By Dom Nozzi
“FAR” is a land development regulation used by planners and developers, and is found in most town zoning regulations. It refers to the “Floor Area Ratio” of a development.
As an example of how FAR is used, an FAR of 1.0 allows a single-story building to cover an entire plot of land, or a two-story building to cover half of the land in question. An FAR of 2.0, therefore, allows a two-story building to cover an entire plot of land, a four-story building to cover half of the land, or an eight-story building to cover a quarter of the land. And so on.
NIMBYs (Not In My Backyard) in communities throughout the nation tend to be well aware of FAR regulations, and often counterproductively fight aggressively to minimize the FAR ratio. I recommended relatively high FARs in town centers or other places where compact, higher-density development is desired because it is well known by researchers that low FARs kill transportation choice.
Walking, biking and transit are nearly impossible when FARs are low.
I also happen to believe that higher FARs are much more charming and lovable (when done right). Most NIMBYs improperly assume that higher FARs mean that all greenspace on a lot or in a neighborhood would be consumed by asphalt or buildings.
Ironically, the places that most all of us love most (including NIMBYs) are those places with relatively high FARs (much higher than NIMBYs want when they yell and scream at public meetings).
It would be nice, in site plan review, to do two things:
1. Invite citizens randomly throughout the community to attend the public meeting (as suggested by Andres Duany) so that you reduce the NIMBYism associated with the typical scenario where only those living close to the project are invited. A broader geographic range of citizens attending development review meetings is much more likely to elicit support for a fuller range of community quality of life objectives, rather than more narrow, emotional, counterproductive NIMBY sentiments.
2. Figure out a way to allow citizens who attend (or vote at) the development review meeting to somehow FEEL what the design will be like. This can be done either by having people visit a representative site so they can feel it and see it with their own eyes, or prepare quality 3-D images for the presentation. Just stating what the FAR will be for the project with a number (“this project has an FAR of 2.0”) can easily terrify those who are not designers.
My latest book, The Car is the Enemy of the City (WalkableStreets, 2010), can be purchased here: http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/the-car-is-the-enemy-of-the-city/10905607
Visit my urban design website read more about what I have to say on those topics. You can also schedule me to give a speech in your community about transportation and congestion, land use development and sprawl, and improving quality of life.
Or email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org