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Building Communities: Utilizing Transect Zoning for Vibrant Development

Groundwork’s quarter one continuation of the FutureIsNow series hosts Susan Henderson of PlaceMakers, Matthew Lambert of DPZ CoDesign and John McCurdy of the City of Rogers to discuss the basics and benefits of transect zoning and form-based codes for Northwest Arkansas.

Use-based codes, such as Euclidean zoning, focus on separating land by use, such as residential, commercial, and industrial. This approach can lead to segregated land use patterns.

Form-based codes, on the other hand, prioritize the physical form and characteristics of buildings and streets over strict land use segregation. They offer flexibility in development, allowing for mixed-use areas and diverse building types if they meet certain design standards.

Transect zoning divides land into zones based on intensity or character of development. This approach tailors zoning regulations to the specific context of each area rather than applying a uniform set of rules across entire cities.

Transect zones:

T1: Natural

T2: Rural and working lands

T3: Sub-urban – typically single-family neighborhoods

T4: General – mixed-scale neighborhoods

T5: Center – main streets

T6: Core – intense areas of density, such as downtowns

Matthew Lambert mentioned that due to unplanned growth, Northwest Arkansas is losing a lot the T2 working lands. Additionally, the T4 general zone of mixed-scale neighborhoods of smaller single-family homes, cottages and townhomes is missing in most towns, including Northwest Arkansas. It was noted that while Northwest Arkansas does not have a T6 currently, a centralized, intense area of density could be developed in the future.

Cities that have implemented transect zoning include El Paso, Texas, Fitchburg, Wisconsin, and Taos, New Mexico. It was noted that larger cities like El Paso sometimes lose the T2 working lands and T1 natural spaces due to lateral expansion. However, El Paso has managed to keep all 6 zones in their form-based code.

One of the most attractive benefits to transect zoning is the increase in tax revenue, with 10x more tax revenue per acre for cities that adopt form-based codes. Nashville, Tennessee saw a 1,150x tax revenue increase per acre.

“Walkable neighborhoods build resilient economies. They are a product of form-based codes,” stated Susan Henderson.

In addition to the substantial 38% savings in infrastructure costs, adopting form-based codes has yielded remarkable benefits. Property values surge by 3.5x, while emergency services have seen a notable 10% reduction in expenses. These zoning practices also contribute to positive environmental impacts through decreased car dependency.

John McCurdy noted that transect zoning benefits both sides of the political spectrum as there is fiscal responsibility and social implications that transcend the aisle.

During the Industrial Revolution, use-based codes prevented the construction of industrial factories close to residential areas, ensuring public safety and well-being. However, these codes were also utilized in practices like redlining, which segregated communities based on race. In contrast, form-based codes offer a more holistic approach, fostering community cohesion and reflecting the natural progression of development patterns.

McCurdy explained that the appeal for changing the City of Rogers to a form-based code was the need for fiscal responsibility and long-term sustainability. The sales tax benefits from concentrated areas of walkability and the ability to lessen commute times by developing housing near common places of employment were selling points for the city to make this change.

“Our solution has to be housing where people are spending their time,” stated McCurdy.

McCurdy also emphasized that, if we could just do one thing it would be to preserve the T1 natural spaces and not expanding beyond what we need to. He continued, “lateral expansion carries long-term sustainment costs.”

As cities like Rogers move towards adopting form-based codes, they signal a commitment to fostering resilient, inclusive environments that prioritize long-term sustainability and collective well-being. By embracing transect zoning and form-based codes, we have the opportunity to not only reshape our cities, but also to cultivate thriving communities that reflect our shared values and aspirations for the future.

As a continuation of the FutureIsNow speaker series, Groundwork is hosting a quarterly webinar to provide resources and promote sustainable, diverse, and vibrant communities while addressing housing needs. The first webinar of 2024 provides a basic overview of transect zoning, community examples and the benefits of adopting form-based codes.