needs with public facilities. “Part of the strategy was concentrating parking so that every little development didn’t
need to provide it,” Zimmerman said. A streetscape design
plan also was a critical supplement to the form-based
code, all designed with the idea that a streetcar might
one day service the route (a feature that continues to be
hotly debated in the political process).
Even without the envisioned transit, the vision for Columbia Pike has taken shape in the last several years. A housing
nonprofit turned a former gas station site into a mixed-use building with 100 percent below market-rate units,
across from a 10-story building of “upscale” apartments
with ground-floor retail, Zimmerman said. The developer
of Penrose Square — two levels of retail, with a grocery
store, apartments in 6-7 story buildings — deeded land
to the county to provide for the envisioned public square,
which now has a fountain and hosts outdoor movies.
“You have a place you can go and see people walking,
which you would not have seen 20 years ago, with sidewalk cafes, a town square, kids playing in the fountain,”
said Zimmerman. “We’ve been able to create a place.”
Denver was another early adopter that saw striking results,
and has since gone on to apply form-based codes across
the city. In the late 1990s the city was looking for a way
A streetscape design plan is critical to the form-based code.
to stimulate redevelopment of a derelict warehouse district with environmental issues along the Platte River. The
region was planning to make significant investments in
taking down looming viaducts and building a light rail
line and wanted to draw new residents and businesses to
a restored waterfront. A series of planning and visioning exercises and negotiations with developers resulted
in the Commons Planned Unit Development. “It was
form-based before people called it that,” said Abe Barge,
senior city planner with the city of Denver.
In the years since, the Central Platte Valley has developed
into a walkable, urban jewel. The sprawling Commons
Park is lined with mid-rise residential buildings with
ground-floor restaurants and shops. Hundreds of new
residents keep the human-scale streets lively, but trails
through the park and along the river allow for respite from
the hubbub. “It was so successful that we have taken the
same ideas citywide,” Barge said. In 2010, the city adopted
a new zoning code with a form-based approach that seeks
to make development easier for those who adhere to the
city’s design intentions, added Barge, who was on the consulting team for the code, before joining the city.
South Platte River Fest in Denver, Colo.
Photos courtesy of Visit Denver