Wednesday, September 15, 2004


"Front-loading the planning process" for the developers

"Front-loading the community planning process with public input on specifically how structures and streetscapes will look and fit with surrounding development helps developers and citizens know what to expect in a finished project and lessens the need for heavy-handed design review board action, according to Laura Hall of Santa Rosa-based urban planning firm Fisher & Hall.

The goals are less public resistance to projects and reduced developer uncertainty of planning process outcomes. 'Instead of torturing developers one parcel at a time, why not do it all at one time?' Ms. Hall asks rhetorically."

Hall is probably best known for her long-standing support of the private project to reunify Courthouse Square in Downtown Santa Rosa. In this case, she's talking about a bill local Assemblywoman Pat Wiggins authored, and Governor Schwarzenegger signed in July.

Wiggins' bill aims to make life easier for developers, by allowing cities to pre-approve design plans for substantial areas, rather than project-by-project. The North Bay Business Journal reported Monday (9/13, "Schwarzenegger legalizes 'New Urbanism'"),

"Newly signed state legislation provides legal footing for 'New Urbanism' land-use planning paradigms that are increasingly popular in North Bay cities and statewide, according to the bill's supporters. Proponents hope adoption will reduce project redesign, speed approvals, and ease public concerns regarding impact on the community.

Assembly Bill 1268 by Assemblywoman Patricia Wiggins (D-Santa Rosa) authorizes local governments to include in their long-range planning documents specific 'community intentions regarding urban form and design.'

According to the final version of the legislation signed by Governor Schwarzenegger in late July, 'these expressions may differentiate neighborhoods, districts, and corridors; provide for a mixture of land uses and housing types within each; and provide specific measures for regulating relationships between buildings, and between buildings and outdoor public areas, including streets.' "

The purpose of Wiggins' bill is to legitimize "form-based code" within the context of California general plan law:

"Paul Crawford of San Luis Obispo-based Crawford Multari & Clark says AB 1268, which he helped rewrite to authorize form-based code, was a necessary first step in allaying the concerns of municipal attorneys. His firm developed language used in form-based codes for Sonoma and downtown Petaluma and is finishing proposed zoning for Cotati for anticipated adoption this fall.

'Until now, there has been some uncertainty about what approach a local government can pursue without having legal repercussions and going out on limb from state government code,' he says. 'California law has great detail on construction of general plans and talks explicitly about how land-use diagrams need to show location and type of land uses. There has always been a gray area of doubt if the mapping of communities, districts, or corridors is on solid legal ground.'

Wiggins' office was concerned about Petaluma's form-based plan:

"Petaluma community development director Mike Moore says he wasn't aware of potential legal issues with form-based planning until a few months ago, when staffers for Ms. Wiggins and other legislators inquired about any legal problems since adoption of the form-based Central Petaluma Specific Plan last year. Also, he says no legal quandaries arose when he helped to craft Sonoma's code."

Hall says the goals are greater certainty of approval for developers, and less public resistance to projects. Wiggins' original bill apparently was less supportive, so Crawford helped make it more developer-friendly:

"AB 1268 originally would have directed local governments statewide to adopt North Bay-esque long-range planning policies such as inclusionary zoning and 'growth zones' to manage growth of urban areas. However, strong opposition from construction and real estate groups led the author to defang the bill.

California Business Industry Association past president Harry Elliott had called the legislation a 'No. 1 Dream Killer,' claiming the growth-control measures would make homes prohibitively expensive by constricting the supply of land available for development and shifting the cost of affordable homes for low-income families to buyers of market-price dwellings."

Laura Hall is a prominent local proponent of the New Urbanism. Jeff Quackenbush's story said,

"Form-based planning is an outgrowth of New Urbanism, a civic planning philosophy that advocates mixed property types, such as homes next to or above shops, and pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods. Proponents of form-based planning have been replacing conventional comprehensive land-use planning based largely on property usage (i.e., residential, commercial, or industrial).

For example, the City of Novato has overlaid a mixed-use zoning district for its downtown area. Last year, the Petaluma City Council adopted the Central Petaluma Specific Plan, which included a brand of form-based planning called SmartCode. Work that went into that specific plan has helped spur major downtown redevelopment nearly a decade coming."

The SmartCode brand of New Urbanism isn't a philosophy, it's a commercial product:

"Santa Rosa and Windsor have been moving toward form-based planning code. But because of cost, they have shied away from using SmartCode, a copyrighted system developed by Florida-based Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company.

Tailoring the language in the system to conform to California law requires about $150,000 in consultant services, a sum impractical during state and local budget crises, according to Windsor planning director Peter Chamberlin and Santa Rosa councilmember Janet Condron. Santa Rosa City Council's Downtown and Economic Development committees likely will be exploring ways to gain funding for a form-based code by approaching interested developers, according to Ms. Condron, a form-based code 'convert.' "

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