Changing Demands in Form-Based Codes
Whether helping pull together celebrated redevelopment efforts in Orlando or contributing to a major revitalization of Nashville, Rick Bernhardt has been in the background helping make sure legal aspects of key projects come together. During a visit to Sarasota as a guest of the Downtown Sarasota Alliance, he stressed good planning can make sure developments aren't stalled, largely by getting the entire community on board with the same vision.
"We had situations in Nashville of 30 years of conflict with neighbors and developers and nothing ever got built," Bernhardt, executive director of the Metropolitan Nashville-Davidson County Planning Department told SRQ in advance of a Tuesday night event at The Francis. "But the system was set up to bring a proposal to neighborhoods and have them respond. We never opened up the process to say what was important to neighborhoods and what they actually would want. The system was set up to be contentious."
Bernhardt more recently has won accolades for work turning that pattern around, notably through the adoption of more than 30 form-based codes aimed at establishing a shared vision for growth and bringing it to fruition. The codes were developed through a process that involved the community, and that has led to developers being able to move on projects with less opposition.
Of course, form-based codes are not new to Sarasota, and Bernhardt had some role in bringing them here as well. He worked as a consultant on certain projects with Duany Plater-Zyberk and Company more than a decade ago, and came to Sarasota to observe meetings held by DPZ on the Downtown Sarasota Master Plan. It has been between eight and ten years since Bernhardt was last in Sarasota, but at first blush he likes what he sees. "It looks like a lot of the plan has been implemented," he said. "The streets look nice and the scale is good."
Tensions between neighborhoods and developers, though, have not disappeared. The conflict remains central to the city politic, and also has been the greatest source of discord in an update to the Sarasota County 2050 Plan.
Even when a community vision is put forth, Bernhardt said, it needs routine updates. Modern demands for more dense urban cores are a perfect demonstration of why, he said.
"If you look at the plans in the early 2000s, even up to 2005, things were very different from today," he said. "Nobody actively anticipated the change in millennials—the change in household size, household make-up and demand for an urban community." While people a decade ago still tended not to buy homes until they started families, a shift in mindset has younger buyers getting units now. Combined with the retiree population that lives an active lifestyle for longer, Bernhardt noted, the highest demand in the housing market is now for one-person homes.
Beyond housing, there is also a change in demand for centralized amenities, which means dense, mixed-use development. "You talk to millennials or to aging boomers and what they are looking for in places is the ability to get to activities they want to go to in the shortest time possible, whether that is parks, museums or coffee houses," he said. "They want to be close to things, and time has become much more important."