How a Form-Based Code Generated over $500 Million in Downtown Infill Projects and Transformed a Sleepy Downtown

In 2014, Opticos Design worked with the City of Mesa, Arizona to create a Master Plan and Form-Based Code (FBC) that would provide incentives for redevelopment in their downtown core and along a five-mile stretch of Main Street. The Plan and Code focused development around three new transit stations to allow for a network of new walkable, public spaces. Prior to the adoption of the plan and FBC, there had been no private-sector investment in downtown Mesa in over three decades.

How to Use Building Types in Zoning

Building types can be useful in form-based codes where the goal is to enable a fine–grained mix of buildings of varied density and type in walkable neighborhoods. The approach of using building types is also effective in situations where permit streamlining is required and discretionary review is not allowed or significantly limited. For example, in California, Senate Bill 35 requires that only a community’s ‘Objective Design and Development Standards’ apply to multi-family or mixed-use projects. This means that more rather than less clarity in the standards and the community’s expectations is needed. Building types when prepared well offer that needed clarity.

Opening Doors to New, Context-Sensitive Development

Recent California state legislation (eg., SB 35, SB 330 and the Housing Accountability Act) stipulates that in certain situations, projects that qualify for streamlined review and processing must be designed and reviewed only through objective design standards. Marin County retained Opticos Design in 2019 to develop Objective Design and Development Standards (ODDS) for multifamily and mixed-use residential development in coordination with 11 separate jurisdictions within the County, the largest objective design standards application to date.