Local planning staff, along with the Maryland Department of Transportation and the Maryland Transit Administration, helped Aberdeen officials prepare new zoning for the area around Aberdeen’s MARC Station. The Aberdeen station was designated a state Transit Oriented Development site in 2010, which throws state support behind mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly development around existing and future transit stations. In 2012, the City Council passed a master plan that called for a new set of zoning regulations around the station, to promote a walkable center with dining, retail and residential opportunities city leaders want. MDP staff helped create zoning to increase redevelopment opportunities around Aberdeen’s busy commuter station. This new Transit Oriented Development zoning district is expected to take effect in early 2014. The city also has leveraged the Strategic Demolition and Smart Growth Investment Fund to assemble parcels, creating an opportunity for redevelopment on a large scale.
Advancing Transit Oriented Development in Aberdeen Using Form Based Code
Aberdeen City Council members adopted new zoning designed for transit oriented development in early 2014 to encourage redevelopment and help implement the Aberdeen Transit Oriented Development Master Plan (adopted May 2012). Both the TOD Master Plan and the TOD District code are designed to maximize the development potential of the downtown Aberdeen within a half-mile of the Aberdeen MARC Commuter Rail and Amtrak Station. The code was developed through a partnership between the City of Aberdeen and representatives from various state agencies -- the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT)/Maryland Transit Administration (MTA), the Maryland Department of Planning (MDP) – and consultants.
In 2012, the area was primarily defined by a mix of auto-oriented uses along Philadelphia Boulevard (US 40) and a small, under-performing commercial district in need of connection to the community at large. With the new code, the area can redevelop into a mix of land uses emphasizing commercial uses at street level, a pedestrian friendly environment and parks and open spaces.
The new code builds on a Maryland TOD designation awarded in 2010, one of 14 station areas to be approved, opening opportunities for state agencies to partner with local leaders to bed more active in advancing TOD. The state designation also allows city staff to pursue a broad range of grant and local financing mech¬anisms that could be leveraged to help implement the master plan’s recommendations.
In 2013, the City of Aberdeen was awarded a small demonstration grant through the Opportunity Collaborative for a Greater Baltimore Region to prepare a form based code and corresponding zoning code amendments to implement and enable TOD within the TOD concept areas identified in Aberdeen’s TOD Master Plan..
Among the key recommendations that the TOD Master Plan identified was to encourage development by developing and adopting a form-based development code for the Aberdeen TOD area. The Master Plan recommends that the TOD form-based address:
Building setback/build to lines
Building height restrictions
Allow and encourage mixed-use development
TOD and pedestrian-friendly storm water treatment strategies
Chang¬es and updates to landscaping, lighting, security features and signs
The Aberdeen TOD District regulates development to achieve urban form identified through the Aberdeen TOD Master Plan areas, including the Station Square, Festival Square and Residential Square concept areas. It represents a logical progression since the Aberdeen Comprehensive Plan Land Use Element Goals and Objectives called for the adoption of development regulations to implement the TOD.
The TOD District regulations provide for the establishment of building type and orientation, site design, and other standards that apply to all development proposals. The TOD District is transect-based, with a corresponding regulating plan that prescribes permitted uses, building heights, site design, building type, building frontage types, pedestrian environment and streetscape in the TOD District, based on the parcel's location and street frontage type.
Aberdeen’s TOD District code’s Regulating Plan is calibrated to Aberdeen’s TOD Master Plan concept areas and fosters a mix of vertical and horizontal land uses, emphasizes shopfronts and commercial uses at street level, promotes wide pedestrian friendly sidewalks and multimodal streets, encourages upper story residential and office uses, park and open space bonus, provides parking placement standards and access through rear alleys or side streets. The TOD District allows a range of uses permitted for a mix of residential, commercial and institutional uses.
The concepts developed in the TOD Master Plan and TOD District were guided by the following goals for redevelopment in downtown Aberdeen established during the Master Plan Design Concept Workshop:
Walkable, accessible, and convenient
Reinforcing a small town character
Bringing added value
Bringing about a sense of place
Creating a safe place
Providing green space for recreation
This form based code represents a unique opportunity for Aberdeen and surrounding local governments who may be more comfortable with traditional Euclidian zoning overlay districts. It is also a good example of how form based codes developed based on a community vision can be useful implementation tools for smaller communities with fewer planners. It was developed utilizing code transects and street frontage types and adapted to fit within the context and procedures of the existing City of Aberdeen development code. The supporting pieces were supported by the engaged and enthusiastic political leadership of the Aberdeen City Council as well as other local partners and TOD advocates, providing a good example of state and local partnership and implementation.