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Downtown: Concord takes a visual stance on zoning

  • Code Studio’s recent form-based code system for Chattanooga, Tenn., is shown. Concord is embarking on a two-year process to create its own form-based coding. Courtesy of Code Studio

  • Code Studio’s recent form-based code system for Chattanooga, Tenn., is shown. The company is consulting with Concord to help the city create its own form-based coding. Courtesy of Code Studio

  • Code Studio’s recent form-based code system for Chattanooga, Tenn., is shown. Concord is embarking on a two-year process to create its own form-based coding. Courtesy of Code Studio



Monitor staff
Sunday, January 28, 2018

Change is coming to the Capital City.

You might not notice it right away, because the changes won’t take the form of a new restaurant on Main Street, an additional charge on your tax bill or a detour on your way to work.

No, these changes will be much more subtle, but they’ll be shaping the way Concord looks for years to come.

Right now, all these changes are just in the pen-and-paper stage, but for city staff, they represent months of hard work and feedback on what needs to happen to move the city forward.

The changes – which deal with everything from zoning to solar farms, conservation and Main Street best practices – will all be discussed next month. The Monitor will be taking a look at them as they come up.

A new way of looking at things

Have you ever looked at a feature of your neighbor’s house – say, a porch or a shed – and thought, “I’d like one of those for myself,” only to have to go through the Zoning Board of Adjustment’s variance process?

Well, in two years’ time, you might be able to just build that porch.

Next week, the city is embarking on a two-year journey to develop its own form-based code system.

Whereas typical zoning divvies up a municipality by separation of uses, form-based coding takes a more on-the-ground approach.

“Form-based coding looks more at the character of a place as a way to regulate,” said Concord City Planner Heather Shank. “It uses existing development as a template.”

Shank said form-based coding can be prescriptive in the sense that it can provide a visual aid for what type of use is allowed in district. It won’t replace the current zoning ordinances, which are very text-heavy; it will be used in conjunction with them, offering pictures and tables as a guide.

Think again about the hypothetical porch: Many areas of the city that used to be single-family residences have been converted into apartments, and exist on lots that would be nonconforming today if they hadn’t been grandfathered into the current zoning. Because of setback requirements and other current zoning regulations, if your neighbor has a porch but you don’t, you’d have to get a variance first.

With form-based coding, you wouldn’t have to, Shank said.

“One of the reasons we’re doing this is it’s intended to solve a problem the average person who is doing residential development faces, which is that they often need so many variances to do something simple,” she said. “A lot of the (city’s) properties are nonconforming.”

Form-based coding also takes into account “public standards” that already exist in an area, like the height of buildings, frontage, architectural features and the presence of green spaces. If you live in an area that’s more suburban – think low-density, low-rise buildings on large blocks – form-based coding provides a visual standard for any new development that may be looking to come in.

But that all depends on what the neighborhood wants its future to look like, Shank said, and it’s a big reason why the form-based coding process is going to take two years. The consultant, Code Studio, will be making periodic visits to the city, and will interview city stakeholders – from residents and neighborhood representatives to city staff and business owners – on what works and what does not.

They’ll first be looking at residential areas near downtown before turning their attention to the performance district regions, Shank said. The kick-off meeting is 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 7 in city council chambers. All are welcome to attend.

(Caitlin Andrews can be reached at 369-3309, candrews@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @ActualCAndrews.)