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Form-Based Codes and Traditional Neighborhood Development


Conventional Zoning Focus on Separating Uses

Widely-adopted conventional zoning codes emphasize segregating land use types into different zones. One obvious result is homes that are more distance from work and the retail uses meant to serve residents. In addition, cul-de-sacs became popular means of keeping commercial and other through traffic out of residential neighborhoods. Such separations, combined with fewer street connections, make walking, cycling and public transit less practical. In turn, there is increased reliance on cars.

Traditional Neighborhood Development Rediscovered

As these downsides of conventional zoning became more apparent, many communities rediscovered the traditional town as a better model for what citizens want in a community. Traditional Neighborhood Development (TND) offers a blueprint for neighborhood development based on traditional town patterns, before the era of spread-out auto-oriented development.

TND emphasizes compact, mixed-use, and pedestrian-oriented development. Neighborhoods, sized for easy walking distance, function as the basic building block. TND planners emphasize human-scale design, town and neighborhood centers, public spaces, civic uses and other features that foster a sense of community.

TND is also characterized by an interconnected network streets that provide a variety of routes for vehicle traffic while facilitating walking, cycling and transit. Narrow residential street widths, on-street parking, and street trees reduce traffic speed and create a safe, attractive environment for pedestrians, as well as cars.

The earlier TND codes tended to rely on design guidelines and standards to achieve the above objectives, and many retained some degree of land use restriction.

Form-Based Codes Emerge to Implement Traditional Neighborhood Development Principles

Form-based codes (FBCs) have emerged in the spotlight in recent years. They offer a specific regulatory approach to implementing the principles embraced by TND. In contrast to conventional zoning, FBCs focus on specifying the physical form and design of development and public spaces that matches the community's vision. For instance, conventional zoning codes typically set a limit on the minimum distance that a building must be setback from the street and neighboring property lines. In contrast, a form-based code may specify a "build-to" line that new buildings must align with to fit community patterns.

At the same time, FBCs generally de-emphasize regulation of land uses. FBC advocates argue that tighter environmental controls have reduced the need for separation of different land use types. Also, the FBC focus on the relationship of buildings to each other, to the street, and to public spaces, assures greater compatibility than produced by conventional zoning. These codes also may be applied to establish the physical form and design of development in areas where no coherent pre-existing patterns exist, including new towns.

In practice, there may not be clear distinctions between a code that one community labels "traditional neighborhood development" and one in another community that identifies it as a "form-based code." The Form-Based Codes Institute offers definitions and checklists to identify codes that exhibit key FBC characteristics, even though they may vary in significant ways.

Traditional Neighborhood Development Codes


  • Sumner
    • Sumner Municipal Code Sec. 18.12.090 - Traditional neighborhood design optional development standards
    • Sumner Design and Development Regulations - See Ch. 4 - Single Family - The city has adopted single family design standards that apply to single family development choosing the traditional neighborhood design option, and to any subdivision with ten or more lots
  • DuPont
  • Puyallup Municipal Code Sec. 20.26.200 (3) - Traditional street system, and Sec. 20.25.021 - Front yard setback traditional street orientation option
  • Stanwood Municipal Code Ch. 17.47 - Traditional Neighborhood Zoning District
  • Lacey Municipal Code Ch. 16.59 - Village Center Zone

Other States

Model Traditional Neighborhood Development Codes from Other States

General Information on Form-Based Codes

Form-Based Codes

Model Form-Based Codes

  • Smart Code, prepared by Duany Plater-Zyberk and Company - Model transect-based development code available for all scales of planning, from the region to the community to the block and building


Other States

Designing Grid Street Networks and Narrow Residential Streets

Additional References

Last Modified: April 28, 2016