WEST PALM BEACH, FL-Planners in this fourth fastest-growing county in the United States are rewriting zoning codes, using a reverse engineering process. The goal is to create more opportunities for mixed use development, Frank Duke, the county’s planning director, tells GlobeSt.com.

County commissioners approved a new comprehensive growth plan two years ago that split the county into five tiers: Urban/suburban; exurban–areas with suburban density but some rural characteristics; rural–areas where lots range in size from one to 20 acres and commercial opportunities are limited; agricultural reserve–a 21,000 acre area in the southern part of the county west of the turnpike, east of the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge; and the Glades tier–the western reaches of the county, containing mostly large scale agriculture.

Instead of going directly to the code-writing stage, however, the county decided to use the reverse engineering process.

“In the past, we were always amazed to see how different the end product was from what we expected when we wrote the codes,” Duke says. So this time, Duke’s department first contracted with a local planning and architectural firm to draw up conceptual images, using the guidelines outlined in the Comprehensive Plan.

Those images were presented to the commissioners at a public hearing earlier this month. The commissioners liked what they saw, and instructed the county’s zoning commission to rewrite the zoning codes.

Once the zoning codes have been drafted, Duke says, the county will contract with a different architectural firm to draw up images based on the codes. “If we get what we expect, we’ll know the codes are a success,” the planner says. “If it’s drastically different from what we expected, we will have to go back and try again.”

One of the proposed concepts that has drawn a lot of interest is the traditional marketplace, which would look more like old-fashioned Main Streets rather than shopping plazas, with an emphasis on the sidewalk instead of the parking lot.

Duke says this concept would probably be most appropriate for the commercial parts of the agricultural reserve tier, but could also be considered in other parts of the county.

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