Search This Blog (A.K.A. "I Dote On...")

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Form-Based Zoning Coming to (Part of) St. Louis

In the 1920s, the town of Euclid, Ohio set up a rudimentary zoning code that drew the ire of some well-off local landowners. These individuals believed the city's attempt to restrict the use of their land constituted a "taking" and, moreover, was unconstitutional. The resulting landmark Euclid v. Ambler Realty Co. Supreme Court case would, surprisingly, declare zoning not only constitutional, but necessary.

This is where the name "Euclidian" zoning arises. Euclidian zoning entails neat separation of land uses. "Mixed-use" properties, combining residential, office, and retail perhaps, would not be allowed under a strict Euclidian zoning code.

Most planners today realize the utility of zoning but lament the modernist interpretation of zoning represented by the Euclidian manner. Corner stores, live-work units, even clean industry surrounding housing--all have gained acceptance as essential parts of a varied, diverse urban fabric. Recently, urban planners have been looking for a way to regulate land that does not stifle the way cities were meant to work.

Enter Form-Based Zoning.

Rather than merely regulate the uses of structures, form-based zoning looks at the appropriateness of scale, design, height, etc. to the urban environment. It's a relatively new concept, pioneered by New Urbanists like Andres Duany, and has been applied in a few cities now (Petaluma, California was one of the first).

Now, St. Louis may be jumping in on the game.

Central West End Midtown Development is nearly finished with its form-based zoning code for its service area--the southern portion of the Central West End and parts of Midtown. Read more at the Washington University Medical Center Redevelopment Corp.'s blog.

Some nuggets from that blog post:

The proposal will be implemented in three phases:
1. The Building Envelope Standards (to regulate the physical form of the area)
2. General Design Standards (to preserve and create the appropriate urban experience)
3. Sustainable Building Standards (to incentivise various levels of green development)

Here is an excerpt from the Building Envelope plan (click to enlarge):

I think this is a wonderful effort for the Central West End, Midtown, and St. Louis. I will be eager to see more of the details, such as how design is to be regulated, but this seems like a good start.

If I had one major criticism, it would be, of course, the parking. Requiring one off-street parking space per residential unit seems a little high for a truly urban neighborhood like the Central West End. It might make more sense to make one space the maximum allowed parking rather than the minimum. I am also wondering what strategy neighborhood residents chose to pursue: the modified existing envelope or the contextual envelope. The former would have allowed for more high-intensity development, especially on Lindell, Forest Park, and Vandeventer. The latter would be more cautious and preservation-minded, keeping almost all historic structures and preserving the scale of neighborhoods as they are today.

The form-based code should certainly block, say, a CVS from tearing down a group of buildings for a suburban store with a drive-through (which, of course, almost happened). It should also not allow for the rebuilding of McDonalds and Arby's in their usual forms, which already did happen.

This code should be strong and urban, solidifying the Central West End/Midtown as St. Louis's most urban experience. I am definitely eager to see the final product.


Mark Groth said...

Great post. Thanks for the background on Euclidian zoning.

Fashion STL Style!

Fashion STL Style!
St. Louis Gives You the Shirt Off of Its Own Back!

Next American City

Next American City
Your Go-To Source for Urban Affairs

Join the StreetsBlog Network!

Join the StreetsBlog Network!
Your Source for Livable Streets

Trust in Rust!

Trust in Rust!
News from the Rustbelt

Dotage St. Louis -- Blogging the St. Louis Built Environment Since 2008

Topics: Historic Preservation, Politics and Government, Development, Architecture, Urban Planning, Urban Design, Local Business, Crime and Safety, Neighborhoods, and Anything Else Relating to Making St. Louis a Better City!