Adapted from comments to the Albemarle County Architectural Review Board (ARB) Monday September 16, 2019.
By. Neil Williamson, President
As Albemarle County wrestles with developing a form based code (FBC) to implement the Rio and 29 Small Area Plan, a fundamental question remains: If the form is dictated by code, will the ARB willingly vote itself out of the approval process?
Proponents of FBC believe the rather specific code standards (build to lines, building massing, street design, etc.), which will presumably be vetted with the ARB, should provide ample guidance for any development. The ARB would be irrelevant because in many cases to make changes could violate the FBC. Applicants could move projects forward faster, with more certainty.
Opponents of the concept believe this could be the start of the end of the ARB.
www.Plannersweb.com explains the differences between FBC and traditional zoning:
Form-based codes differ considerably from conventional zoning, but they are still zoning.
They divide a community into different districts based on the character and intensity of land development, as well as the desired urban form. They are based upon a shared vision of the kind of place the community desires, not on separating a community into different use areas.
All land development regulations that regulate private land are adopted by local governments under the authority of state laws generally referred to as “zoning enabling acts.” 1 Form-based codes are zoning, but they are also more than zoning. They also regulate things that are not typically part of zoning, such as the design of streets, sidewalks, and other public spaces. These parts of the “public realm” are generally in public ownership and are usually regulated through such tools as public works manuals and subdivision regulations.
Form-based codes recognize that all of these pieces of our fragmented land use regulatory system (zoning, subdivision, and public works) are interrelated. As a result, FBCs put the regulations together in one place where their relationships are illustrated and easy to understand.
The Free Enterprise Forum has great respect for the members of the ARB. Filled with design and development professionals, the ARB is charged with fairly implementing rather fuzzy design guidelines that leave a great deal to interpretation.
Today, I am asking the members of the ARB to weigh in – would you potentially vote to eliminate ARB review of projects with Form Based Code zoning overlay?
If you chose not to answer today, the Free Enterprise Forum respectfully asks that you place this item on a future meeting agenda.
We believe the ARB is the place to start this discussion, we understand it is ultimately up to the Planning Commission and finally the Board of Supervisors to implement the code but we believe the voice of the design and development professionals should be heard early in this process.
For the Form Based Code to work we believe the type of development the community has determined it wants, should be the easiest to build and that would preclude ARB review – I hope you will make the brave vote to make the ARB extinct (in FBC zones).
Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and Nelson County.
Photo Credit: GIPHY