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Form-Based Coding is a revolutionary approach to zoning that has the power to inspire walkable neighborhoods, resilient communities, and thriving cities.
For over twenty years, our architects and urban designers have led the advancement of form-based code techniques and best practices. We have worked on over 60 Form-Based Codes (FBCs). In 2004, we co-founded the Form-Based Code Institute, a think tank that is now part of Smart Growth America. In 2008, we wrote what has been called the definitive book on FBCs. We are continuously evolving and advancing our application and best practices.
We know what makes a code effective. We established many of the graphic standards, system approaches, and usability components emulated today in many codes. So when you choose us, you can be confident that we’ll create a code that delivers results, implements your vision, and is easy to use.
Unmatched Depth of Knowledge and Experience with Form-Based Codes
Our coding experience began with small planning areas, including neighborhoods and downtowns, and evolved to include citywide corridor networks, citywide land development code updates, multi-jurisdictional countywide codes, and form-based bridges between FBCs and comprehensive/general plans. Because of that depth of expertise, we were asked to write the first development code for a rapidly growing city in West Africa. We have a clear track record to effectively tackle your coding project whether it’s small or large.
We are most proud that these codes are delivering results and helping communities. These codes have also been recognized with over a dozen local and national awards, including the Congress for New Urbanism Charter Award Grand Prize, multiple Driehaus Form-Based Code Awards, and two National APA Burnham Awards.
Objective Design Standards to Deliver Missing Middle Housing and Housing Choices
Not all Form-Based Codes have Building Types Standards, but they are at the core of most of our codes. We believe building types are the building blocks of great walkable urban places. This is partly because because they introduce (or re-introduce) a broader range of housing types into local development, and also because they help ensure high-quality built results.
Many building types, including Missing Middle Housing, cannot be effectively regulated by conventional zoning. These building types often have medium or high densities, which excludes them from single-family use zones, even though they are house-scale. Meanwhile, their small footprints and lower heights don’t fit the parameters or intent of existing multifamily and medium-density zones. So we’ve developed an effective way to regulate for them by including building type standards within our Form-Based Codes.
More Than a Great Code: Education, Buy In, and Built Results
To be effective, a coding project involves more than just writing the code itself. So we’ll first help you to lay the groundwork for your FBC, train your staff, review your procedures, and strategize how to completely update your code or make targeted fixes to establish objective design standards.
We’ll coordinate a multi-disciplinary team to effectively tackle challenges such as parking and street design, and engage and inform community perceptions around challenging topics including density. In the end, we’ll translate all of these elements into a high-quality built environment that your community wants.
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Diverse Applications of Form-Based Codes
Cincinnati Citywide Form-Based Code and Comprehensive Plan Land Use Framework
Paradigm shift back to urbanism: complete neighborhoods for Cincinnati
Mesa Downtown Plan and Form-Based Code
Over $500 Million in Downtown Redevelopment Projects
Doheny Village Form-Based Code
Dana Point, California
Reinforcing a surfer/maker culture with smart coding
How We Can Help You Implement Your Community's Vision:
- 1Write a Form-Based Code for a small planning area, one or more neighborhoods, corridors, TOD, Priority Development Area, or your downtown.
- 2Write a Form-Based Code for your small town, entire city or county through a zoning update or an entire Land Development Code.
- 3Write a Form-Based Code to implement SB 2 (Housing and Jobs Act) and SB 35 (Affordable Housing and Streamlined Process) through objective standards.
- 4Assess/Diagnose your zoning code through graphic testing of existing standards and likely build out.
- 5Create a Form-Based bridge to your Comprehensive/General Plan.
- 6Advise on your FBC strategy to enable Missing Middle Housing.
- 7Craft targeted zoning fixes with objective standards to deliver housing choices and walkable living.
- 8Create supplemental architectural design guidelines to ensure quality implementation of the FBC.
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"Opticos was an invaluable partner in helping Cincinnati achieve its goal of ‘Thriving Re-Urbanization.’ Their Form-Based Code was remarkably easy to use and has spurred confidence within the development community. Thanks to Opticos, the focus neighborhoods are seeing private sector investment that has not been seen in over 40 years.”— Roxanne Qualls, Former Mayor, Cincinnati, Ohio
Design Thinking | Marin County Objective Design Standards Shared Zoning Toolkit
The Marin County Objective Design Standards Toolkit resulted from a multijurisdictional collaborative effort to address State law requirements and facilitate ministerial approvals for housing projects. This article was originally published in the American Planning Association, California Chapter – Northern Section newsletter authored by Stefan Pellegrini, AICP, Opticos Design Principal and Jillian Zeiger, AICP, Senior Planner at the County of Marin.
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.
Form-Based Code Cartoon Series
Designer Beth Cichon, with the help of Associate Erick Bernabe and Sr Associate Tony Perez, has been illustrating a cartoon series about Form-Based Codes. The cartoons take a fun approach to educating readers on how FBCs can help improve your city or neighborhood.