John Candy, Bill Murray, and Form Based Codes

By. Neil Williamson, President

Could the proposed form based codes for Charlottesville and Albemarle perform better by doing less?

One of the core concepts in the 1981 classic movie “Stripes” is that anyone can be transformed into a “lean, mean, fighting machine”.

Is the same true for Zoning Codes?

Could they be more successful if they tried to regulate fewer things?

David Williams recently shared in the Market Urbanism Report Facebook group a Center for New Urbanism article Texas city adopts street grid and code.  Considering our region’s affection for the Austin region, one would think these changes could be instructive to our zoning reform efforts.

David wrote:

New, lean code deals with flooding issues and fiscal sustainability for fast-growing historic city in the Austin area.

The new code is very lean—based on the rural-to-urban Transect, it does not regulate uses, only nuisances. The thinking is that if the use creates no problem, why regulate it? There are no minimum lot dimensions or parking requirements. Shared parking is encouraged. Every lot is automatically allowed to have two accessory units. So, rather than the continuing the single-family zoning that is fiscally unsustainable as a dominant pattern, every lot can have three units. Emphasis added – NW

What if we focused our regulatory energy on those things that matter an ignore those things that don’t.  In many ways we see Albemarle’s approach to Form Based Code in the Rio+29 Small Area, with its optional overlay, to be headed in this general direction.

The Free Enterprise Forum fears Charlottesville’s mandatory Form Based Code for the Strategic Investment Area may demand so much that it precludes the very development it was to have been designed to encourage.

Perhaps architect and furniture designer Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe (1886-1969), one of the founders of modern architecture and a proponent of simplicity of style, had it right when he said,

Well, less is more, Lucrezia.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President


20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded non partisan public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and  Nelson County.  For more information visit the website

Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures

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