Norman’s First High Density Development Meeting and Info About Form Based Codes

Kaye Beach

June 12, 2012

Last evening the City of Norman Oklahoma held its first community dialog on high density development. The issue is whether or not the City should codify high density development.  Presently, this issue is not addressed in any of the City’s planning documents.  A sudden spate of requests from developers for extremely high density (100 + dwelling units per acre) development is apparently what has brought this issue to the fore.

Attendees to last nights meeting were first given a presentation to inform us on the subject of high density development.  City planners were kind enough to put the presentation online.  You can access it here

The schedule for future meetings can be accessed here.

We were informed that future meetings would be facilitated and met the gentlemen who would be in charge of that task, Bob Thomas from the Xenia Institute, who gave us a few words of wisdom on the art of listening.

The presentation explains why the issue before the community, describes current use and density zoning, explains how density is figured, the pros and cons of high density development and defines terms like ‘infill development’ and ‘redevelopment’.  The presentation also touched on concepts like open space, sprawl, Smart Growth

and New Urbanism

accompanied by pictures depicting the various concepts covered.  Then the meeting moved to questions and answers.

Here is the ‘Pros and Cons’ of density slide.  It is obvious that really cool people are for it and only those whose imaginations run away from them are against it.

Seriously?   There are many pros and cons to this type of development.  When you are doing a power point, you have to just hit the bottom line.  The City of Norman thinks this is the bottom line in this issue.  Awesome people on one side,  jerks on the other.  If you oppose high density development you oppose “quality of life” for your city.  Jerk.

If I were to assign a theme to the questions asked I would say that generally people were curious about what the purpose high density development served.  For example, the first question asked was from a lady who wanted to know where she could find out what high density development was really about.  Another lady wanted to know were we discussing just one high density development or many.

One of the Norman City Council members, Carol Dillingham,  explained that the City currently has no zoning ordinances to accommodate high density development at all and that the purpose of these discussions is to determine whether or not we want this kind of development and if so what we want our ordinance to look like.  Councilwoman Dillingham assured the audience that the City Council has no preconceived notions on the issue.

Here is a write up on last night’s city meeting from the Norman Transcript;

June 12, 2012

High Density development community forum

Another article of interest, also from the Norman Transcript is one published on June 9, several days prior to the first meeting to discuss high density development.

And another article also published in the Norman Transcript on June 9, 2012;

Creating a vision for Norman’s future

When I first read this I was unsure as to what to make of it because it dives right into the notion of a “new vision” for our city before we have even begun the discussion.   This particular vision, emanating from Mr. Blair Humphreys, an urban designer and  the executive director for the Institute for Quality Communities,  is one of form based codes.

The presentation given to Norman residents last evening included information on Smart Growth and New Urbanism and one thing these two concepts of city planning has in common is the use of form based codes.

Norman City Planners would deny that they were setting us up to inplement Form Based Codes but things like this make me wonder . . .The Urban Land Institute explains that, “Good intentions must be backed up by good regulations such as Form-Based Coding,”  and they held a training event to teach people like Norman City Planner, Susan Connors, how to back up their good intentions with Form Based Codes.

(Click on the picture to see just how many Oklahoma officials have been educated on implementation of Form Based Codes.)

So,  what is a ‘form based code’ anyways?

According to Mr. Humphreys, “form-based codes are more effective in guiding a vision than traditional zoning and land use regulations.”

According to others, form based codes are a nightmare;

‘I thought that Forms Based Code was supposed to be an easy, simple alternative but this is a freaking nightmare.’ link

What is this small business owners beef? Well, the new form based code prohibits many of the building features of his business.  His business is grandfathered in under the city’s new form based codes but he knows that no future owner will buy his property should he wish to sell because it does not conform to the form based code requirements and would cost the new owner a fortune to bring into compliance.

With only a little research, the problems with form based code becomes evident.

This article covers some of the  problems with form based codes.  Here is another one – Form-based code is problem, not answer  And one more take on the issue.

Remember that zoning allows the municipality to use its police powers to exercise authority over privately owned property so we want to very careful about instituting any new zoning.

Form based code is prescriptive meaning that rather than telling property owners what they cannot do on or with their property (which is difficult enough to accept) they are told what they must do with their property.  The purpose of this sort of zoning is to speed up the transition into “sustainable” cities.  That means 3 story buildings built right up on the sidewalks,  retail on the bottom floor and residential on top, high density, low cars (and carbon),  walk-your-big-butt-around-in cities.  If you want more zoning hassles, less control over your property, less choices about your lifestyle and tighter buns-then form based codes are for you!

Achieving sustainability using form based codes (click on picture to see the powerpoint)

5 responses to “Norman’s First High Density Development Meeting and Info About Form Based Codes

  1. Well there you are. You can’t get much more Agenda 21, with all attached to it, than this. I would check to see if your city has a “Comprehensive Plan” 20?? that talks about infill and walkable / livable cities. If so, your council has bound the city to comply with this type of high density development. Zoning under these Comprehensive Plans has to adhere to the Plan. I’ll be interested to see what the outcome is on this. Thanks for posting.

  2. David Brooke

    Of course there is absolutely no need for this type of building in Norman as there is plenty of land and not a housing shortage. And what happens every May through August? Norman loses 15% of their population as OU is out. Danger Will Robinson, danger!

  3. Pingback: City of Norman’s Fifth Density Dialog Charade | AxXiom for Liberty

  4. I understand the concerns listed in this post, but I believe that many of them are addressed by the idea of the transect, which assigns a different density pattern to an area based on the existing context of a neighborhood or area of a city (zoned T-3 or T-4). The vast majority of Norman would still fall under a suburban context, and new development would just follow the older patterns of areas like Flood Avenue. The only areas that would require multi-level are the more dense areas of downtown.

    Further, just because we have ample land, does that mean that we should develop it? If our tax base is spread out, that means that every street, sidewalk, etc., gets fewer dollars spent on its upkeep. Would we rather have 100 spread out and minimally maintained streets, or 60 well connected and well maintained streets?

    Our current zoning is based around design only for automobiles. Form based codes may not be the perfect answer, but they do provide a means for supplying a variety of development options (including rural, suburban, etc.) while limiting sprawl. I think that the issues cited above may also stem from improper implementation of the form-based codes. Either way, it is very possible address these issues before implementing form based codes and still move away from strict use-based zoning that results in massive subdivisions and gridlocked streets.

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