If the term “form-based code” sounds foreign to you, you’re probably not alone. Defined as a means of regulating development, form-based code (FBC) creates predictable public development by controlling physical form with a lesser focus on land use. In other words, form-based code focuses more on what buildings and facilities look like and less on what’s inside. It’s a type of code that is being used more often by local governments to encourage development, because it accommodates greater flexibility while fostering predictable, high-quality results.
The recently completed Vision 2045 Master Plan for Downtown Las Vegas incorporates the use of form-based code as redevelopment continues to help the area evolve. And unlike traditional zoning codes, form-based code encourages mixed-use development, better connectivity with walkable streets, and diverse and vibrant commercial and residential spaces.
The Las Vegas Medical District is the first downtown district to be rezoned under FBC guidelines and will help the District transform into a dynamic and walkable area by prioritizing mixed-use buildings and convenient public transportation. This is critical, given the District’s goal to become the medical research, education and training center of Southern Nevada and the premier medical district in the southwestern United States.
While stakeholders and partners of the Las Vegas Medical District have been more focused on the internal operations of their respective hospitals and institutions, the city is using FBC to focus on the physical infrastructure of the district. For example, the Las Vegas Medical District may benefit from future plans for a proposed high-capacity transit system along Maryland Parkway that will better connect the area to downtown. To take advantage of the proximity to future transit stops, FBC can permit the development of mid-rise apartments along Alta Drive and Charleston Boulevard.
In an area like the Las Vegas Medical District, where there are many aging buildings surrounded by older neighborhoods, FBC is particularly effective in transforming the community and encouraging redevelopment. That’s because it can provide incentives for mixed-use and mixed-income projects; it helps reduce distance between buildings and sidewalks; it encourages development of civic spaces to enrich the public realm; it accommodates a wider variety of housing types to create greater economic diversity; it prioritizes public transit and walkability; and it holistically determines the community impact of a development by considering the surrounding neighborhood.
A form-based code encourages conscious community development. Specifically, for the Las Vegas Medical District, it will require sufficient public space for medical and office developments of 10,000 square feet or greater while preserving adequate spaces for public gathering and areas for pedestrians to enjoy shade and rest. You could say form-based code is just what the doctor ordered!
Image: Rendering of the Las Vegas Medical District