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Planning for pedestrians

A new technique that looks to turn 50 years of town planning on its head – and eliminate guidelines that spawned suburban sprawl and automobile dependency – is being investigated by Truckee officials.”Smart-growth” form-based codes, which encourage high density development, a mixture of housing, shops and offices and fewer parking spaces – may become Truckee’s new guidelines to steer the town toward pedestrian-oriented progressive development.Town planners are looking at upcoming projects – like Teichert’s Planned Community One, Joerger Ranch and Hilltop – as possible opportunities to implement the new planning tool in town.The idea behind form-based codes is to define streets, sidewalks, landscaping and building heights and types rather than focusing on defining areas, such as residential, commercial or industrial, by zoning.While smart-growth form-based codes may be billed as progressive, Steve Tracy, an expert in smart growth who spoke to Truckee residents at a form-based code seminar on Sept. 19, said it is safe to say that its proponents are actually reverting to an older building model. Before automobile-dominated transportation in the country, a mixture of homes and shops in a compact interconnected community was the model of the day.Zonings used by most towns and cities encourages the fragmentation of a town into blocks of single uses, Tracy said.”Zoning, remember, came 100 years ago out of stinky, loud, smelly, smoky, dangerous workplaces – stockyards, slaughterhouses and steel mills, the places nobody wanted to live near,” he said. “But we’re carrying that whole concept of separation of uses, of single use districts, into an era where it really doesn’t have to apply.”Councilwoman Barbara Green said that there are several development proposals in Truckee that could benefit from form-based codes.”The door is open,” Green said.The new codes should be popular with the community, town and developers, she said.”The whole thing about the form-based codes that developers like is it removes the uncertainty,” Green said. “It is a way to save a lot of time and money [for the town and the developer].”Councilman Josh Susman said the transition from the town’s current planning principles to form-based codes would not be a large change if the town decided to move in that direction.”It’s very interesting that it is not brand new stuff,” Susman said. “I think we already have examples on the ground and in the documents that are form-based codes.”The railyard, for example, is shaping up to be a project that follows the form-based code model very closely, he said.The pedestrian-oriented, mixed-use project will be a welcome departure from what the town has seen in the past – far flung subdivisions like Glenshire or Tahoe Donner that force people to rely on their automobile.”I think that we have to get away from these remote, peripheral satellites,” Susman said.Planning experts like Tracy believe the growing population of the state, coupled with an overall aging nation, will encourage this new type of planning.”The kind of housing and the neighborhood we want to live in is going to change,” Tracy said. “The quarter acre lot with a lot of lawn to mow and a three-car garage and a lot of bedrooms for the kids doesn’t have a lot of appeal when the kids are gone and the lawn is kind of a pain.”SidebarGoing Form-based in Grass ValleyIf Truckee decides to adopt form-based codes, it will be following a Nevada County city that has already begun the process.Grass Valley is six months into developing the new zoning code for its historic and commercial areas, said Grass Valley Community Development Director Joe Heckel. And the community has welcomed the change.”Once you set the templet for the style of development you want to see you get a lot of neighborhood buy-in because it is more about the form than the use,” said Heckel.While the codes will be uncharted territory for the city – making it a learning experience for everyone – Heckel said the builder and developers have also been open to the change.”What we are saying is if you build to these parameters your predictability of getting the building approved is very good,” said Heckel.The form-based code district will cover almost one third of Grass Valley, said Heckel. It will encourage garages in the rear of homes and houses closer to the sidewalk to foster a neighborhood environment.


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