Codes make a difference in California, Virginia

Adoption of form-based codes in Petaluma, California, and Arlington County, Virginia, is quickly paying off with new buildings that line the sidewalks and streets. In Petaluma, which enacted a version of Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company’s SmartCode in July 2003, a retail and housing development called Basin Street Landing is nearing completion. It occupies former parking lots in part of the 400-acre area regulated by the new code (see July-August 2003 New Urban News). Laura Hall of Fisher & Hall Urban Design, which tailored the SmartCode to the 56,000-population community, says over $100 million in development has been approved since the code’s adoption, including Basin Street Landing, which contains 20,000 square feet of office and restaurant space on the ground floor and 43 apartments above.

Petaluma’s historic Brannerd Jones building has been renovated and leased to food and beverage retailers such as Peet’s Coffee. Under construction are a 12-screen cinema, a 500-space parking garage with ground-floor commercial space, and a 50,000-square-foot waterfront office building. They will be followed by 105 apartments, 48 rowhouses, and a three-story project containing ground-floor commercial space and 76 apartments.

Matt White, president of Basin Street Properties, marveled that his project won unanimous approval in six months, whereas other projects he’s developed in Sonoma and Napa Counties have taken up to seven years to receive approval. Skip Sommer, a real estate broker who represents developers in the SmartCode project area, says his clientele love the code because it minimizes the planning process and the city loves it because it streamlines the ability to respond to developers.

Columbia Pike project

In Arlington, the first project on the Columbia Pike since adoption of a form-based code a little over a year ago has won approval. Called Columbia Station, it consists of a block of housing and retail that fulfills the intention of the code, according to Geoffrey Ferrell of Geoffrey Ferrell Associates, co-authors of the code with Dover, Kohl & Partners. When the project got its approval, citizens observing the vote applauded, according to Diana Sun, communications director for Arlington County. That response is unusual in an area where residents often oppose new development.

Columbia Station is mostly modern in its architecture, although it also preserves an old storefront. The urbanism is pure main street. The prediction that the code would unleash significant development along the 3.5-mile corridor is turning out to be on target, Ferrell says. “Suddenly a flood of projects is coming forward in an area that hasn’t seen much development, despite a really great market,” he says.

Ferrell describes the previous system of conventional codes, which segregated uses, as a “plumber’s nightmare.” Citizens didn’t like the kind of projects being built, and developers were frustrated by regulatory hurdles. The new code, he says, is simple and straightforward. As long as buildings behave urbanistically, the code allows any architectural style. The goal being expressed by citizens is to create a “funky and eclectic place,” Ferrell says. “It is the start of what’s going to be a really great place to live.”

Sarasota, Florida, adopted a downtown code in May based on the SmartCode. u