City zoning codes typically do not make for exciting conversation, but the new East Billings Urban Renewal District (EBURD) Code is attracting attention. Adopted officially by City Council on Sept. 10, the new code takes effect Oct. 10. While some business owners were initially concerned about the code’s effect on existing operations, property owners that constitute the Billings Industrial Revitalization District (BIRD) worked with City-County Planning staff to make revisions that have now alleviated concerns and addressed changes that are seen as beneficial to all.
So, what’s new and different about the EBURD Code? According to Candi Beaudry, director of Planning and Community Services, conventional zoning prioritizes USE of the land over the FORM, while form-based code is just that – prioritizing the FORM over the USE. The new EBURD Code retains elements of conventional zoning, while also integrating form-based principles. While conventional zoning declares one use for an entire area, ignoring the mix of different street types, the new EBURD Code maps street types and bases building frontages on those street types.
Form-based EBURD Code allows for mixed-use buildings, where, for instance, a business operator could include housing for employees above a manufacturing or sales operation. In contrast, conventional zoning often separates housing from commercial uses. Form-based zoning is based on existing character and form as envisioned in the EBURD Master Plan; all current land uses are “grandfathered” in unless a property owner decides to change 50 percent or more of the land use.
“We think this is great for our EBURD landowners and businesses,” said Marty Connell, president of the BIRD. “Our goal was to make codes less restrictive for property owners and business operators. We were careful not to take away existing property rights, but to add more flexibility and stimulate more creative and versatile development.”
Steve Zeier, EBURD Tax Increment Finance District Coordinator, agreed, noting that “Form-based code is a progressive method of land use controls, allowing greater flexibility for development.”
In a related project, a concept plan for the eastern-most edge of the EBURD is under way, with a consultant team on board working with a steering committee and property owners to develop an Exposition Gateway Plan. Property owners and business operators are encouraged to participate in the first public meeting, scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 16, from 11:00 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the First Interstate Operations Center, 1800 Sixth Ave. N.