The Propelling Downtown Forward Master Plan, adopted in August 2017 by the City of Fort Smith, is continuing the downtown vision for a more walk-able, pedestrian-friendly downtown that supports quality of place, real estate development, infrastructure, place making, job creation and arts and culture. One of the key implementation recommendations arising from the plan was the adoption of a form-based code (FBC) for the downtown area that supported reinvestment into downtown while preserving the character of the neighborhoods and existing businesses.
Propelling Downtown Forward identified character areas for downtown’s life and business to build on Fort Smith’s authentic history, today’s commerce and tomorrow’ potential. These character areas act as a living “map” of how the community could build on the promise of Downtown. The resulting growth of downtown as a place of connected neighborhoods will support the vision for:
• Places and Corridors for Reinvestment
• Sustainable connections between the Arkansas River and Downtown
• An alignment of the marketplace and public policy
• A connection system for people bringing together walking, cycling, transit, driving, parking and trucking
• Leveraging the U.S. Marshals Museum and other key downtown destinations, such as the hostoric Belle Grove District and Convention Center
Propelling Downtown Forward and the focus on downtown revitalization was also identified as a priority during the City’s comprehensive planning process and ensuing document, Future Fort Smith. These guiding regulatory documents reinforce the need to create a form-based code for downtown in order to allow high quality development that sets adjacency predictability and pedestrian-realm priorities, while streamlining existing City processes in coordination with the CBID. This will streamline the current downtown zoning and design standards by combining them into one document.
Over the next few months, the community will be able to follow along and review these recommendations and provide feedback and input as the process moves forward. The FAQ’s below have been crafted to identify the most common questions people typically have when it comes to form-based codes and it is anticipated more will arise and the community will be given the opportunity to ask those questions.
To review the Propelling Downtown Forward Master Plan, please go HERE.
To review the Future Fort Smith Comprehensive Plan, please go HERE.
FORM-BASED CODE (FBC) FAQs
Question: Why is the FBC important to implement the vision of Propelling Downtown Forward?
Answer: Downtown Fort Smith has seen the beginning of a transformation and that transformation is going to continue with the construction of the U.S. Marshals Museum, the successes The Unexpected and 64.6 Downtown, and as well as the adoption of the Comprehensive Plan and Propelling Downtown Forward. As part of the vision established in the downtown master plan, the form-based code is a next step to continuing that success and ensuring a vision is put in place for development moving forward. A strong mix of uses and transitions between the character areas will create a functional downtown that encourages redevelopment, local investment and high-quality standards.
Question: What is a Form-Based Code?
Answer: The Form-Based Code Institute defines an FBC as:
“A form-based code is a land development regulation that fosters predictable built results and a high-quality public realm by using physical form (rather than separation of uses) as the organizing principle for the code. A form-based code is a regulation, not a mere guideline, adopted into city, town, or county law. A form-based code offers a powerful alternative to conventional zoning regulation.”
In other words, a FBC regulates development that controls building form first, and building use second, with the purpose of achieving a particular type of “place” or built environment based on a community vision. The main purpose of the FBC is to create inviting and comfortable public spaces, including streets, sidewalks, plazas, public squares and other places where people gather outdoors. Because a FBC also functions as zoning, it regulates land uses and the placement of buildings on lots. FBCs identify geographic areas, called “Character Areas,” that are based not solely on uses, but on desired community outcomes, land use intensities and the built form.
To explore more information about Form-Based Codes visit: www.formbasecodes.org
Question: Why not use regular zoning?
Answer: Conventional use-based zoning is best suited to regulate typical suburban-type development and is not appropriate for historic downtowns or new infill development that is frequently being built in downtown core areas. Many towns and cities are also realizing that their current use-based zoning ordinances would not allow them to rebuild their historic centers and neighborhoods.
Question: Does a form-based code affect anything other than buildings or uses?
Answer: No. A form-based code does not change other regulations such as building or fire codes, which are regulated by different codes.
Question: Will I have to move my home or structures or change my use or business?
Answer: No. Structures and/or uses which do not conform to the regulations of the FBC shall be deemed nonconforming/grandfathered and can continue to operate as they do today.
Question: What is the process for drafting the Form-Based Code?
Answer: The Gateway Planning Team, who worked with the Fort Smith community and City Staff to craft Propelling Downtown Forward, is working with the City and stakeholders to draft a form-based code for downtown. This process is just beginning and the community will be given multiple opportunities to review the
recommendations before the adoption process begins.
Question: How will this affect current property owners?
Answer: Current property owners will be grandfathered in to the form-based code and any uses or structures they have on their property currently can remain as they are today.
Question: Does the Form-Based Code influence traffic or transportation policies?
Answer: No. The Form-Based Code does not address any traffic or transportation policies that are in place today, including truck routes or future transportation improvements.
For more information regarding the Form-Based Code or Propelling Downtown Forward visit the project website at http://www.fortsmithar.gov/index.php/future-fortsmith or contact:
Kelsey Berry, Gateway Planning, firstname.lastname@example.org