North Bend adopts development code for downtown buildings

North Bend’s City Council unanimously approved a form-based code to guide development in its downtown commercial zone, a roughly 20-block area.

The new code was approved on June 1. The new code focuses on how a building looks and how it relates to public spaces instead of outlining uses for the buildings. A press release from the city states that as more downtown buildings are re-developed, the code will provide a unified ordinance to achieve the desired character — and keep developments in the scale and character of existing buildings.

The code does not change the maximum allowable building heights for the downtown commercial zone. The downtown core will remain at a maximum of 35 feet.

The city has historically operated under a zoning code, where certain uses like commercial or residential were allowed in certain areas. This was replaced by form-based code, which prescribes what buildings must look like, and how they mingle with pedestrians, traffic and other buildings.

The goal of the update is to energize downtown as a destination while increasing the overall supply of affordable housing options.

City officials hope that the change, in part, could boost production of middle-income housing by not prescribing what uses a particular building should have, but rather that a building fit with the rest of the city’s aesthetic.

Form-based code was first implementedin Florida in the early 1980s, and has slowly spread to the Pacific Northwest. Several cities in King County have already adopted similar measures, including Bothell for its downtown redevelopment and Tukwila for its Southcenter area, along with Mountlake Terrace’s town center.

The region has been slower to adopt these codes in part because of its diverse terrain, lack of established and desirable development patterns, and a desire for a broad range of architectural styles, according to the Municipal Research and Services Center.

Many cities across the country rely on zoning principles that were established a century ago to separate industrial land uses from residential neighborhoods. North Bend operated under a similar zoning system with its old code. After World War II and a massive migration to the suburbs, single family homes were in vogue. Townhouses, courtyard buildings and fourplexes were popular before they declined.

The interest in form-based code also comes as governments are looking for ways to increase housing stock. The King County Council has a goal of building or preserving 44,000 affordable housing units within the next four years. And while the mid-price housing in the North Bend proposal wouldn’t be affordable units, more stock is needed to address issues around housing affordability and homelessness.