Planning to Disaster: Paso Robles, Calif. Adopts Form-Based Code

I’ve previously written about the dangers of form-based codes (see here, for instance), the Euclidian zoning replacements that, rather than gut government planning abilities, enhance the ability of city planners to further distort the real estate market, land-use choices, and transportation networks. From the Paso Robles Press, via Chad Emerson:

According to city officials, there will be semi-annual reviews slated for the plan, where adjustments can be made. It was an idea supported by various members of the council including City Councilman John Hamon.

Hamon said that with regard to future adjustments and design, “the city on the west side, again, from 100 years as it was originally laid out, we have kind of deviated – now we’re kind of I think trying to get back on focus back with a certain plan. I think that the form-based codes that we have are unique, I don’t think anybody else has those kinds tools at their disposal, and I think it’s going to be a great piece of work for anybody to grab a hold of.”

Three members of the public spoke on the item: Tom Flynn, property owner representing the Flynn family; property owner Tom Madden; and Downtown Paso Robles Main Street Association Executive Director Norma Moye. Madden expressed ongoing concerns about how future zoning would affect existing uses, which would be re-established, as well as screening requirements. Flynn disputed the public participation process and warned that property owners still may not be aware of the changes, “and there’s a lot of big surprises for folks.”

Flynn said that it will “negatively impact future development by increasing policies, codes, restrictions and ultimately adding to the long list of never-ending government intrusion into our lives.”

Mr. Flynn is exactly right. From a property rights standpoint, these are huge steps in the wrong direction. Form-based codes will spawn future, more terrible planning, and they give elected officials and government bureaucrats more power to centrally plan more aspects of development and use. I mean, this is what form-based codes are all about! Planners knowing better than property owners, etc. Except that rather than merely codifying broad separation of uses of land (with the accompanying dimension standards), the local planning agency has the power to enforce site-based development “character”: landscaping, signage, architectural design, etc. And not only will our property rights be diminished, but future development will also be more boring and uncreative — and more expensive.