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Reposted from the Sacramento Business Journal, read original here.

Ben van der Meer, Senior Reporter, Sacramento Business Journal

April 20. 2023 6:24am PDT

City of Auburn

The city of Auburn is in the process of adopting a form-based code for its downtown and Old Town areas, as a way to make it easier for developers to know what's likely to get approved. That's included city workshops with residents, such as the one shown here.

For developers apprehensive about proposing projects in Auburn'soldest areas, there's a movement underway to give them a roadmap to success. The city is crafting a form-based code, an overlay on zoning, to provide a guide to the types of buildings that will get approval to fit alongside existing century-plus-old structures and architecture.

"We would be most successful if we establish a mainstream of what's acceptable, and we have an opportunity to streamline the process," said Genevieve Marsh, an urban designer with her own firm who's also serving as the project lead.

Currently in the outreach phase to residents, the form-based code would have more emphasis on allowable buildings than what use they'd have. The code would apply to an area of roughly 200 acres encompassing both downtown Auburn along Highway 49 and the historic Old Town Auburn area off Interstate 80.

Jonathan Wright, Auburn's community and economic development director, said current city zoning codes date to 1973. A form-based code would be a step toward helping the city modernize its older areas while retaining their character, he said.

He gave the example of a developer who wanted to build a chain pharmacy store in downtown Auburn, with a conventional style of such stores and the accompanying requirements for setbacks and other conditions. If the store later closed, he said, the city is left with a large building that's both empty and out of sync with its surroundings.

With a form-based code, he could show developers a prescriptive design for a building likely to be approved, he said, making them more likely to pursue a project under it.

To create the codes, Marsh took inventory of the city's existing buildings within its downtown and Old Town areas. That will create a toolbox for developers to use, Wright said.

Marsh is leading the outreach effort, which includes both public meetings and workshops to discuss the process. She's also surveyed residents and learned they'd like to see more buildings with a mix of uses in its oldest areas, such as housing above street retail.

"Our greatest opportunity is also our greatest challenge, and that is walkability," she said. In addition, she's also established kiosks in downtown and Old Town that include QR code links to learn more, as a way to meet people where they are rather than hoping they come to meetings.

Formal adoption of the code could come by fall 2024, Wright said. Once it's adopted, both he and Marsh said they're confident they'll see new developments pop up that follow it.

"In looking at our building stock, we've got a lot of potential for buildings that could use major renovations and a decent number of sites that are vacant or lined up for redevelopment," Marsh said, adding, "We're testing building types so that they actually pencil out. It's super important that this is really realistic."

The Imagine Auburn team hosted the second community workshop in their series, entitled Create, on Tuesday, April 11th at the Auburn Public Library Community Room. Workshop 2 allowed the creative minds of the Auburn community to come together and continue developing a vision for future growth in the Commercial Core that will generate a new form-based code (FBC) zoning overlay for the district.

The primary goal of Create was to apply the ideas expressed by the community in the first workshop and explore how those ideas may, or may not, achieve the desired results in plan and en mass. Almost 40 community members were in attendance, some returning for their second workshop and others bringing their fresh perspectives as first-time attendees. The afternoon began with a brief introduction to the project followed by an icebreaker activity that engaged participants with a summary of the first workshop, Explore. In teams, participants arranged a list of Auburn elements based on their preferences. They explored how their personal interests related to the public interest, comparing their answers to the public’s top five rankings from previously culminated outreach.

Next came the main event, the playing of the Imagine Auburn city board game. This game was designed in direct response to the top opportunity and challenge the community identified for the Commercial Core: walkability. The goal of the game was to make an optimal walkable lifestyle for each participant’s assigned character, to better their character’s Auburn experience by improving where they live, work, and play. Players could choose to utilize existing establishments or place new establishments to address their character’s needs. The establishments available for the gameplay came from ideas of Workshop 1 attendees regarding how to address walkability. Characters included Young Family, Family with Teens, 20’s and Free, 30’s Professionals, and Retirees. After the board game’s two rounds were completed, focus groups were created based on the participant’s new “city planner” skills. Most players managed to create a reasonable walkable lifestyle for their character from the Workshop 1 ideas, with certain establishments being preferred. Several players identified scenarios where establishments did not produce the desired effect.

