Tehachapi, CA, will soon have a groundbreaking new citywide hybrid code. The first reading took place at the city council’s meeting on October 6, in which council members voted unanimously to adopt the code.
Project leaders say the new code has been completely reorganized to be easy to use, and to make the 2012 Form-Based General Plan and a new Form-Based Code easy to implement. The code is the result of a multiyear effort, with participation from Sargent Town Planning, Moule & Polyzoides, Lisa Wise Consulting, and Opticos Design’s Tony Perez.
The city hired David Sargent of Sargent Town Planning in 2005 to help them understand why development in the area wasn’t matching the existing character of the city. Sargent showed them how the Tehachapi General Plan was essentially generating the very results that they didn’t want.
“No one set out to get those unintended results. Everyone was doing what was expected of them. The issue was a combination of many things that hadn’t been evaluated as a whole or compared to what the community actually wanted,” said Perez. Sargent then went on to work with the community to prepare a form-based interim design plan that would identify their direction for the future. This interim design plan articulated what the community wanted. “Now, everyone, including staff could be clear about what the community expected of its new development,” he said.
In 2007, Moule & Polyzoides was hired to address this community direction and prepare a new form-based General Plan. Sargent and Tony Perez (before he joined Opticos) were part of the consultant team. The direction the city gave them was, “Tehachapi is a small, mountain town—we want more of what makes a small mountain town and none of the other things.”
Perez went on to lead the subconsultant team to prepare the new General Plan, which was adopted by the city council in 2012.
Last year, after it was clear that the current zoning code could not implement the 2012 General Plan, a team that includes Perez and Sargent, led by Lisa Wise Consulting (LWC) was hired to create a new citywide code. LWC focused on the new code structure and non-form-based part of code, while Perez focused on the form-based parts of the code. Sargent focused on thoroughfare standards and gave general advice on the code.
“The new code is a true hybrid,” said Perez. “It keeps conventional zoning for areas that don’t desire change from their existing conventional suburban pattern, and applies FBC to those areas that are already walkable urban areas, like the historic downtown and surrounding neighborhoods, and for areas of new development.”
The General Plan identified the areas that would remain under the conventional zoning system and the areas where FBC would apply; approximately 70% of the 23-square mile planning area will be covered by FBC, while 30% will keep conventional zoning.
In addition to the town itself, there are numerous natural and rural spaces that surround Tehachapi, which allow it to maintain both its small-town feel and its setting in nature. The FBC picks up on the General Plan’s extensive explanation of the form-based approach for these surrounding areas and areas within Tehachapi, and describes what it all means in the context of a small mountain town. The FBC uses transect zones, which directly implement General Plan designations, and sets standards for blocks, streets, streetscapes, buildings, frontages, civic, and open spaces—everything from nature (T1) to rural to suburban neighborhoods to urban neighborhoods (T5) in and around the city’s historic downtown.
“Tehachapi is on the cutting-edge of Form-Based Coding,” said Opticos Principal Dan Parolek. “The Tehachapi General Plan is the first fully form-based GP. That combined with a citywide Form-Based Code makes this project a very important case study.” The project came to Opticos Design when Perez joined the company in 2013.
“Although this code keeps conventional zoning and maintains those places, it flips the system to implement the Form-Based General Plan, while providing the community the option to add other FBC areas over time. Ten years down the road, an area not currently in the FBC might want to transform their area to a walkable urban pattern. This code gives them that option without a General Plan amendment,” Perez added.
Reaction to the code has been very positive both by city officials and potential applicants. “The updated zoning code is an amazing piece of work and the graphics are outstanding,” said David James, Tehachapi’s community development director.
James said the whole process was very well organized, and commended the consulting team for completing the project on time—in less than two years—and on budget. He says the FBC will be a much more tangible and direct implementation tool for the General Plan than the previous zoning code.
“I think it is safe to say that we all look at zoning from a new perspective now and have an appreciation for the fact that a zoning code can be a much more comprehensive planning tool than most conventional zoning codes lend themselves to be,” he concluded.
The second reading of the code is scheduled for later this month. The code could be implemented in as soon as 45 days.
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