Form-based zoning, also referred to as form-based code, is a relatively new way to approach the regulation of land uses through zoning. Since 1925, Amherst has used a standard zoning approach that emphasizes the regulation of land uses (residential, office, retail, etc.) proposed for any given property. This approach pays only secondary attention to the resulting form (design) of the buildings and landscape, instead trying to control design through general dimensional regulations—height, setbacks, coverage, and so forth—and through the permit process on a case-by-case basis. This approach does not by itself provide good control over what development will end up looking like, and it makes it difficult for developers to determine what a community wants. Often, communities will impose overly stringent regulations on new development, including through the use of discretionary Special Permits, because existing standard zoning regulations by themselves provide such poor control over the form of development that occurs.
Form-based zoning regulations place a much stronger emphasis on the physical end result of a proposed development—the size and shape of buildings, how buildings are going to be laid out, where parking and landscaping will go, the range of architectural types used, etc. The uses which will occupy any existing or proposed building are still carefully regulated, but since the fundamental design outcome for any proposed development is controlled through the form-based zoning, that zoning significantly reduces the need to impose overly tight or discretionary controls on uses that would otherwise be normal and expected in a given area.
With the help of consultants and staff, Amherst’s Planning Board is developing form-based zoning for North Amherst Village and Atkins Corners for consideration by the Fall 2011 Special Town Meeting. See below for further information.
The Planning Board anticipates that form-based zoning proposals will also be forthcoming in 2012 for the Gateway Corridor between the north end of downtown Amherst and the UMass campus. As implementation of the Amherst Master Plan proceeds, rezoning for other village centers will follow.
To view a summary description of form-based zoning, prepared by the Cecil Group, go to the Zoning Subcommittee webpage.