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Performance-based zoning: U.S. cities starting to loosen zoning regulations

More flexibility given in land use requirements

August 21, 2014 |

Driven by New Urbanism, more than two dozen communities in the U.S. have loosened zoning restrictions in recent years. Cities are opting to use form-based codes, a concept less concerned with the use of buildings and more with their appearance and the way they relate to each other.

The goal of city planners is to shape the streetscape according to a vision for a neighborhood. The new approach has been called “performance-based zoning.” An example is a large development in Fremont, Calif., where the city council changed its approach to zoning on a nearly 900-acre development adjacent to a light rail station.

Planners started with several goals—a certain number of jobs, a certain number of homes including affordable homes, and strict standards for a low carbon footprint. The developers were allowed to design the project as they saw fit as long as they could achieve those goals.

The performance-based approach is contrary to the principle of separation of uses that led to color-coded zoning maps pinned up in most town halls. According to the old philosophy, ach zone had its own designated use: residential, commercial, or industrial. This method is increasingly seen as inappropriate for urban development—especially infill, downtown, and transit-oriented projects.


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