Form Based Zones and Standards News

Form Based Zones and Standards for the South District

South District Map

Revised Drafts Now Available for Public Review

Staff will present an introduction and overview of the draft form-based code to the Planning and Zoning Commission at their July 1 and July 15 meetings. Please join us to learn more about the draft. If you cannot attend these meetings, you can watch the meeting videos at your convenience at City Channel 4's website. 

Comments on the draft can be submitted to Kirk Lehmann at

Project Background:

The City is working with the consulting firm Opticos Design Inc on establishing form-based zoning regulations for an area in the South District of Iowa City.

This planning project builds on and is an extension of previous planning work in the community:

  • South District Plan: Adopted in 2015, the South District Plan outlines the vision for this area. Over the course of many months, staff worked with the community on the development of this vision.
  • Project Direction Report and Form-based Code Analysis: Most recently, representatives of Opticos Design Inc and City staff worked with the community to assess the feasibility of implementing a form-based code for undeveloped areas in the South District. Completed in August 2017, the project direction report includes a summary of interviews with stakeholders, a community workshop, and the results of a visual preference exercise.

Project Description:

The project focuses on the creation of a new zoning code that will regulate future development projects. Zoning is the main tool to implement the City’s comprehensive plan, including the South District Plan. Zoning provides the rules for how land can be used and developed. It outlines what structures can be built and where and how they will be used. Conventional zoning dictates the number of dwelling units allowed, maximum heights, lot coverage, and minimum on-site parking.

The City is working with Opticos to develop form-based zoning regulations, which is different than the conventional approach to zoning. Form-based zoning focuses less on land use (e.g. commercial v. residential) and more on the scale (e.g. bulk and height) of the development and its relationship to the street and the public realm.

Project Goals:

  • Neighborhoods that are safe for pedestrians and encourage walking
  • Preservation of important environmental resources
  • A connected network of streets and paths
  • Allowance of a variety of housing types
  • Ability to apply these regulations to other areas of the city

ct Timeline:

April 2019: Project Kick-off

July 2019:  Residential Market Analysis

November 2019: Public Review Draft Form-Based Code, Stakeholder Input on Draft Form-Based Code

February 2020: Release of Draft Regulating Plan

June 2021: Revised Draft Form-Based Code and Regulating Plan

July & August 2021: Planning and Zoning Commission meetings

Summer/Fall 2021:  City Council Public Hearing

Important Documents:

  1. South District Plan
  2. Project Direction Report & Form-based Code Analysis
  3. Form-Based Zones and Standards - Initial Draft
  4. Presentation on Initial Draft Form-Based Zones and Standards
  5. Draft Regulating Plan 
  6. Presentation on Draft Regulating Plan

Market Study Documents

Other Resources:

  • Opticos Design Inc
  • Missing Middle Housing
    • Coined by the founder of Opticos Design, Daniel Parolek, Missing Middle Housing refers to “house-scaled building with multiple units in walkable neighborhoods.”
  • Coding Tools: Document produced by Opticos Design Inc that provides an overview of zoning and introduces form-based codes.

Staff Contact:

Anne Russett, Senior Planner