To make the most of the gameboard learnings, participants were divided into four focus groups to discuss residential space, commercial space, open and green space, and social space. Focus groups then discussed their findings with the whole group. The evening concluded with good spirits and popsicle treats, with most participants eager to continue their discussions further with the design team and attend the third remaining workshop.

Both the game board results and the focus group notes are assisting the team in developing the third and final community workshop, where the community’s vision will be displayed as a large masterplan for the public to review and comment upon.

Imagine Auburn is encouraging the local community to attend Envision - Workshop 3 to help shape Auburn’s FBC. See the pieces come together, celebrate the community’s progress, and enjoy the company of others at The Station Public House over drinks and appetizers. The team asks all interested participants to RSVP to help the team prepare the event accordingly. All generations are encouraged to attend.

Upcoming Events:

Envision - Workshop 3

Tuesday, April 25th from 5:00 pm to 7:30 pm, The Station Public House

Can you find your ideas in the vision plan? Come see the pieces together and envision implementation.

Community members can register for the workshops or join the project’s email list through the project’s website,

Imagine Auburn is the public outreach component for the Form-Based Code project sponsored by the City of Auburn.

Workshop 1 Review - Press Release

The Imagine Auburn team produced the first of three Workshops on Thursday, March 30th at the Old Town Pizza Fairgrounds, inviting the Auburn community to explore the factors that shape the Commerical Core and envision a positive future growth scenario. These workshops are fundamental to creating Auburn’s new form-based code (FBC) for the Commerical Core.

The first workshop provided incredible feedback from the community, with 45 community members attending the workshop and contributing vital feedback for the team. The workshop opened with a short silent visioning exercise to recollect a positive experience in the Commerical Core’s public realm.

“That good warm feeling you feel right now is what we are going to try to create for others in the collective vision we are working on today,” spoke Genevieve Marsh, Project Lead.

Participants then separated into groups to circulate through four interactive display stations covering lifestyle, character, vision, and building a future. After a period, each group reviewed the collective responses at a station and reported back a summary to the whole audience. Based on the report out, participants formed focus groups for each station, with additional focus groups for sustainability and transportation by popular demand. When the focus groups reconvened to share their conversations with the whole audience, both infrastructure and social-based solutions were identified. The afternoon ended on a high note with enthusiasm and pizza. The public socialized over how their own interests and projects related to those of others and how they could be supported by the form-based code.

Since the event was postponed two days due to severe weather, those who wanted to attend Workshop 1 but were unable to can still contribute by visiting the project website and completing an online survey version of the 12 vision boards.

Both the focus group notes and the activity responses have been collected to assist the team in developing the second workshop, where the vision will start to be workshopped on a site map.

Imagine Auburn is encouraging the local community to attend Create - Workshop 2 to help shape Auburn’s FBC and enjoy the company of others over food and refreshment. The team asks for all interested participants to RSVP, as there will be limited seats for the main activity, a board game. All generations are welcome to attend.

Upcoming Events:

Create - Workshop 2

Tuesday, April 11th from 3:30 pm to 6:00 pm, Auburn Public Library Community Room

Have you ever wanted to design a city? How about reshaping Auburn itself? Play Imagine Auburn’s City board game. The final game boards will help the design team by providing them with concepts to merge into a commercial core vision plan.

Envision - Workshop 3

Tuesday, April 25th from 5:00 pm to 7:30 pm, location to be determined

Can you find your ideas in the vision plan? Come see the pieces together and envision implementation.

Community members can register for the workshops or join the project’s email list through the project’s website,

Imagine Auburn is the public outreach component for the Form-Based Code project sponsored by the City of Auburn.

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