Zoning laws are a major tool used by cities to keep neighborhoods together and give residents some control over what they have to live next to. But it’s never been a perfect implement: Normal zoning laws don’t keep McMansions from being built in quiet older areas or force developers to build attractive structures.

What’s more, as cities have attacked the problem of urban sprawl, it’s clear that traditional zoning has created less livable cities, because shops and restaurants are often nowhere near within walking distance of homes.

METROIn the last few years, however, a different kind of zoning has been gaining support in cities across the country. In Fort Worth, the new system, called form-based zoning, already used successfully on the Near South Side, is now being applied to one of the city’s longtime retail areas: Camp Bowie Boulevard, between I-30 and Loop 820.

(SMTX)FTW-300x250-NOV17Gateway Planning, which worked on the Camp Bowie project and has consulted on 15 others across the country, said there is a big difference.

“You could have a mixed-use project that looks like it should be in suburbia but is put in a historic urban setting,” he said. “The old zoning allows that. What form-based code does is makes the new developments relate to the properties and buildings nearby. It gives neighborhoods a defining character, something that the residents and business owners can build upon.”

Polikov also said the six-mile stretch of Camp Bowie from I-30 to Loop 820 is the longest corridor in the country so far to be redone with form-based codes.

Don’t expect to see form-based code pockets popping up all over Fort Worth. Dana Burghdoff, deputy director of the city’s Planning and Development Department, estimated that only about five percent of the city would meet the criteria.

“We’d like to have a mass transit component, so we’re seeing how the progress is going on commuter rail line plans,” she said. Form-based codes “also works best when there are commercial and residential properties close to each other. And these codes do not ignore how these buildings are used. It just that they combine flexibility and predictability.”

“But [Fort Worth’s] experience on the Near South Side [with form-based code] has been very positive,” she said. “We’ve seen lots of private investment during a down economy, and we’ve been able to preserve the area without designating them as historic districts, which can be very restrictive. But more importantly all the major players — the developers, business owners, and people who live nearby — all seem to like it.”