Note: in case of annoyance with acronyms feel free to just stop reading, open a can of alphabet soup, and blindly arrange the noodles. Basically the same thing, right?
So Jeremy, my token Young Republicans of Minnesota advocate and dear friend, brought it to my attention that the real impact of light rail investment (i.e. whether or not the shiny new rails will draw in more than just “hoards and hoards of better used taxpayer money”) has been the cause of many a fist being shaken at his monthly happy hour. In urgent need of some knockout argument to come back with, I yelled, “Yeah, well St. Louis Park is developing a Form Based Zoning Code”. Not quite realizing that to any traditionalist, I might have well just yelled out “NO MORE RULES.”
With the development of Southwest Light Rail, St. Louis Park (hereafter referred to as SLP) is working to redefine land use and promote transit oriented development with the adoption of a Form Based Code (hereafter referred to as FBC). Sick of the acronyms yet? Good. The designated area will surround Beltline, Wooddale, and Louisiana Stations, and will help guide zoning protocol to fully enhance the Sunday Funday bike ride so many of us take to Steel Toe Brewery.
Now, I don’t know about you, but FBC and an inner ring suburb being used in the same sentence made me a liiiiittle bit of a skeptic, but so far the project seems to be progressing without too many angry phone calls and major hurdles.
Met Council granted the city a predevelopment grant to enter into a contract with Chicago-based FBC powerhouse CodaMetrics for the development of the plan. So far, public process here has been key; SLP’s City Council has been described as open-minded and dynamic, but the area has many long time residents who, like my parents, mainly view FBC as a confusing jumble of jargon and InDesign graphics that mean little or nothing to their ambly parked, tan colonial with a three car garage.
In order to introduce the concept without overwhelming anyone, an image preference survey was given to residents to rate a range of development scenarios. Participants were able to rank photos (RadioShack at a strip mall versus Brownstones in the East Village–you know, comparing apples to apples sort of thing) and gave valuable insight on boulevard widths, vegetation, massing of buildings, and other major components of FBC. After this, an appointed working group was arranged to include residents of SLP whose expertise varies from architecture to NordicWare. They’ve already met four times and pried open each section of the code. Findings so far suggest that the code will have a focus on sustainability efforts and prevention of issues with nonconformance in existing buildings.
Comments from the working group, open houses, and staff will be used in the revised draft that has a ballpark implementation date of twelve months. FBC within SLP is a huge opportunity here to spur the type of development that David Frank and basically, every streets.mn author ever, wants to see. If the City is able to take FBC out of the Planning for Idealists handbook and actually adopt the code, it may be able to steal some innovation points away from Minneapolis and St. Paul and get its share of the positive spotlight. Get ready, team, SLP is about to become home to more than just “Toby Keith’s I Love this Bar and Grill.” Who knows, maybe even the Minneapolis Park Board will hop on the LRT bandwagon (or at least we can dream). FBC has the potential to warm even the coldest heart, the most unrelenting Euclidean zoning cheerleader.