These codes would be useful throughout downtown, the planners say, which they define as from Morris Street to the Elk River, and from the interstate to the Kanawha River.
"The idea surrounding the five-district concept is to develop distinctive personalities and characteristics for each of the districts ... by carefully crafted design guidelines for storefronts, facades, lighting and signage," the downtown plan says.
Some uses -- restaurants, bars, offices and upper-story housing -- should be common throughout all the districts, the plan says.
Other parts of the city would also be good candidates for form-based zoning, the plan says -- the Washington Street commercial strips on the east and west sides, and MacCorkle Avenue in Kanawha City.
Form-based zoning can turn traditional codes upside down in other ways, Vriendt said.
"Instead of minimum setbacks, you might have a maximum setback. Instead of height limits, you might have a minimum height -- you encourage two or three stories."
Through most of the proposed downtown districts, for example, the planners set a minimum of three stories.
"My personal opinion is form-based codes are easier where you have heavy growth pressure," Vriendt said.
"We don't have that kind of pressure here. If you're wanting a four-story building downtown, you might have to wait a long time.
"I see form-based more useful in select areas, where you want to create a more pedestrian-friendly environment. Maybe the Washington Street corridor, east and west, or possibly MacCorkle Avenue in Kanawha City."
At the other end of the urban spectrum, the planners suggest adding a rural zoning classification for some of Charleston's most rugged terrain, large patches of North Charleston, Garrison Hollow and South Ruffner and South Park Road hollows. Not by coincidence, many of these areas often flood, Vriendt said.
Relaxed zoning regulations in the new rural districts might encourage home-based businesses, larger accessory buildings, roadside stands and keeping of livestock, the plan says.
"We're not sure what it would entail yet," Vriendt said. "There could be some areas that transition from an urban traditional neighborhood to the county. We might allow gravel driveways. This would have to be vetted through a public process."
You can read or download copies of the downtown redevelopment and comprehensive plans at imaginecharleston.com. Click on the Exhibits tab. Call or email comments to the city's Planning Department at 304-348-8105 or dan.vrie...@cityofcharleston.org.Reach Jim Balow at ba...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5102.