Are We Ready for Smart Code?

By Dan Reuter, AICP, Land Use Division Chief, Atlanta Regional Commission

Since 1999, the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC), the Regional Business Coalition (RBC) and Livable Communities Coalition (LCC) have undertaken evaluations of local development codes in the Atlanta region to determine implementation of “smart growth.”  Over the past decade, local governments have undertaken numerous activities to update and improve zoning and development codes.  ARC’s programs including the Livable Centers Initiative (LCI), Lifelong Communities (LLC) and Community Choices programs have supported local governments to update their regulatory codes.  So where are we headed?

Planned Unit Developments (PUDs) have been used in Georgia to permit mixed-use development for possibly 40 years.  In the late 1990s to early 2000s, many local governments began updating their zoning codes to include PUD “hybrid” districts to allow Traditional Neighborhood Development (TND) zoning or “parallel” codes that allowed property owners to use conventional or smart growth development standards.  Examples of this period include Cobb County’s Planned Community Development (PCD) zoning, which was used to build Ridenour in Kennesaw; the City of Atlanta’s Midtown SPI or Quality-of-Life districts; and later the Rockdale County Salem Road Overlay.

During this period, ARC hired David Walters of UNC-Charlotte to develop Community Choices toolkits and model ordinances related to TND and TOD (Transit-Oriented Development). David Walters was successful in assisting the smaller cities of Davidson and Huntersville, north of Charlotte, NC, with TND codes that were used to build developments including Vermillion and Birkdale Village.

Over the past five years, many local governments in Georgia, including many LCI communities, have adopted progressive zoning codes.  In metro Atlanta, ARC resources and funding were supportive of many of these new codes.  Noteworthy jurisdictions that have implemented design-based codes include Atlanta, Woodstock, Union City, Decatur, Suwannee, Cobb County and Cherokee County.

In 2010, Cobb County implemented a form-based code in Mableton following a Lifelong Communities design charrette.  The City of Woodstock, already recognized nationally as having a form-based code for its downtown, will soon take the next step.  Woodstock will become the first jurisdiction to implement a “Smart Code.”  The Smart Code has been supported in recent years by the Congress for the New Urbanism and a non-profit called the Center for Applied Transect Studies.

Many of ARC’s Developments of Excellence (DOE) winners during the past decade were located in jurisdictions that implemented TND or form-based zoning.  Examples can be found here.  Examples of design-based development projects have been undertaken in metro Atlanta by private developers including Hedgewood, Richport and Green Street.

Form-based codes including the Smart Code may not be appropriate to every area and jurisdiction in metro Atlanta, but many cities and parts of counties can benefit from a process involving design charrettes and the consideration of urban form.  During the Woodstock code update process, ARC will be monitoring and updating other local governments on Woodstock’s progress.

It is clear that many local governments in Georgia are national leaders in pushing the limits for progressive zoning codes, supporting innovative developments and building communities that provide new choices for current and future residents.

Additional Resources:

All LCI plans and supplemental codes are available online through a searchable database.

All ARC Lifelong Community plans are available online here.

A national survey of form-based codes was conducted by the design and coding firm PlaceMakers and can be found online here.

Private consultants have played a major role alongside local governments in adopting new zoning codes.  Examples of plans and codes developed by consultants can be found online from firms such as Tunnell-Spangler-Walsh & Assoc. (TSW), Urban Collage, and Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co. (DPZ).

2 Responses to “Are We Ready for Smart Code?”

  1. ARC and LLC Evaluate Local Codes | TSW Says:

    […] read more about the region’s progress, check out August’s Land Matters, a publication of the Atlanta Regional Commission. Advertisement LD_AddCustomAttr("AdOpt", "1"); […]

  2. TSW – ARC and LLC Evaluate Local Codes Says:

    […] read more about the region’s progress, check out August’s Land Matters, a publication of the Atlanta Regional […]

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