When I opened my email this morning I was delighted to see that the City of Flagstaff unanimously approved a SmartCode based TND ordinance. The ordinance, created to make a recent Dover Kohl designed project called Juniper Point legal, allows a more compact, pedstrian friendly urban pattern to be established within the City. This is a crucial step in providing alternatives to business as usual sprawl development. Fortunately, more and more cities - From Jamestown, Rhode Island to Miami, Florida, to Montgomery, Alabama - are making smart growth a legal and easy choice.
The author of the email, Flagstaff Zoning Administrator Roger Eastman, wrote a beautiful summary of the process. It is quite instructive and reveals how difficult it can be going against the tide. Nonetheless, dilligence pays off and Flagstaff will be all the better for it.
A new TND ordinance for the City of Flagstaff
On Tuesday night, November 20, 2007, by a unanimous (6-0) vote (one councilor was excused), the Flagstaff City Council approved a new Traditional Neighborhood District (TND) ordinance for the City. This action by the City Council is significant, as it heralds one more step towards implementation of the Flagstaff Regional Transportation and Regional Land Use Plan (Regional Plan), which when adopted in 2001 promoted the development of TNDs in various land use designations in the City. The effective date of the new TND ordinance is January 18, 2008.
Juniper Point – the catalyst
The City did not proceed with developing a TND ordinance until MJN Development approached City staff in early 2006 with their intention of developing a 320 acre site as a Traditional Neighborhood development to be called Juniper Point. Dover Kohl and Partners were hired as the planning consultants. Following a very successful charrette in April 2006, a preliminary plan for this topographically challenging site was unveiled that anticipated the development of four neighborhoods separated by a large area of open space reserved along Bow and Arrow Wash. By the end of the year the developer had secured City Council approval of an amendment to the Regional Plan designating the site as TND rather than low density residential in a so-called "Planning Reserve Area" as it had been formally identified. With this approval in hand, the pressure was now on the City staff (and mostly myself!) to write a TND ordinance so that this developer could proceed with land use entitlements for Juniper Point, as well as others after him for similar TND projects.
The first TND draft
City staff have been working on the TND ordinance for about a year. Early efforts at drafting a fairly simple ordinance that was broadly written and lacked specificity were rejected by the City Attorney, who insisted that a more specific ordinance in terms of standards and regulations was necessary in order to ensure a high level of consistency between properties/developments subject to the TND. She was of course, absolutely correct, and work on a new more comprehensive draft began. However, that work was quickly abandoned as I was directed to work on amendments to the Land Development Code to promote housing affordability in the City of Flagstaff.
This break proved to be a blessing, because in that time I was able to attend a SmartCode Workshop in Las Vegas in late October 2006, and learned more about how the SmartCode could be calibrated and applied in different contexts. After extensive research into other SmartCode based ordinances, an idea germinated and ultimately blossomed into a workable concept. This idea was endorsed by Andres Duany in a brief conversation I had with him in Los Angeles after his presentation at the Partners for Smart Growth Conference in February this year.
The idea was simple. Why not model the TND ordinance for the City of Flagstaff on the SmartCode? All we would have to do was delete the sections not applicable to this limited application (such as Article 2.0 that dealt with Sector Scale Planning) and modify/calibrate the rest of the SmartCode to suit our needs. However, as it turned out, implementing the idea took a lot more work than expected, but it appears to have worked. While I took the lead in calibrating the SmartCode to a City-specific TND, a dedicated group of fellow City staffers provided essential critical commentary. We soon realized that the first drafts were too detailed, especially with regard to Article 5.0, Building Design Standards, as we realized that we were creating a Form-based Code rather than a TND code. With time, we finally found the right balance that satisfied our needs.
Brief overview of the TND ordinance
Our concept was that the TND would be applied as a floating zone, (what Prof. Chad Emerson has described as an "Optional Unmapped Zone") only to those areas of the City that were designated in the Regional Plan for Mixed Use or Tighborhood development. The Traditional Neighborhood District as adopted in the Land Development Code (the City's zoning ordinance), and closely modeled on the SmartCode, would provide a framework for consistency and uniformity for all future TNDs in the City. Thereafter, as each development came forward and requested entitlement under the TND zone, a Form-based Code and Regulating Plan for that project would be required as a part of the zone change approval. At this level, detailed calibration of the TND ordinance would occur, based on the location of the site within the City, topographical constraints, architectural preferences, etc. Thus there would be consistency at the zoning level with the Traditional Neighborhood District, but each project may have local variations and unique features.
First drafts of the TND were based on SmartCode v8.0, but thanks to the help of Sandy Sorlien, we received a pre-release version of v9.0 and adapted the draft to the improved structure of this version of the SmartCode. A very brief overview of the code follows:
Article 1.0: General to All Plans. This article closely follows the content of the SmartCode and establishes the intent and purpose of the ordinance, describes its application, provides for an approval process (actually cross-referenced into another section of the Land Development Code – we made a design charrette a mandatory part of the approval process), provides incentives, and introduces the concept of the Transect. After some debate an overview of Smart Growth concepts and the characteristics of a Traditional Neighborhood where removed and added into a new Appendix C.
