comprised of community members, architects and representatives of the Planning Commission and Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization (CPRO). They meet regularly with County staff to review development proposals and proposed amendments to each Code. This advisory group was created by the County Manager to ensure success with the Form Based Codes, to provide clear direction for implementing the vision and plan for Columbia Pike.