Bradenton code is textbook for New Urbanist movement

mjohnson@bradenton.comFebruary 7, 2014 

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Timothy Polk, Bradenton director of planning and community development, discusses city development at the Congress of New Urbanists summit Thursday at the New College of Florida in Sarasota with Johnette Isham, executive director of Realize Bradenton. MATT M. JOHNSON/Bradenton Herald

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SARASOTA -- On stage in front of a room full of city planners, architects and engineers, city planning Director Timothy Polk cut through professional jargon to tell his audience what Bradenton's future planning is all about.

"We need to be an urban cool city," Polk said, as he switched his eyeglasses for a pair of Ray Bans.

The visual got a laugh, but the subject of Polk's 45-minute presentation at the annual summit of the Congress of New Urbanists Florida was serious business. Place the emphasis on business.

Presenting along with Johnette Isham, executive director of Realize Bradenton, Polk held Bradenton up as an object lesson in city planning with a form-based code during the first afternoon of the two-day summit. Bradenton enacted a form-based code in 2011, and has used it to

rebrand the city for attracting and retaining businesses, and setting the scene for cultural events.

A form-based code is a set of development regulations designed to control the physical forms of buildings, streets and neighborhoods. Traditional city development codes concentrate on regulating land use.

The talk was right up the new urbanists' alley. With its focus on place-specific architectural standards, urban infill and bringing more people to the central 1,830-acre portion of Bradenton, the plan lines up with the main tenants of the New Urbanist movement.

Polk said a form-based code is a preferred tool when it comes to redeveloping a city's image and operations. Over the past few years, he said, the code guided development of Riverwalk; the renovation of the former "Pink Palace" hotel into a Hampton Inn; construction of the new performing arts center; and helped businesses, including Mohs Surgery and Dermatology Center, fit into existing neighborhoods.

It's also being applied to development of a downtown grocery store plaza to encourage shoppers to come to the store on foot, bicycles, buses and cars.

Using this type of code is not all smooth sailing. A unique challenge in adopting the form-based code was accommodating Tropicana, which has its orange juice production facility inside the city's central acreage. The company did not want to adhere to form by sacrificing function at its property.

"They were really fearful of form-based code," Polk said. "They want to be able to make changes on a dime."

He told his audience to also expected push-back from public safety departments over the issue of street width. Under its code, Bradenton is looking for places to narrow streets to lower speeds, widen sidewalks and provide safer places for bicyclists to ride.

Narrowing driving lanes was not initially a popular idea among police fire, and public works officials.

"I had to convince them," he said.

Isham was on hand, in part, to illustrate the results of planning based on the new code. Riverwalk has hosted the newly created and sold-out Bradenton Blues Festival the past two years. Old Main Street, a template of what form-based code is expected to bring to more downtown streets, hosts numerous events each year.

This type of planning compels people to spend time in downtown Bradenton, Isham said.

"Downtown is truly everyone's neighborhood," she said.

That formula plays into one of Realize Bradenton's top goals for the city.

"More people, more buzz, more money," Isham said, using the phrase to close a short PowerPoint presentation: "Top 10 Tips from Realize Bradenton."

The Congress of New Urbanists Florida continues its summit Friday morning with seminars about the Fruitville Initiative Development Plan, a keynote speech about the 21st century economy, and a panel discussion about waterfront communities.

Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027, or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.

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