Johnson Moves Toward Form-Based Code For Its Village Center

Apr 14, 2015

"Form-based code" has become a buzz phrase among municipal planners in Vermont. Many say it's an idea whose time has come.

The conversation started in cities such as Newport, Burlington and South Burlington. But it's not strictly an urban planning tool; Shelburne has embraced form-based codes in its planning for the Route 7 corridor. Now Johnson is close to adapting form-based code regulations for its village center.

Form-based codes replace traditional zoning laws by regulating what development looks like, rather than what it's used for. However, it can also be implemented along side use-based zoning. For example, there are three codes being proposed in Johnson village: storefront, multi-use and neighborhood. 

"A Form Based Code is a regulatory tool that regulates municipal development primarily by form of the built environment and not by use." - Johnson Form Based Code Committee

In Johnson, a form-based code committee has been meeting since last fall. The committee started a concerted community outreach effort last month, with information available at Town Meeting. A public input meeting on March 25 drew over 40 attendees, which is significant for a town of Johnson's size.

Consultant Paul Dreher, of Newport, has been working with the Johnson committee. In a progress report Dreher issued earlier this month, he said the committee is working to have draft codes ready for public comment by the end of May. He said the committee's biggest job this month is raising public awareness:

In the upcoming month of April the FBCSC will also determine if and what additional public outreach is required and how that will be achieved. The project is near completion with the bulk of the remaining work revolving around public outreach and education.

A presentation prepared for the March 25 meeting defines form-based codes as "a regulatory tool that regulates municipal development primarily by form of the built environment and not by use." If done well, the presentation stated, form-based codes promote a "shared community vision."