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A form-based code implemented in the city of Sarasota could bring a new urbanist, mixed-use project to the area between downtown Sarasota, where a controversial condo project and a Walmart were both proposed — but never built.
It could also draw an ambitious map for redevelopment in the Rosemary District.
And, it could re-envision growth on the North Trail.
These all are possibilities city leaders hope could be the result of a two-and-a-half year comprehensive reworking of the city’s zoning and development code into a form-based code.
In a unanimous vote Monday, June 17, city commissioners approved a strategic plan and funding to develop the new code.
But, what exactly will this new development map and future developments that follow its code, look like?
City officials say that will be hashed out during the planning process that will cost $900,000.
“We have a ways to go,” said Tim Litchet, the city’s director of neighborhoods and development.
But one thing is clear: the impact will be wide-reaching.
The new code will be designed to give developers and residents more predictability when it comes to new developments. City Manager Tom Barwin called it a “rare opportunity” for the city to refresh its image for the future.
“It will have a huge impact on what our community looks like over the next 25 years,” Barwin said.
With a new code in place, Sarasota would join cities, such as Santa Ana, Calif.; Flagstaff, Ariz.; Gulfport, Miss.; downtown Peoria, Ill.; downtown Benicia, Calif.; Miami; Seaside; and just to the north, Bradenton.
Flagstaff’s size and demographics makes it similar to Sarasota for planning purposes, and it is largely built out, Litchet said. In 2011, Flagstaff adopted a form-based code for the city’s downtown and neighboring historic districts.
“It’s working for them,” Litchet said.
According to the Form-Based Codes Institute, city officials in the Arizona city of 60,000, embarked on a comprehensive rewrite of its zoning regulations, after realizing they were complicated, hard to administer and promoted sprawl development. Although the code allowed more compact development that supported local businesses, city leaders also wanted to conserve open space.
In Santa Ana, Calif., a form-based code, approved in 2010, presented architectural standards and buildings types that the community wanted to see built in the future, according to the Form-Based Code Institute.
“It is a relatively new idea as far as zoning,” Litchet said. “But, there are a lot of communities adopting a form-based code, or hybrid of a form-based code.”
Litchet noted that in several cities that have adopted these type of plans, residents have reacted favorably to new developments.
Andres Duany, who helped author Sarasota’s Downtown Master Plan in 2000, has been at the forefront of form-based code design. He implemented the first form-based code in 1979, in Seaside.
The planner, who was in Sarasota this week, said any form-based code in Sarasota should look at the areas bordering Main Street and how to bring in redevelopment.
“About one third of your downtown is excellent,” Duany said, and the other two-thirds is ripe for redevelopment and new projects.
Duany said each city’s form-based code should be “locally calibrated,” and he likes the idea of Sarasota’s model of having an Urban Design Studio for officials to get public input on the plan.
That studio will be set up at the Federal Building, 111 S. Orange Ave., where residents can view the planning process and give comments. The city will hire Karin Murphy, a former redevelopment specialist with the city of Sarasota, and Andrew Georgiadis, a town planner and guest design critic at the University of Miami School of Architecture, as full-time consultants who will work out of the design studio.
Currently, Sarasota has 42 separate zoning districts throughout the city.
A form-based code would establish a set of “transects” or areas of different building height, scale and design, ranging from more compact, urban development downtown, to less compact development in suburban areas.
One challenge is to draw the new code so it meets neighborhood desires for compatibility, while also encouraging redevelopment. According to Litchet, the code must be written in a way that does not impact property owner rights.
“It should offer incentives and tools for property owners to do a project a certain way,” Litchet said.
A form-based plan shows building types and options. For example, such a plan would show a property owner “how the frontage could look,” Litchet said.
Commissioner Susan Chapman said she is a proponent of the new code, but has some concerns.
“One of those concerns is the criticism that a form-based code works better in undeveloped areas,” Chapman said.
Chapman says a new development code could address problems in areas such as the Ringling Shopping Center, between downtown and the Gardens of Ringling Park neighborhood, where a Walmart was proposed, approved and successfully appealed.
“Hopefully this can end border wars in these transitional areas between more commercial areas and neighborhoods,” Chapman said.
A form-based code would specify the density, mass, height, scale and design of projects in a certain area, providing what Chapman calls a “more objective” way of regulating what is allowed.
For example, she has heard from residents who would like to see a development similar in scale to Citrus Square, constructed on Orange Avenue in the Rosemary District; built at the site of the Ringling Walmart proposal; or on a nearby vacant parcel once slated for condo units.
Chapman said she wants to see the new code written in phases — starting with the neighborhoods just outside downtown, such as the Rosemary District, Gillespie Park and Park East.
“These areas are prime for redevelopment,” Chapman said.
The next important phase would be work on the North Trail and South Tamiami Trail, Chapman said.