Beaufort County has experienced incredible growth in the past 10 years, and is expected to continue into the foreseeable future. To help channel future growth toward existing urban areas, and protect the county’s rural character, the county, the City of Beaufort, and the Town of Port Royal launched a regional planning effort in 2007, and a multijurisdictional Form-Based Coding effort in 2010. A Community Development Code, backed by a shared growth framework in the communities’ Comprehensive Plans, was devised as a key tool to guide a more sustainable future for the county.
The Beaufort County CDC, which incorporates new zoning regulations for both walkable urban and driveable suburban areas, was recognized last week with the Form Based-Code Institute’s Driehaus Award, and the Congress for New Urbanism’s Charter Award of Merit. Both awards were presented last week at CNU’s 23rd annual congress in Dallas/Fort-Worth.
While all three jurisdictions had done significant planning work prior to the 2007 Regional Plan to preserve the county’s small-town atmosphere, their respective zoning ordinances were outdated and ineffective at controlling sprawl and halting the degradation of the fragile estuarine environment. A shared, Transect-based Form-Based Code was seen as a primary strategy to channel growth into existing urbanized areas, and preserve rural character and natural resources countywide.
The Urban-to-Rural Transect was used as the organizing principle for the code. Extensive photo documentation and mapping analysis was done to calibrate the Transect to ensure that it would reinforce the unique characteristics of the county’s distinct rural communities, as well as the historic urban cores of Port Royal and the City of Beaufort. Port Royal was the first to adopt their code in 2013; Beaufort County adopted their version after thorough discussion and testing last December.
“The Beaufort County Community Development Code is a bold but logical step forward for a County that has historically placed great emphasis on innovative land use planning and natural resource protection,” said Rob Merchant, long range planner for the County. “The Code recognizes that Beaufort County has a very diverse natural and built environment and provides context sensitive tools that promote walkable urbanism distinguishing between a small, traditional rural crossroads and an urban neighborhood on the edges of a municipality.”
The CDC features easy-to-understand graphics and photographs. Much effort was taken to ensure that the intent of the plan was visually represented and embodied in the FBC.
“The Jury was impressed with the manner of framing the countywide range of physically diverse place types, rural to urban, into a format that is easy to understand, nicely illustrated, and with rules appropriate for those places,” wrote Jury Chairman Joseph Kohl in a letter to Opticos Design. “The Jury also appreciated that the code provides a strategy for transitioning the prior zoning rules and that it accommodates small and large development by integrating subdivision standards.”
The Beaufort County CDC was the only code submitted to receive a Driehaus Award this year. One other project received an honorable mention.
“It is truly rewarding and refreshing to receive this acknowledgement from the FBCI and CNU in the form of these two awards,” said Opticos Principal Stefan Pellegrini. “We were fortunate to work with an incredible team of people on this project, and we commend the County for leading this effort.”
The code is innovative in a variety of ways that will provide a useful model for other jurisdictions. It utilized a place-types strategy to bridge the communities’ Comprehensive Plans with the new Form-Based Code, most specifically to locate where growth should occur. A series of multiday charrettes were conducted for many of the place type areas of the county encompassing a broad geographic and demographic spectrum. The charrettes illustrated how the place types could translate into the design of walkable communities and provided broad public support for the new FBC.
The team also knew that the framework of walkable communities as proposed in the process would be heavily compromised if thoroughfare design wasn’t integrated into this process. A Complete Streets Technical Manual was created during the process to ensure effective implementation, which involved the active participation of the State Department of Transportation, and called for context-sensitive designs and a palette of pre-approved local thoroughfare standards.
“Adoption of the code represents one of the only multijurisdictional applications of a Form-Based Code in the country, and should serve as a viable model for other jurisdictions seeking collaborative solutions to manage growth and preserve regional character,” said Pellegrini.