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Zoning: Providing DNA for TOD


November 28, 2018

Last night, I proudly watched as over six month's worth of work culminated in the 5-0 vote from American Fork City's City Council adopting a zoning code for Transit-Oriented Development around their commuter rail (FrontRunner) station. This was not an easy process by any stretch. Undertaking the project required American Fork City to take a difficult look at how the area around their transit station was positioned for future growth and admit the delivery system was broken.

It is far too easy at times, for municipal government, to simply ignore problems associated with their development patterns and point fingers at the development community for the results that follow. This is both an irresponsible and unfair approach to take, because the bottom line is that ultimately it is municipal government that must take responsibility for their growth patterns. It is their rules (zoning) that developers are required to follow which yields the unpopular results.

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A common theme that I reiterated to the city over the course of this project was to take to heart the idea that zoning is equivalent to DNA. As with DNA, zoning sets in motion "genetic sequencing" which is what delivers the end result of the development pattern that is implemented through the requirements set forth by the zoning code. If different results are desired, then different "genetic sequencing" must be established allowing for development patterns that are more in line with the city's vision.

This theme was especially true regarding American Fork's desire to integrate a development pattern that would support and enhance their opportunity associated with delivering a fully functioning and supported commuter rail station. Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) is the planning term for the development pattern which works to integrate future development with its relative proximity to transit infrastructure.

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When done correctly, TODs deliver a magnifying impact that better serves communities on all fronts (physical place, fiscal return, environmental impact, and common good). The DNA of TODs calls for a set of "genetic sequencing" which is diametrically opposed to what conventional zoning delivers. TODs demand a human habitat which is walkable, mixed-use, development intense, activity rich, and socially diverse. To American Fork's credit, they understood the general principles of what a TOD is supposed to be and recognized that the zoning code they were using for delivery of these principles was falling short of the intended vision. The difficult decision was made to fix the problem rather than lose the tremendous opportunity if done correctly.

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Analysis was provided to the city as to the specific areas in their existing TOD Code which was failing them. This understanding then allowed for a game plan to be tailored to their needs in order to fix the problems and move forward with greater confidence as to what the development results will be. Last night was the culmination of this process. A zoning code, with the necessary DNA for delivering Transit-Oriented Development, is now in place which has the ability for implementing a future which aligns with American Fork's vision. I am honored to have been a contributing member to this effort.