More than a year after Andrés Duany and consultants from Duany Plater-Zyber & Company came to Mobile suggesting a form-based code for downtown, the pieces are finally falling into place.
On Jan. 17, the Mobile Planning Commission unanimously recommended requiring form-based code in downtown Mobile.
This all started in October 2012. That’s when DPZ came to Mobile after the Downtown Mobile Alliance hired the firm to create a new code for downtown, which would be form-based instead of the use-base code currently in place. Form-base code differs from the use-base code in that it brings in the pedestrian’s experience or public realm into the designing and zoning process.
Most downtown residents and business owners supported the code, but some in DeTonti Square had concerns that the rezoning would add more businesses to the area, which is mainly residential. There was some fear that the new code could also mean some existing building would be “non-conforming.” However, the code will “grandfather” in those buildings.
Regardless of the DeTonti Square residents’ concerns, the matter is now with the Mobile City Council.
During the mayoral debates, Sandy Stimpson said he supported form-based code.
When Duany was in Mobile, he said form-based code would make things simpler for people to develop in downtown.
“I heard a story about the city taking down a swing set from a park because it didn’t fit in the code or something. I know things could go wrong with it, but use common sense and think like a human and know it’ll be fine,” he said.
With form-based code, the people he said that develop will be attracted to Mobile.
“(The developers) are the ones who come in, develop and make an area cool,” Duany said. “The next people to come are the ‘risk aware,’ which are the developers.”
The developers are the group that take a cool area and make it more profitable.
“It takes the first generation — the risk oblivious — to get the developers,” he said. “A city should never have to pay for development.”
Duany warned Mobile is still friendly to risk takers, but if the city tightens up on its regulations anymore, then it might scare them off. Duany says form-based code actually allows for more design freedom.
“This is really all about making this an easier experience for people trying to develop or better downtown,” he said. “It seems like a simple idea because it is.”