What is Form-Based Code?

Form-Based Code (FBC) is a new method of approaching the codes and regulations that a city or community may have for their districts. Much like traditional codes, form-based codes are the agreed upon rules and regulations for a zoned district, often but not always a commercial district, in a city or a community. Not all cities have form based code though, but for those that do you’ll need to pay attention to your local rules and regulations as they may affect your building, your signage, and more.

How does Form-Based Code differ from Traditional Codes?

Traditional codes are designed on how a building is being used; whereas, form based code puts the form of a building before the function of a building. Form-based code has gained in popularity thanks to its perceived ability to handle unforeseen issues that traditional codes were not effectively taking care of.

Why do cities have Form-Based Code?

Most major cities have had codes and regulations for several decades now, ever since the advent of urban planning. This is to help regulate and maintain the look and style of a community. Form-Based Code itself however is fairly new and stands apart from previously existing city codes.

According to StrongTowns.org, “a form-based code puts the emphasis on making sure the buildings in a neighborhood are compatible with their surroundings, while letting the mix of actual activities in them be more eclectic. In contrast, conventional, or Euclidean, zoning code works like the game SimCity—the primary thing it regulates is allowable use, as well as the density or level of activity.”

Chattanooga Form-Based Code

Example of city’s form-based code

What are the pros and cons of Form-Based Code?

The advantages and disadvantages of form-based code, according to Mass.gov’s Smart Growth / Smart Energy Toolkit Modules – Form-Based Codes (FBCs), include:

Advantages of Form-Based Code:

  • Helps regulate development
  • Easier to predict results of FBC’s implentation
  • Simpler than convention zoning for non-professionals
  • Streamlines permitting and therefore saves time and money
  • Protects neighborhood property values

Disadvantages of Form-Based Code:

  • Tailored to the uniqueness of the community, therefore less standardized overall
  • New and therefore unfamiliar to many communities, developers, and municipal leaders
  • Concern of “urban”-first priorities
  • Potentially leads to gentrification

How might Form-Based Code affect my business?

Form-Based Code can affect everything from the character of the building you can build, to the size of the street it is on, and even the type and size of the signage you’re allowed to display.

Therefore before you develop your business, or purchase your sign, be sure to check that your developer or contractor knows 1) if your community has form-based code and 2) if so, if they can build to those specifications?

Where can I find my city’s Form-Based Codes, if they exists?

If your city has form-based code, then they will have an office whose job it is to oversee this code. Names may vary however “Land Development Office”, “Office of Planning”, “Planning and Zoning”, are some examples of what the office might be called in charge of codes, be it form based or otherwise.