planBTV Downtown Code

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It's official - the new downtown form-based code has been adopted by the City Council!!

Click here for a copy of the final version - adopted Nov. 13, 2017.

As recommended in planBTV-Downtown & Waterfront, the Planning Department has been hard at work developing a new set of zoning regulations for the downtown and waterfront. The model we followed is known as "form-based". Form-based components of development regulations are intended to foster more predictable built results and a higher-quality public realm by emphasizing physical form rather than the separation of land uses. Form-based regulations are not subjective guidelines, but instead are detailed a prescriptive standards that are adopted as part of the development regulation.

After more than 4-years of work and more than 40 public meetings, on August 8 the Planning Commission held a Public Hearing on the proposal and unanimously recommended sending the proposed amendment "ZA-18-01 planBTV Downtown Code" to the City Council. On August 28th the City Council began their deliberations and after seeking further considerations regarding green and high perfromance building requirements, on September 18, the City Council accepted the final recommendations and held a final public hearing on Monday October 16, 2017 before taking action to adopt the amendment.

The amendment to the City's zoning regulations establishes a new Article 14 – planBTV: Downtown Code that regulates all development in the Downtown and Waterfront area emphasizing the intended physical form, character of place, and compatibility of uses. This amendment replaces all existing regulations pertaining to development in the Downtown, Downtown Waterfront, Downtown Transition, and Battery Street Transition zoning districts.

This adopted amendment incuded two parts:

Part 1: Article 14 – the planBTV: Downtown Code itself is presented as a single document proposed added in its entirety to the Burlington Comprehensive Development Ordinance; and,

Part 2: Includes an array of changes to specific sections of the Burlington Comprehensive Development Ordinance (including Appendix A - Use Table) for the purpose of incorporating the new article and establishing proper references. Changes shown underlined are to be added and changes shown in strike-out are to be deleted.


A form-based code is a land development regulation that fosters predictable built results and a high-quality public realm by using physical form (rather than separation of uses) as the organizing principle for the code. A form-based code is a regulation, not a mere guideline, adopted as part of a city, town, or county development regulation. (Form-Based Code Institute)

A form-based code offers a powerful alternative to conventional zoning regulations because they address the relationship between building facades and the public realm, the form and mass of buildings in relation to one another, and the scale and types of streets and blocks. The regulations and standards in form-based codes are presented in both words and clearly drawn diagrams and other visuals, and are keyed to a regulating plan that designates the appropriate form and scale (and therefore, character) of development, rather than only making distinctions regarding land-use types.

This approach contrasts with conventional zoning’s focus on the micro management and segregation of land uses, and the control of development intensity through abstract and uncoordinated parameters (e.g.., FAR, dwellings per acre, setbacks, parking ratios, traffic LOS), to the neglect of an integrated built form. Not to be confused with design guidelines or general statements of policy, form-based codes are regulatory, not advisory. They are drafted to implement a community plan, and seek to achieve a community vision based on time-tested forms of urbanism. Ultimately, a form-based code is only a tool; the quality of development outcomes depends on the quality and objectives of the community plan that a code implements. We've prepared a short list of frequently asked questions if you'd like to know more.


In the fall of 2014 the City Council created a Joint Committee with the Planning Commission to begin the official review of the proposed the new form-based code. Below are meeting dates and agendas of the Joint Committee:

In January 2016, the City invited Lee Einsweiller - a principal with the Code Studio in Austin, Texas, and a national expert on zoning codes - to visit Burlington and speak with residents and special interest groups about the about the rise and use of building form elements within zoning codes from a national context. The purpose was to expand the City’s public outreach and engagement efforts around the City’s creation of a new form based code, and to share information and perspective from a national expert regarding the creation and use of form-based code development standards in local land use regulations including in Burlington. The main event was a public lecture and panel discussion attended by ~50 members of the community and televised for local community access. Then in May 2016 the Joint Form Based Code Committee took their Draft Code on the road to share with community members what they've been working on and solicit feedback. They held a total of 4 neighborhood meetings (Ward 6 on Thursday May 5, Ward 1 on Wednesday May 11, Ward 2/3 on Thursday May 12, and Ward 5 on Thursday May 19).

With the much anticipated redevelopment of the Burlington Town Center moving forward, several of the development and design standards from the proposed Code were incorporated into a new zoning overlay that was approved by the City Council in October and the Burlington voters on Nov 8, 2016. These new form-based development and design standards guided the zoning review of the Burlington Town Center Redevelopment Project which was approved unanimously by the Development Review Board on March 2017. The overall result of this "pilot" was that the final design of project was greatly influenced by these new form based standards, and the City's review process was much more transparent and predictable - a "win-win!"

The final steps toward adoption of the planBTV Downtown Code began with a joint Planning Commission-City Council work session on Monday April 17, 2017, and finally on Monday June 19, 2017 the Joint Committee approved a DRAFT planBTV: Downtown Code for consideration by the full Planning Commission to start the formal adoption process!!