Article 2.0: As this relates to Sector Planning it was eliminated and was marked as [Reserved].
Article 3: New Community Plans. Extensively calibrated to suit the needs of a TND in Flagstaff, this article applies to Greenfield projects such as Juniper Point. We were extremely fortunate to have a preliminary Regulating Plan for this project that we could use as a template for calibrating the SmartCode to Flagstaff.
Article 4.0: Infill Community Plans. Initial ideas to remove this article and to add it in later were eventually discarded, (this was in response to a concern for threats of lawsuits under Arizona's Proposition 207). This article closely follows the structure of the SmartCode, but was again calibrated to Flagstaff to provide a mechanism for Infill development in numerous areas of the City where it would be beneficial.
Article 5.0: Building Design Standards. After much discussion it was finally agreed that rather than getting into the details typically provided in this Article in the SmartCode, we would refer to the applicable section of the SmartCode and rely on the approved Form-based Code for each project to address the details of building placement, building configuration, window proportions, materials, etc. Thus, each project will have commonality based on the provisions of the TND ordinance in terms of its development as a TND, yet there is likely to be some variety in the TNDs proposed within the City. All TNDs will also be subject to the City's existing design guidelines which call for an architectural form that is compatible with Flagstaff's mountain architectural vernacular.
Article 6.0: Tables and Standards. The SmartCode tables and standards were extensively modified and adapted to Flagstaff's needs. As none of us were proficient in InDesign, the tables were converted into Excel's spreadsheet format, which worked really well. Examples of some tables that were modified to suit the City's needs include Tables 3A (Vehicular and Parking Assemblies) and 3B (Vehicular Lane Assemblies) – these probably took the most time; Table 7 (Private Frontages) where Arcades were deleted; Table 8 (Building Configuration) to address building heights specific to Flagstaff; and, a new Table 9B (Private Outdoor Living Space) as it was determined that this was needed to ensure a minimum of private outdoor living spaes T4 and T5.
Article 7.0: Definitions. At the request of the City Attorney, most of the definitions were rewritten to remove all regulatory provisions that were included into many of the definitions in SmartCode v8.0. We chose to locate the definitions in a separate division of the Definitions for the Land Development Code, rather than as a separate section of the TND.
Appendix C: As noted previously we also created a new Appendix C that contains additional information on Smart Growth principles and Traditional Neighborhood development. Originally included as part of Article 1.0, we later removed this information to a separate Appendix as it was more educational in nature and it unnecessarily lengthened the ordinance. This also allowed us to include other information that we thought would be useful to a lay reader, such as a brief overview of the SmartCode and additional information on Transect Zones, an introduction to Form-based Codes and design charrettes, an explanation of why different thoroughfare standards are required in TNDs compared to conventional suburban development, etc.
One other fairly significant task remained, (aside from securing public support for the proposed ordinance and getting it approved by the Planning and Zoning Commission and City Council), and that was to ensure that the new ordinance was well integrated into the City's existing Land Development Code. The Flagstaff Land Development Code is a combination of a conventional Euclidian zoning code (some of its provisions date back to the 1970's and earlier) and a performance-based code drafted by Lane Kendig that was adopted in 1991. Aside from finding a place for the new zoning district in the Land Development Code and addressing various necessary minor amendments throughout the Code, there were two sections that required significant revision. First, we had to ensure that the processes for review and approval of the TND fit with code provisions (actually because the current code's submittal requirements for rezoning applications are weak, we developed a separate section with more comprehensive submittal requirements for TNDs), and, second, we had to figure out new natural resource performance standards (based on slopes and tree resources, particularly ponderosa pine trees) for TNDs and then work in a separate methodology for the provision of affordable housing based on the City's Housing Set-Aside Policy. Finally, an amendment to the Traffic Code was required to allow for on-street parking year round in TNDs.
The last step
One very important last step remains to be taken, and that is to secure City Council approval of revisions to the City's Engineering Standards to allow for different thoroughfare design in TNDs. This was necessary as the City's Engineering Standards, like those in many US cities, were based on the conventional functional classification of streets (the arterial-collector-local hierarchy) which promoted street design for vehicles, but were inconsistent with the idea of creating mixed-use walkable environments safe for pedestrians and bicycles.
After a long process of educating the Engineering staff on the principles of TNDs, we were able to develop a series of thoroughfare standards that while not necessarily "perfect", will work well in a TND development despite the fact that some compromises had to be made. Rick Hall and DeWayne Carver from Hall Engineering and Planning were invaluable in this effort. As consultants to the Juniper Point project they came to Flagstaff on at least two occasions to host round table discussions with City staff on thoroughfare design in TNDs, and made themselves available on the phone to answer questions and steer us in the right direction.
