Midtown Blacksburg taps new development tool

Midtown Blacksburg taps new development tool

A conceptual rendering of the Midtown plaza

The old Blacksburg Middle School rezoning application uses a non-traditional zoning code format that’s been successfully used across the country to allow communities more control over development.

Following a suggestion from Blacksburg town staff, Midtown Redevelopment Partners is using form-based code, which aims for a particular type of “place” or built environment based on a community vision. Form-based code controls building form first and building use second, giving communities flexibility for multi-year projects, according to Planners Web.

This is the first large project in Blacksburg to use this zoning process.

“Blacksburg has been talking about how this land should be used for 15 years and created a vision for how they wanted it to be developed,” Midtown Redevelopment partner Jim Cowan said. “This process is a way to ensure that vision is realized.” Midtown’s process incorporates a pattern book that specifies the quality of design and materials and creates a layer of requirements on top of standard land use.

An image of the conceptual plan

The Midtown development team, turned to Seattle architect and urban planner Bill Kreager, and his team at Communita Atelier to develop a pattern book for the project that was designed to meet Blacksburg’s design principles.

Kreager calls the pattern book a tool to ensure buildings constructed within the Midtown project meet the town’s vision and design quality standards.

The pattern book creates flexibility to allow for changing tenants and desired projects while continuing to give Blacksburg control over the look, feel and “brand” of the community by setting design guidelines that future builders must substantially conform with, plus proffered restrictions that must be met. For example, the pattern book contains detailed specifications for building heights, parking requirements, masonry percentages and designated access points.

A conceptual rendering of the gateway building

Blacksburg’s planners can look at the pattern book to envision how a building will fit into the town’s vision. The proffered elements for the gateway building on South Main Street, for example, specify that the building will be a maximum of five stories, that the building will have 25-foot minimum setback and that any ground floor uses will have entries that face South Main Street.

Plans for a hotel on Church Street specify that if one is built, it may only be four stories of hotel rooms and common spaces with parking accessible from Midtown Way. The pattern book also specifies that buildings will be constructed with a minimum of 50 percent masonry materials such as brick, stone, or synthetic stone. EIFS is limited to accent panel use and can be no more than 20 percent of the façade.

“The pattern book gives the town more control over the quality of what will be built over traditional zoning,” Kreager said.

Conceptual designs of the hotel

Once the pattern book is approved, it will give town planners guidelines to ask developers to show how their plans conform to the pattern book and meet quality standards.

The pattern book style of rezoning has been especially popular in the South where it’s used to ensure projects maintain their historical character, Kreager said.

Pattern books also have been used to unite past and present in the heart of Seattle’s historic Pioneer Square to develop the eight-story Weyerhaeuser corporate headquarters and to develop critically-needed affordable housing in San Francisco.