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January 2011 | Volume 10 Issue 1   


    Island Housing Program Combines Affordability and Sustainability
    The SmartCode and Affordable Housing
    The Transformation of a Suburb

The SmartCode and Affordable Housing

More and more communities across the nation are eschewing traditional zoning codes in favor of smart growth codes, such as form-based codes, traditional neighborhood designs, and transit-oriented developments. The SmartCode, originally developed by Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company, is a model form-based code that promotes sustainable development by encouraging a mix of uses, diverse housing options at all income levels, open space preservation, and pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods that reduce automobile dependency. Unlike conventional zoning, the SmartCode model combines zoning, subdivision regulations, urban design standards, and infrastructure requirements into one regulating document. The one-stop ordinance generates predictability and timeliness, ultimately lowering development costs in the approval process. Since 2003, when the SmartCode was first unveiled, more than 40 municipalities have adopted customized versions of the code.

A diagram showing the six rural-urban transect zones.Affordable Housing

The SmartCode is based on six transect zones ranging from “Natural” to “Urban Core”. A mix of uses and housing types are required in most of the zones. In addition, the code also allows for the development of accessory dwelling units and other affordable housing provisions within the transect zones. This article takes a brief look at some of the communities that have recently adopted a SmartCode with added provisions for affordable housing development.

Jamestown, Rhode Island. In a 2007 report that put forth the community’s vision for future growth, Jamestown residents identified affordable housing as a critical component. The report contained strategies to increase the area’s affordable housing supply, including the adoption of a SmartCode that would allow for higher densities and mixed uses. In October 2009, Jamestown, a small island located in the middle of Narragansett Bay, adopted a calibrated version of the SmartCode. The code is mandatory for the town’s Special Development District , which includes areas of the Island that can support higher densities. Within this district, accessory dwelling units are allowed as an affordable housing option. The accessory units must be deed-restricted so as to remain affordable. Additionally, the code allows reduced minimum lot sizes to accommodate affordable housing. The smaller lots are required to be part of a land trust and are tied to a ground lease or deed restricted for a period of 99 years.

Ridgeland, South Carolina. Following a public charette and visioning process, Ridgeland adopted its version of the SmartCode in March 2010. The mandatory SmartCode aims to retain the town’s character and accommodate growth in a sustainable manner. The code includes provisions to encourage affordable housing, such as priority processing and expedited approval. Highest priority is given to affordable housing projects that are developed in partnership with a community land trust or nonprofit housing agency. Additionally, the town offers density bonuses and parking reductions for affordable housing units located within one quarter mile of a transit stop.

Flagstaff, Arizona. The “City of Pines” is currently in the process of updating its zoning code to better promote smart growth development. The new zoning ordinance will feature transect zones, form-based development regulations, and sustainability principles. Various affordable housing incentives will be consolidated under the new code. The Traditional Neighborhood District (TND) that Flagstaff adopted in 2007 is expected to remain largely unchanged in the new ordinance. Modeled after the SmartCode, the TND applies to new and infill developments that incorporate mixed uses, higher densities, and traditional neighborhood design elements. Incentives to encourage affordable housing include expedited permitting, fee waivers, and reduced parking requirements. The most recent development under the city’s TND features 125 permanently affordable units on 27 acres that are part of the city’s land trust. The land will remain under city ownership and the homes will be available for residents making between 80 and 150 percent of the area median income.


Ensuring the availability of diverse housing options for all ages and income levels is an integral component of the SmartCode. The regulatory flexibility and streamlined approval process offered by the code can help lower housing development costs and increase affordability. The code, which can be adapted to meet specific needs of a community, is becoming increasingly popular with local governments intent on promoting sustainable growth and affordable living.


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