And then we ran into one of two hurdles we had not adequately addressed. The first came from the Flagstaff cycling community, who having fought with the City and developers for 40-plus years for the installation of bike lanes wherever they coul required in TNDs. Essentially the cycling community feared that bike corridor connectivity would be lost within TNDs and they struggled to accept that thoroughfares in TNDs could be designed to successfully slow traffic and accommodate cyclists without bike lanes. After spirited discussion we were able to reach a successful compromise on this issue that maintains the integrity of the thoroughfares in TNDs yet provides for bike safety and connectivity.
The other hurdle we did not adequately address early enough in the ordinance writing process was that of coordinating with the Public Works Department on operational and maintenance issues in TND streets, with specific reference to snow clearing and removal, trash collection, street sweeping, drainage maintenance, etc. We resolved these concerns by holding a series of meetings to first educate some of the Public Works staff on TND principles and then discussing each issue in detail until consensus was reached. The hardest to work out was the snow clearing issue, as the Department was very concerned about plowing snow with parked cars on the street. A short road trip to the City of Durango in southwestern Colorado to visit with their Planning and Public Works staff and the developer of the Three Springs TND in Durango, once again proved invaluable, and solutions to the issues were eventually found and presented to the City Council.
The revisions to the Engineering Standards will be presented to the City Council for public hearing/first reading of the ordinance on December 4th, with the second reading/adoption on December 18th. We are hopeful that these revisions will be approved with a minimum of discussion as we have held a number of work sessions on this subject. So now we move into implementation of the new Traditional Neighborhood District, with the Juniper Point project as the first in Flagstaff. Exciting days lay ahead!!
A look back at what we did well, and some lessons learned In looking back over the past months as we have worked on this important zoning district for the City of Flagstaff, we realize that we did some things well, yet we also learned some important lessons. I'll summarize a few of them below:
• Educate the planning staff. Throughout 2006, four senior planning staff including the Planning Director, Community Investment Director, Current Planning Manager and Zoning Administrator attended all three of the Form-Based Codes Institute (FBCI) workshops on Form-based Codes. This training was invaluable, as it helped us talk though many complex issues with a common understanding of the subject. Additional planning staff will be completing this series of workshops in the next few months.
• Educate the City Attorney. The Flagstaff City Attorney also completed all three of the Form-Based Codes Institute workshops on Form-based Codes, and thus became the first City Attorney in Arizona to do so. While she was rigorous in her reviews of the TND drafts from a legal perspective, she also understood what we were trying to accomplish, and made some very helpful suggestions.
• Share the information. I developed a PowerPoint presentation that I frequently updated to share with interested Boards and Commissions, City staff, the City Council, community groups and interested stake holders. This helped to win support for the proposed TND ordinance early in its development.
• Other Departments. We were able to secure support from the Flagstaff Fire Department fairly early in the process, but failed to communicate early enough with the Public Works Department. We could have saved ourselves a lot of extra last minute work if they had been involved sooner.
• Think about all the possible stake holders. As noted above, we also did not include the biking community early enough in the process and were surprised by their last minute concerns.
• Regular staff meetings. At one point during the summer we were meeting at 7:00 a.m. four times a week to review the TND draft line-by-line. While sometimes tedious, these meetings were also fun, informative, and an excellent way of bringing multiple viewpoints together on challenging issues. It was also helpful to the planning staff who will be applying this ordinance to get a solid understanding of its details and intricacies.
• Expert advice. We were extremely fortunate that the developer of the Juniper Point project made his planning and traffic engineering consultants (Dover Kohl and Partners and Hall Planning and Engineering respectively) available to us at his expense to answer questions and provide guidance as necessary. This was an enormous time saver and helped us out with advice from a neutral source when other staff members or stakeholders challenged our approach. We also benefited greatly from having a partially completed Regulating Plan and Form-based Code for the Juniper Point project which we were able to use to calibrate the TND for Flagstaff.
• A willing council. Since 2001 when the Regional Plan was approved by the City Council and ratified by the citizens, it promoted TNDs in the City, and that a TND ordinance was necessary to implement this vision. The council supported their staff in achieving this goal by providing the necessary funding to ensure that all staff were trained in TND principles and Form-based Codes, and throughout the approval process, have consistently supported the TND effort. All of the staff are grateful for this support.
A copy of the final approved Traditional Neighborhood Ordinance, to be inserted as a new Chapter 10-17 of the Land Development Code, as well as the final approved version of the Thoroughfare Standards for TNDs included in the Engineering Standards, will be available on the City of Flagstaff website in the next few weeks – www.ci.flagstaff.az.us. (Navigate to the Department of Community Development webpage, then to the Planning and Development Services Division, then Code Administration, and click on Code Revisions and Updates and you will see the TND files there). For questions on the City of Flagstaff's TND ordinance, please contact Roger E. Eastman, Zoning Administrator at 928-779-7631, Ext. 7606 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.