Form Based Zoning Primer

Neighborhoods and Developers agree, but City Staff does not.   
Where are the hundreds of thousands of people slated to move into the Dallas area over the next 25 years going to live?  Up until now, the approach has been to build new housing developments at the growing edges of the city.  While shopping and schools generally followed, automobile travel was a necessity.  Now, the edges of town are further away.  Commutes grow longer and more expensive.  And lots more people are coming. With the at least two potential redevelopment sites on Greenville Ave, the Arcadia site and the Whole Foods site, this matter is of great importance to our neighborhood.

  Enter the concept of form-based zoning.  Looking on-line, you will see this to be an established movement amongst planners, business-owners, and neighborhoods nationwide.  Here is Dallas, where forwardDallas! has mandated the creation of new types of zoning categories to creatively deal with population expansion, representatives of neighborhood organizations, such as the Dallas Homeowners League, and preservation groups such as Preservation Dallas, have joined with developers to create a form-based zoning plan for Dallas.  This plan has now passed muster with the Advisory Council and the City Plan Commission.  But City Staff have made recommendations to change many of the most fundamental concepts of this zoning plan. Dallas’ neighborhood and developer consensus version of form-based zoning, provides for areas of between 25 to 40 acres to be developed in a dense and well-planned mix of residences, storefronts, businesses.  With the emphasis on “walkability”, the central concept is to reduce and/or eliminate the need for the automobile in satisfying the needs of everyday life.  Current illustrations of these ideas in Dallas are Mockingbird Station and West Village.  Storefronts at street level with businesses and residences above are situated in immediate proximity to mass transit.  While parking exists, its need is reduced because patronage of the area comes from within the area.  Walking, not driving, does the trick.   But plopping down a 25 to 40 acre development in the midst of the city could create real mismatches.  This is why the consensus plan before the City Council provides for transition areas buffering established neighborhoods from form-based developments.  This transition depends on the already existing requirement for “residential proximity slope”.  RPS stipulates that for each foot in height of a commercial building, that building must be at least three feet away from the closest single family zoned area.  Example:  a 45 foot tall building must be 135 feet from a home.  A further feature of the transition zone is a requirement that a buffer of at least ½ block exist of single-family homes, duplexes, and townhouses between the established neighborhood and the new zoning area. City Staff recommendations include the elimination of the 25 to 40 acre stipulation, establishing a 100 foot maximum required transition buffer between single family zoning and form-based zoned type of development, and the use of Height Map Overlays as an alternative to Residential Proximity Slope.  Implications of these changes are for smaller form-based zoned areas, much smaller areas of transition buffering residential neighborhoods from these planned developments, and the potential of extremely tall developments 100 feet away from single family zoning.  The shortest maximum height for a development is 3 ½ stories, or 50 feet, or approximately the same height allowed by residential proximity slope.  However, the maximum height allowed in this plan is 600 feet.